Considering the fourth quarters the Guelph Gryphons pulled off 12 months ago at the Queen's Golden Gaels' expense, perhaps it was no surprise when they said, here, you take the lead.
Whatever challenge Queen's will pose to the No. 1-ranked Western Mustangs and their record-setting point machine in the Yates Cup on Nov. 9 debatable. At minimum, fourth-year QB Billy McPhee and Queen's, which twice blew three-touchdown leads during a pair of 2012 losses to Gryphons, showed a certain unflappability on Saturday while winning 34-17 at rain-soaked, windswept Richardson Stadium..
They weren't as chuffed as Queen's fans might have been at the sight of Guelph head coach Stu Lang having his charges warm up in gold alternate jerseys that are an near-exact match for the Gaels' distinct tricolour look. They also weren't fazed in the third quarter when Lang gave up a lead by twice telling punter Daniel Ferraro to concede safeties, tacking on two fourth-quarter TDs to win going away.
"We finally showed the maturity of our team," said McPhee, who finished 15-of-28 for 228 yards and one touchdown and most of all, no interceptions. "When things got hairy, we hunkered down and we knew how to react. Our experience really showed on the sidelines, especially when plays didn't go our way."
Queen's had a field goal lead, courtesy Lang gifting the Gaels with those pair of deuces, when McPhee uncharacteristically scrambled 27 yards to the Gryphons' one-yard line early in the fourth quarter. That set up a short scoring run by Ryan Granberg, who had 140 rushing-receiving yards and two touchdowns in his final home game.
"Coach [Pat Sheahan] had challenged me earlier in the week, that if they were going to take away the throwing opportunities, then to make plays," said McPhee. "If you look around the league, the position of quarterback is changing into being a playmaker, not just a passer. Jazz [Lindsey, Guelph's QB] did a great job taking it down earlier in the game. With the coaches challenging me and the opportunities presenting themselves, it was just a matter of time."
'Slap in the face'
Following fumble recovery that set up a 39-yard scoring strike to slotback Scott MacDonnell (five receptions, game-high 124 yards), Queen's was assured of its first trip to the Ontario final since 2009, when it won the national championship. Lang, the retired multimillionaire who remade the Gryphons from a mid-pack team into one that has an OUA-best 14 regular-season wins over the past two seasons, was left to explain those safety touches.
Guelph was at its 22 the first time Lang had Ferraro scamper into his own end zone for the unusual lead-changing safety. It was on the 25 the second time.
"With the two safeties, we're still down by three, we got the wind in the fourth," Lang said. "You have to kick a field goal to win anyways, we thought we'd get more than that. We didn't get anything. It's just a battle of field position. I know we were around the 20-plus but we thought [giving up] the two points was worth it because we had the wind in the fourth."
It ended up sparking Queen's.
"Slap in the face, really," McPhee said when asked for his reaction to Guelph's strategy. "What else would they say [by giving up the lead]? They're saying we're going to go score — we're going to give you the lead and then we're going to take it back. Really, it's a slap in the face."
As far as Guelph's notion that wearing gold jerseys in warmups might distract a Queen's player, or make a Gryphon fire out harder off the line in the fourth quarter? Queen's, which wears gold at home and on the road, saw that coming.
"Knowing that Coach Lang is a great marketing mind, we anticipated some kind of gimmick," Pat Sheahan said. "I warned the team, 'don't be surprised if they're out there warming up in gold jerseys' just trying to create some commotion and confusion."
Attrition caught up to Guelph. The Gryphons started 7-0 this fall but lost star linebacker John Rush to an injury and then lost its regular-season finale to Queen's (37-23 on Oct. 19) to fall to third in the OUA behind Western and the Gaels. Feature back Rob Farquharson's playing time was also rationed due to an ailing hamstring. Guelph tried to spot its best ballcarrier, but he could gain only 270 yards on the day, while Farquharson rushing 20 times for 85.
"It's the one thing that he hurt early in the season," Lang said. "It was more of a precautionary thing. The training staff and [Guelph assistant coach] Neil Lumsden decided to hold him out because obviously the plan was to go to the Yates Cup and we wanted him to be ready to play. He'll be fine in a couple of weeks.
"[Backup tailback] Johnny [Augustin] is good but Rob's an all-star. To be fair, in the fourth quarter, it comes back to we had the wind, you have to throw the ball, we didn't get any points."
Queen's outside linebacker Sam Sabourin, a CFL draft prospect who had a team-high 7.5 tackles, said it was "shocking" to see Farquharson on the sideline. The Guelph star was out of the game late in the first half on a drive that ended with Guelph settling for a 23-yard field goal. Queen's got the three back with a quick one-minute drill, then played scoreless defence for the duration.
Much different than '09 classic
Five weeks ago, Western made Queen's play catch-up all afternoon during a nationally televised 50-31 rout in London. The Mustangs could be about a three-TD favourite for the Yates. McPhee seems to have matured a bit over the second half of the season. He managed the game well, as Queen's offence did not have a turnover during a rain game on natural grass.
"He was almost so determined not to make a mistake that he was driving me nuts," Sheahan said. "Didn't want to take any chances, but he was right. He was right. He took [six] sacks today, but in these [miserable] conditions, he was right to take them."
The only similarity between next Saturday's Yates Cup tilt and the Queen's-Western epic in 2009 is that it is the same two teams. From Queen's perspective, at least it has earned the privilege to get another shot at a championship.
"It's been a long four years," Granberg, who was a rookie special teams player in '09, said. "It's felt like we underachieved quite a bit."
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet. Please address any questions, comments or concerns to firstname.lastname@example.org.