Breaking down the Yates Cup quarterfinals

Ottawa, ON – As we get deeper into fall, we get deeper into the heart of the OUA football season. Over the weekend, the Yates Cup quarterfinals got underway, bringing with them, ultimately, three higher seeds winning, but one incredible underdog performance one relatively expected performance and one surprisingly lacklustre.

Laurier Golden Hawks: 41
Carleton Ravens: 13

Let’s start with the surprisingly poor performance.

The big question for the Ravens heading into 2022 was whether they could finish in the postseason. The program struggled to a 2-4 record without quarterback Tanner DeJong in 2021 and got blown out 45-14 by Queen’s in the 2021 quarterfinal.

So as the fifth seed, playing in Laurier on Saturday, the Ravens had a lot to prove, and yet, their matchup with the Golden Hawks went about as poorly as it could have. From the opening drive, DeJong struggled as the Ravens went two-and-out on their first three tries with the football and ultimately ended their first six drives by punting. Of course, the final drive of the quarter saw DeJong find Harvey Mufata, who fumbled the ball for Luke Brubacher to pick up for Laurier. 

On the other side, the Golden Hawks had the definition of a balanced attack in the first half. In the first quarter, Tanner Nelmes dropped in a 1-yard rush TD early to make it 7-0 before Quentin Scott added another late in the quarter to make it 14-0 Laurier. Not to be outdone, though, in the second, Taylor Elgersma found Ethan Jordan for a 44-yard TD pass early before finding Raidan Thorne for a 4-yard TD pass late to make it 28-0 for Laurier at halftime. Elgersma finished 21-28 for 303 yards with those two touchdown passes.

The second half saw a third-quarter field goal for Laurier to push the lead up to 31-0 before Tanner DeJong got a pair of connections to Tristan Ready and Kaseem Ferdinand in the fourth quarter for a couple of garbage-time touchdowns. They were split up by Nelmes, earning his second rush TD of the afternoon. DeJong got to 262 yards but took 34 throws to do it, going 20-34 with his pair of TD passes.

The Golden Hawks walked away with the easy 41-13 win but now get their biggest challenge of the year as they have to head to Alumni Stadium in London, Ontario, to face the big purple machine of the #1 seed Western Mustangs. 

Queen’s Gaels: 41
Toronto Varsity Blues: 13

Despite being the same score as Laurier and Carleton, Queen’s vs Toronto was not a game of two relatively even teams, but one team fell apart; instead, it was one team being simply better than another. 

The Varsity Blues have been a revelation the last two seasons, finally emerging from the wilderness and making the playoffs in back-to-back years. Still, as the #7 seed that put them up against Queen’s, and from start to finish, the Gaels showed why they were the #2 seed in Ontario in 2022. 

With the Gaels holding the second-best offence in the OUA behind only Western if Toronto wanted a chance, they needed to start strong. Rather than doing that, the Varsity Blues sandwiched a pair of punts between another punt that was blocked for a fumble and never left their side of the field in the first quarter. 

That allowed the Gaels to take advantage as Alex Vreeken found Josh Mcleod for the 5-yard TD pass to make it 7-0 Gaels before Queen’s recovered the blocked punt on the TOR13 and dropped in a field goal to make it 10-0.

The Blues fought back, though. Early in the second quarter, Alex Vreeken tossed his first interception of the day, and Owen Cassie took it back 32-yards to cut the game to 10-7. Queen’s added a field goal to make it 13-7 at halftime, but Toronto got one of their own early in the third to bring it back to 13-10. 

Even after Yann Longa rushed in a TD to make it 20-10, Samuel Henke got his second field goal of the afternoon to make it 20-13. Despite a rough day overall for Kinsale Philip (14-28, 140 yards, two INTs), the Varsity Blues were right there. That is until Jared Chisari proceeded to almost singlehandedly end the Blues season. 

With the clock wound down in the third quarter, Chisari broke through the Toronto defence from his 40-yard line and took it for the 70-yard rushing TD to bump the Gaels up to 27-13 after three quarters. 

That play shellshocked the Blues as their offence fell apart after a 27-yard pass from Philip to open the quarter. A punt, followed by an interception, followed by a punt, followed by another interception, followed by another pun as the Blues could barely manage to clear their side of the field. Meanwhile, a field goal made it 30-13 before Jared Chisari took a 30-yard rush home for his second TD of the afternoon to push it up to a 24-point lead. 

Chisari dominated to the tune of 180 yards and a pair of touchdowns, and with a couple of additional points late, Queen’s sent Toronto home with the 41-13 loss. The Gaels now face an Ottawa Gee-Gees side that had to grind harder than they expected to squeeze out of the quarterfinals. Whether that helps the Gaels will remains to be seen.

Ottawa Gee-Gees: 43
Windsor Lancers: 40

Let’s talk about Gee-Gees and Lancers game. 

Losing to Queen’s in their five-hour rain-delayed home opener is why the Gee-Gees ended up in the #3 spot, which helped them get a quarterfinal matchup with the OUA’s newest upstart team in the Windsor Lancers. 

Under head coach Jean-Paul Circelli, the Lancers improved from one win in 2019 to two in 2021 and got to .500 in 2022 at 4-4, earning themselves the #6 seed in the OUA. 

A young offence, led by sophomore quarterback Danny Skelton and freshman running back Joey Zorn (who, along with junior RB Christopher John, finished in the top-10 in the OUA with six rushing TDs each) helped Windsor to their best record and their first playoff appearance since 2014. 

The afternoon started strong for the Gee-Gees as J-P Cimankinda, fresh off finishing fourth in the OUA with eight rushing touchdowns and second with 122 yards per game, punched in his first TD of the afternoon late in the first quarter. Campbell Fair followed by sending one through the uprights to make it 10-0 Ottawa. 

Almost parallel, though, early in the second, Christopher John punched in a rushing TD of his own before Windsor kicker Brady Lidester sent one between the sticks himself and just like that, it was 10-10 with 10 minutes left in the first half. 

Ottawa continued to push through as Campbell Fair added a second field goal before Ottawa quarterback Ben Maracle found Nicholas Gendron for the 12-yard connection and the touchdown to bump the lead up to 19-10, with a safety jumping it to 21-10 for the Gee-Gees. 

Yet again, Windsor refused to fold, as Danny Skelton marched them downfield for Joey Zorn to drop in his first rush TD of the day to make it 21-17 at halftime for the Gee-Gees. 

Into the third, the momentum at Gee-Gees Stadium started to shift downfield as Windsor began with an early field goal before Skelton found Daniel Thrasher for a 13-yard pass to make it 27-21 for Windsor halfway through the quarter. Another safety made it 27-23, but it looked like the Lancers might pull off the upset. 

That belief heightened when Liam Hoskins picked off Ben Maracle early in the third and took it back for the touchdown to give the Lancers the 11-point lead at 34-23, ninety seconds into the fourth quarter. In spite of the pick-six Maracle had a relatively efficient day for the Gee-Gees going 15-20 for 190 yards and a touchdown pass.

With Windsor leading, this was the moment, though, where a team that had been through situations like this before (Ottawa) went up against a team that, through all it’s youthful energy, had not had to close out a team in a high-pressure situation in the last few years (Windsor), and it showed.

J-P Cimankinda started with his second rushing TD of the day, with Willy-Pierre Dimbongi adding the two-point conversion catch to make it 34-31 with just under ten minutes to play. 

It was in the middle of the quarter, though, where Emmanuel Aboagye-Gyan forced a fumble from Christopher John and brought it back 60-yards for the touchdown, that Ottawa got back the lead and would never give it back up. 

Windsor cut it close, a safety and a Campbell Fair field goal gave Ottawa some insurance at 43-34, but Christopher John dropped in his second rush TD with less than 30 seconds to play to make it 43-40. The two-point conversion pass from Skelton got dropped, though, and th Gee-Gees recovered the onside kick and wound the clock down for the 43-40 win.

Ottawa now gets to move on and play the Queen’s Gaels in what should be the closer of the two Yates Cup semifinals. Will the team that wins probably be headed to Alumni Stadium for the Yates Cup? Yes, probably, but with the Gaels on an offensive high and the Gee-Gees riding an emotional high from their ground-out win, who takes it at Richardson Stadium on Nov. 5, is anyone’s guess. 

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