Saturday was a celebration of sorts for Andrew Gillis.
A coming out party, that is, as he threw for a career-high 343 yards and the University of Toronto Varsity Blues defeated the No.2 ranked Ottawa Gee Gees 40-35 in a thriller at Varsity Stadium.
Coming into the game, Gillis had amassed 378 yards passing in four games, but today was just a little bit different.
“We had a game plan,” Gillis said. “Coming in we made a couple of adjustments. We just wanted to focus on executing what we could do … and we did.”
Head coach Greg DeLaval believes the youngster was due.
“It’s never been a question of work ethic. He’s starting to come around.”
Toronto [2-3] running back Aaron Milton carried the ball nine times for 147 yards, including a 105-yard run for a touchdown in the first quarter. The play tied for the longest rush in Varsity Blues history, originally set by Maurice Doyle in 1979
OUA leading passer Bradley Sinopoli finished with 451 yards in the air for Ottawa [5-1] but had four second half interceptions.
Steven Hughes caught 13 balls for 127 yards and one touchdown for the visitors.
Toronto up after one
The Gee Gees took their opening drive of the game and went 75 yards in 1:22, highlighted by a Sinopoli 44-yard pass to slot receiver Matthew Bolduc for a touchdown.
But the Blues responded at 5:36 of the opening quarter with one of their own scores when Aaron Milton went right of centre Mario Tedesco and rumbled 105 yards down the right side for the score.
A two-point conversion failed and Ottawa led 7-6.
The Blues went ahead 13-7 with 2:27 remaining in the first when quarterback Andrew Gillis hooked up with Paul de Pass for a 24-yard touchdown.
Wild second quarter
Ottawa opened the second quarter in the same circumstance as the first.
With their opening possession, Sinopoli found Cyril Adjeitey in single coverage on the right side and hooked up with him for a 47-yard pass to give the Gee Gees a 14-13 lead with 13:31 remaining.
The Blues ran the ball six times in that 15 minutes, choosing to use short passes in the middle and the flats, to move the ball effectively. It worked as Toronto scored two touchdowns to move ahead 27-14.
Backup quarterback Jordan Scheltgen took the snap and bulled in over the right side at 4:57 of the second quarter. Over five minutes later, Scheltgen round a seam on the right side and tip toed in from two yards out.
“They [Ottawa] were playing a lot of match cover and a lot man-on-man early on,” DeLaval said. “Today they [offence] made the throws, caught the ball and made the play when they had to.”
“I thought [the offence] was outstanding today,” Gillis added.
The Blues were sharp on offence but two interceptions late in the second quarter prevented them from widening the lead.
Ottawa scored a single point with under two minutes left in the half to make the score 27-15 at the break.
Both teams combined for 542 yards through the air and 35 first downs in the first half.
Here come the Gee Gees
Ottawa took its opening drive of the third and got back in the game when Franck Ngandui pounded the ball in from one yard out to make the score 27-22 with over nine minutes left in the third.
The score was helped by two objectionable conduct calls that moved the ball down to the eight. Three plays later, Ngandui found the end zone.
Toronto made the score 34-22 at 7:28 of the third when Gillis scrambled to his left and found Michael Prempeh from five yards out.
The touchdown was set up by a fake punt and throw for 19 yards and a pass that deflected into the hands of Milton, who took it for 17 yards down to the Ottawa five.
Too many interceptions
Although Sinopoli threw for 183 yards in the second half, the Blues’ defence was extremely opportunistic, intercepting four balls and sacking him three times.
“We made interceptions at critical times,” DeLaval said. “Just when they started getting momentum our guys would come up with a big interception. We made plays at the right times.”
The Blues added two fourth quarter field goals before the Gee Gees added a pair of late touchdowns to close the gap but it wasn’t good enough.