Gaels edge Varsity Blues in Hall of Fame Game

It was a battle of the elements and historical rivals on Friday night in Toronto, as the Queen’s Golden Gaels defeated the hometown Varsity Blues 13-6 under the lights at Varsity Stadium.

Right at kickoff in the Hall of Fame Game, the skies opened, delivering a steady rain that failed to subside until close to halftime.

U. of T. and Queen’s were meeting for the 174th time since 1887, a series narrowly led by Toronto 88-82-4.

The last time the two teams met Queen’s trounced U of T 66-1 in Kingston last October, but this engagement was considerably more balanced.

Trailing 6-0 with six minutes remaining in the third quarter, and the offence sputtering, the Gaels caught a break when they blocked a Toronto punt, and Boris Isakov was able to recover and scamper into the end zone for a 7-6 Queen’s lead.

Dan Village added a pair of field goals to give the Gaels a seven-point cushion.

With under two minutes to play, the Blues had a chance to tie the game, faced with third down on the Gaels’ three-yard line.

But, in what was a microcosm of the team’s inability to capitalize in the red-zone all night, quarterback Andrew Gillis failed to handle the snap from centre Jessie Raycroft, resulting in a turnover, and cementing the game.

Head coach Greg Gary was disappointed his club failed to punch it in from such short distance with the game on the line.

“The snap was high,” Gary told the Toronto Observer after the game. “That was it, that was the opportunity we were looking for.”

With the victory, Queen’s moves to 3-2 on the season, while U. of T. falls to 2-3.

Coming off a 63-3 blowout victory over York, Gaels quarterback Billy McPhee struggled mightily, completing just seven of 21 passes for 91 yards in the win.

Gillis, a fifth-year senior, was 21-of-45 for 277 yards in a losing effort.

Slow start in the rain

There weren’t a lot of fireworks to speak of early, as the teams combined for 17 punts and a mere three points in a soggy, and poorly played first half of football.

It was a slippery and scoreless first quarter, with both teams struggling to gain any momentum under a steady downpour that made ponchos a hot item for those in attendance.

Receivers on both clubs, who were evidently having a difficult time finding their grip on the moistened pigskin, dropped several catchable balls in the opening frame.

The better of the two teams in the first, U. of T. squandered its best chance at putting points on the board after punter Willie Sharpe recovered his own kick at the Queen’s eight-yard line.

On third down of the ensuing drive, the Blues went for three, but a bad snap cost them a field goal try.

“The weather was never a factor for us,” Gary said. “We were comfortable, but we just couldn’t put the ball in the end zone. They played a good football game, and kept us out of the end zone.

“You have to give them credit for that.”

Having a tough time holding onto the ball, Queen’s rushers lost a pair of fumbles in the first half, while the Blues turned it over once. In addition to the drops, there were a handful of poor snaps, holds and tackles in an overall sloppily played affair.

With three minutes remaining before halftime, Gillis connected on a 51-yard pass to receiver Paul de Pass, setting up a chip shot kick, putting the Blues ahead 3-0.

U. of T. extended its lead to six early in the third, when the Gaels failed to secure a first down on a fake punt deep in their own territory. However, even working with a short field, the Blues couldn’t put the ball in the end zone, and settled for the convenient three.

Toronto’s punting mishap in the third would ultimately cost it the lead.

In a halftime ceremony, two of the greatest OUA quarterbacks in league history, Toronto’s Dan Feraday (1976-78, 1980-81) and Queen’s pivot Tom Denison (2001-03), were honoured.

Toronto mayor Rob Ford was on hand, flipping the ceremonial coin toss to a mixed chorus of cheers and boos.

Next, U. of T. will travel to Hamilton to face McMaster (3-1) on Oct. 6, while Queen’s will play at Windsor (3-1) on Oct. 8.