There’s an old cliché in sports: “You have to play 60 minutes to win.” McGill found out the hard way on Saturday that there’s still a lot of truth in that expression. Despite going into halftime with an 11 point lead, the Redmen failed to pull off what would have been a huge upset against the top ranked team in the country, losing to the Laval Rouge et Or 43-27 in front of 1,749 spectators at Molson Stadium.
McGill was dominant in the first two quarters, amassing 303 yards of offence to Laval’s 147. But the second half was a completely different story. The Rouge et Or exploited the McGill defence, scoring on all but two of their second half possessions.
“I told them they have to play 60 minutes and we didn’t do that,” said Head Coach Chuck McMann. “They were intense in the first half but we lacked a bit of that in the second half. I told the guys I was proud of how they played and that if we start playing like that the whole game, we’re going to start winning”.
Coming out with guns blazingThe Redmen came out like they had something to prove. Coming off an embarrassing 27-16 loss last week at Bishop’s and going up against a team that had beaten them in 13 of their 18 meetings, few would have given McGill a chance in this one.
But a quick start on offence and a motivated showing on defence made it clear that this was not going to be a cake walk for Laval. Quarterback Matt Connell led the Redmen into the end zone on their first two possessions with drives of 57 and 107 yards respectively, while the defence pressured Laval Quarterback Benoit Groulx, forcing an interception and causing two sacks.
“I think we should have won,” Connell said. “I think we outplayed the number one team in the country, so I hope people actually start realizing that we’re a team that can play. Hopefully we can come out and play like we played in the first half the rest of the season”.
McGill’s offence proved potent, if not one dimensional, in this affair. Connell went 38 of 53 for 426 yards with two touchdowns and an interception-setting new school records for most passing attempts and completions in a game. It was also only the third time a McGill quarterback has thrown for over 400 yards, with Connell holding all three of those marks.
That didn’t leave much work for star running back Michael Samman who carried the ball just five times for five yards, giving him 15 yards on 11 carries on the season.
“We watched tape all week and were well prepared,” Connell said. “We knew what we wanted to do, we have a great group of receivers; we wanted to hit the underneath stuff and let the receivers make a play”
That’s just what they did. The receiving corps was led by slotback Greg Heatherington, catching eight passes for 172 yards, including a 57-yard bomb for his only touchdown of the game. Not to be outdone, Erik Galas racked up a career high 12 receptions for 112 yards and a touchdown of his own.
Upset dashed by ugly third quarterWhatever magic the Redmen had in the opening half, they lost it on their way back from the locker room. On their first play from scrimmage of the half, Connell threw the ball right at two Rouge et Or defenders giving Laval the ball at the McGill 22 yard line. It was a sign of things to come. Laval would go on to score on every one of their third quarter possessions. In 15 minutes, McGill would see their 11 point lead evaporate into a six point deficit.
“I don’t think we played badly in the second half, they just came out stronger,” said linebacker David Riendeau. “They’re a team that’s known for closing out games well. We have to be better in coverage, we were too loose and they burned us on it”.
Coverage was only the beginning of the defence’s troubles. Groulx led the charge for his squad completing 21 of his 26 pass attempts for 316 yards, with two touchdowns. But McGill also failed to stop the run for a second consecutive game as running back Pierre-Luc Yao ran for 128 yards on just 11 carries.
To pile on the Redmen’s woes, they may also have lost the services of defensive leader Jean-Nicholas CarriÃ¨re. The third year linebacker had to be helped off the field in the third quarter with an apparent knee injury and was seen on crutches after the game.
McGill will look to notch their first win of the season next week at home against Mount Allison. It’s certainly a game they should win as the Mounties didn’t win a single game last season.