The Queen’s Gaels Football Team continues its quest for a national championship this weekend, as the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) playoffs officially kick off on Saturday, Oct. 28, 2023.
For the second weekend in a row, the Gaels will play host to the University of Ottawa Gee-Gees, one week after the tricolour beat the school from the nation’s capital 12-8 last Saturday in the OUA regular-season finale. Last weekend’s homecoming victory for the Gaels – a game which saw running back Jared Chisari set a new single-season running record at the school – guaranteed Queen’s a fourth-place finish in the regular season, ensuring home-field advantage for the team in this weekend’s playoff opener.
Saturday’s game, which kicks off at 1 p.m. at Richardson Stadium, will mark the 21st matchup between the two eastern Ontario rivals since October 2007, with the Gaels having won the last six straight contests. The most recent playoff matchup between the two schools came last November during the OUA semifinals, which saw Queen’s win 35-13, punching their ticket to the Yates Cup OUA Finals.
With the history between the two schools and the close matchup just one week ago, Saturday’s contest promises to be an exciting one, as both teams look to make a deep playoff run. For Queen’s, a win on Saturday would move the program one step closer to their third Yates Cup appearance in as many years. For the last two seasons, the Gaels have advanced to the provincial finals, only to come up short to arch-rivals the Western Mustangs on both occasions.
With Queen’s University hosting this year’s Vanier Cup – the U Sports Football National Championship game – there’s added incentive for the Gaels to do well in the playoffs, as a hometown championship appearance on the line. However, Head Coach Steve Snyder explained that the team is focused on the task at hand and continuing to march forward in the playoffs for as long as they can.
Snyder said, “We’re just locked into what we’re doing, [and] we want to keep that going. We want our seniors to be able to continue to play football for Queen’s and continue to chase the goals and aspirations that our team has. At this point, we’re looking each other in the eye and we’re playing for each other and trying to extend the season for our seniors.”
Coming into this Saturday’s matchup, Queen’s will look to take advantage of its strong group of offensive players, including Jared Chisari, the OUA leader in both total yards rushed and yards rushed per game. Aside from Chisari, Anthony Soles has been another strong running back for the Gaels, rushing for nine touchdowns (TD) in the regular season, putting him in a tie for most rushing TDs this year in Ontario.
With Soles and Chisari in the lineup, Queen’s is expected to rely on a strong running game that’s helped them close out the regular season with four consecutive victories; an impressive feat made even more remarkable after the tricolour’s original starting quarterback, Alex Vreeken, was sidelined earlier this season due to injury. Snyder reflected on the impact of the team’s running game throughout the regular season.
“We always want to be in a position to run the football, certainly it’s helped us out over the last few weeks and, in particular, last week,” he said.
The Head Coach explained the team is likely to stick to their strengths when the Gee-Gees return to town this weekend, saying, “There’s definitely a strong likelihood that we’ll come out trying to establish the run. I think that’s really what will make this whole thing go around for the offence.”
Despite three players suiting up at quarterback throughout various points in the year, the Gaels seem to have settled on Russell Weir for the job. According to Snyder, the team is comfortable with its roster at this point in the season.
“We are who we are, and most teams are at this point. Everybody will have their wrinkles and those Plan Bs ready if they need them. I think the teams are who they are, the ones that kind of hang their hat on their true identity are the ones who are still around at this point in the year,” he explained.
While the Gaels have been able to rely on a solid running game, the team also has some strong defensive players, including linebackers Olivier Muembi (36 tackles) and defensive end Silas Hubert. While Hubert missed a number of games this season due to injury, the reigning OUA lineman of the year has shown up for Queen’s when it’s mattered most, with eight solo tackles and three sacks in just three games played this season. On Tuesday, Oct. 17, 2023, Hubert was named the OUA Defensive Player of the Week.
Considering Queen’s has one of the strongest defensive lines in the province, Snyder said the team will once again rely heavily on that group of players to help make the difference against Ottawa, despite there still being room for improvement.
“I think our defence still has a lot of room for improvement, and I think their best football is still in front of them. That being said, it’s a group that has really come to play, and they came to play last week, and we’ll need them again this week,” he noted.
Meanwhile, the Gee-Gees have also faced significant injuries in their lineup this season, as the team has had to rely on third-string quarterback Josh Jansen to lead them into this weekend’s playoff opener. In five regular-season games for Ottawa, Jansen completed 66.7 per cent of his passes, good enough to place fourth on the OUA statistics sheet. Wide Receiver Nicholas Gendron has been a major contributor to the Gee-Gee’s offensive success this year, catching 31 passes over 535 yards total.
With the Gaels and Gee-Gees set to face off for the second week in a row, Snyder noted the challenges of competing against the same opponent back-to-back.
“It’s a challenge, it really is. It’s very difficult to beat the same team twice in a row, in particular, a really talented, well-coached team that already has a lot of familiarity with you,” he said.
Whoever emerges from Saturday with the victory will advance to next weekend’s OUA Semifinals, with a spot in the Yates Cup provincial championship game on the line. Given the Gaels’ 5-3 record this season — with losses to top-ranked Western, second-place Laurier, and third-ranked Windsor — should Queen’s win this Saturday, it’s most likely the team will be on the road next weekend, meaning this weekend could be one of the last opportunities for fans to see the tricolour on home soil this season.
Saturday’s OUA Quarterfinal matchup between the Queen’s Gales and the Ottawa Gee-Gees gets underway at 1 p.m. at Richardson Stadium. More information on the Queen’s Gaels football team, including the team schedule and ticket availability, is available on the Queen’s Gaels website.