By Earl Zukerman
Rookie Samy Rassy kicked five field goals and freshman Shaquille Johnson had nine receptions for 113 yards and one touchdown as McGill rallied for a 34-20 victory over Bishop’s in the Thanksgiving weekend Turkey Bowl at Percival Molson Stadium, Thursday.
Not only did it avenge a 26-18 loss at Bishop’s last Saturday, it was a must-win affair for the Redmen, who generated 468 yards of net offence compared to 378 by BU and improved to 2-4 on the season. More importantly, the result moved the Redmen into a four-way tie with Bishop’s (2-4), Sherbrooke (2-3) and Concordia (2-3) for the last two playoff berths in the six-team, Quebec-based RSEQ conference. McGill now holds the tie-breaker over Bishop’s, based on point-differential, if the two teams end up tied in the standings.
It was the second time this season that Rassy, a Montreal native and engineering junior, had nailed five field goals in a game. He connected on distances of 30, 22, 23, 28 and 27, to finish with 17 points overall.
The Gaiters led 7-4 after the opening quarter and 14-9 at the half, on a 40-yard TD reception by Alexander Fox from quarterback Jordan Heather, who also scampered in for a 16-yard major. Heather was good on 18-of-32 for 235 yards and an interception. Fox was his leading man with 129 yards on seven receptions.
McGill rallied in the third quarter sparked by quarterback Jonathan Collin’s one-yard TD plunge and took a 19-17 lead into the final stanza. Things got tense when Mathieu Paquette of Magog, Que., kicked his second 32-yarder of the day for Bishop’s to narrow the gap to 22-20 at 4:19 of the final quarter. But less than five minutes later, McGill made it 29-20 when Johnson hauled in a 30-yard TD toss from Ryne Bondy that capped a 10-play, 75-yard drive.
Bondy, who entered the game in the final quarter, went 5-for-6 passing for 87 yards. He came in to replace Collin, who started and was good on 16-of-25 for 136 yards before suffering an injury to his right knee (not the same knee that suffered a major trauma and kept him out of the lineup for most of the previous two years).
Two other Redmen reached the century mark, with rookie running back Luis Guimont-Mota of Quebec City rushing for a career-high 119 yards on 17 carries and sophomore return specialist Yannick Langelier-Vanasse of Lachine, Que., who reached the 100-yard plateau for the fourth time in five games. He amassed 104 yards, including 66 on punt returns, 24 on receptions and 14 more on kickoff returns.
McGill ran the ball a whopping 49 times, their highest number of carries in three years, dating back to a win over Mt. Allison, where the ran the ball 51 times on Sept. 26, 2009.
“Because it was a must-win game, we decided to run the ball as much as we could and run the ball behind (offensive lineman) Laurent Duvernay-Tardif,” revealed Clint Uttley head coach of the Redmen.
The hulking 6-foot-5, 280-pound offensive lineman had another dominating performance and is believed to be the first McGill player in more than three decades to play both ways. Not only was the third-year medical student a large factor in helping the running game generate 261 yards, he also played the final three quarters at defensive line and ended up with three tackles, including a pair of quarterback sacks.
“We made the decision to play Laurent both ways this week because we were a little banged up and short-staffed on the D-line,” said Uttley. “Although he is our starting left offensive tackle this year, he was a defensive lineman in his freshman year and we converted him to the o-line last season. After seeing how well he handled himself on the first few series tonight we made the decision to leave him playing on both sides for as long as he could manage.”
The Gaiters drew 12 penalties for 92 yards, compared to McGill, which only had four penalties for five yards (three of them were declined), their lowest single-game total in years.
“Tonight we achieved one of our key goals all season long, which was to be the least penalized team in the conference,” Uttley explained. “The thing that has made the biggest difference in our reduction in penalties is that we instituted a new policy after the second game of the season. Anyone who gets a penalty in a game will pay for it in the next practice by rolling the entire length of the field, from one goal line and back and back. He has 10 minutes to complete that and if he doesn’t, he can’t start the next game. I think that has brought us some accountability and is a major factor in our reduction of penalties.”
The Redmen will host Concordia in the McGill Homecoming Game for the 44th annual presentation of the Shaughnessy Cup on Oct. 13. The same day, Bishop’s will play at Sherbrooke in their annual Mayor’s Cup competition.