York Football Article @ Excalibur

Despite close win, game changes nothing

The game clock slowly ticked down till it finally reached 0:00. The York football players ran on the field and celebrated by jumping in the air and hugging each other. In a thrilling game, the York Lions defeated the University of Toronto Varsity Blues by a score of 21-20 (and extending the Blues’ longest losing streak in the nation to 46). While the Lions celebrated their ‘big’ win over the weekend, one must look back and question what there was to celebrate over.

They beat U of T, the worst football team in the nation… by 1 point. A team so bad that they lost their games by an average score of 52-11 during their streak. A team so bad that they are still talking about the time they won the Vanier Cup (Canadian Champs) in 1993. The York Lions had just barley won the Red-Blue Bowl, yet they acted like they had just won the Super Bowl. While it is extremely important to play for pride, all the Lions actually did was postpone U of T’s losing streak and notch their first ‘W’ of the season. Call me the cynic, or call me the biggest York fan, but there were five blaring issues that appeared in the U of T game that is symbolic of the 2007 season. And if York wants a chance at making playoffs, they need to make these changes:

1) Establish a Quarterback – Coming into the 2007 season, Quarterback seemed to be one of the strengths on the team. Bart Zemanek was retuning for his 5th year after spending the summer playing pro ball in Europe, the colossus 6’4, 240 pound Michael Crabtree was backing him up, and 3rd string was between Niagara College transfer Tim Burke, Laurier transfer Nic Martin diminutive 3rd year Brian Fortier. But that was only on paper. In reality, Zemanek decided not to play, Crabtree didn’t develop the way the staff expected and was moved to Tight End, Martin broke his ankle and is out for the season and Burke quit the team because of lack of reps. It is only fair that Fortier gets a chance, right? Then out of nowhere, comes the 31 year old Michael Hyatt. Hyatt. What’s next, Offensive Coordinator Tommy Denison puts the headset down and straps on the pads and becomes the next starting QB? Hyatt has not demonstrated questionable ability to lead a CIS football team after throwing 7 INTs and a 43% completion rate in the past two games. Four of those INTs which came against, yes you guessed it, U of T and 2 of those which came in the redzone. Beyond the stats, he makes questionable decisions by not making his reads and forcing throws into double coverage (he looks off the safeties). Hyatt’s teammates and York fans in the bleachers were so upset at his performance the past game that many of them were chanting “Fortier,” calling for his replacement. I think it’s safe to say that Hyatt is not the long-term solution so why not give Fortier a chance? Beyond who is starting, the constant revolving door of quarterbacks is damaging the team. Quarterback is considered the leader of the team and is vital to chemistry on the field and the constant changes have made the offense question who is in charge. York needs to pick one quarterback and stick with him – through thick and thin.

2) Change the Gameplan – While the Lions were never the strongest in the trenches, the offensive line this year is tremendously weak. It doesn’t have to do as much with talent as it has to do with depth and injuries. Many players are being forced to play out of positions and it shows as York leads the CIS in penalties (most of which are holding). Knowing this, the game plan must change on offense. Far too often this year the Lions have been relying on vertical and sideline throws that require accuracy, timing and pass protection. Now that the biggest deep threat Cameron Worsely has quit the team, the Lions must make adjustments and rely on misdirection plays and screens to make use of their athletes. Super-athlete and 4 year defensive starter Jerome Walker has made the switch to wide receiver and the Lions need to get the ball in his hands. Bubble, Flanker, Smoke, Tight End, Tailback screens, whatever it takes to get those athletic York linemen in space will help the team. Beyond this, York has had more turnovers then a bakery (an embarrassing 30 turnovers thus far – 10 more then the nearest team!). 21 of these 30 turnovers have come from fumbles. Either teach these kids to hold the ball properly or bring super-glue to practice because either way, it’s downright appalling. Turnovers not only give the opponent an opportunity for valuable field position and a chance to score. They also change the momentum of the game.

3) Playmakers -It was bad enough when 1st team OUA All Star Kevin Walsh and team captain RB Nicholas Reynolds were declared academically ineligible for the season. But then to add salt to the wound, Worsely left the team taking away its biggest offensive star. No matter, York must rebuild and that starts off by distributing the ball to three players on offense. Newly converted receiver Jerome Walker has great speed, quickness and has the ability to make people miss while picking up valuable yardage – he should be great on screen plays. The second player is none other then wide receiver Steven Hughes. Hughes is known as a talented receiver with golden hands and good concentration, but he added another quality when he routinely caught poorly-thrown passes in double coverage: playmaker. Hughes showed the critics (I being one) that he is capable of being a #1 WR despite his lack of blazing speed and he should be a valuable target for years to come. The last playmaker, Jason Marshall, showed flashes of brilliance in his first year at York as a RB at York, including 44 yards on 6 carries in his first game! However, recently he has developed and become more versatile threat as a slotback by hauling in a 79 yard touchdown pass against the Ottawa Gee Gees two weeks ago. York needs to continue to find mismatches with him and instead of keeping him to help with pass-blocking, get him in space either through swing or flat passes. He is similar to the OUA’s 2006 Rookie of the Year, Guelph RB Nick Fitzgibbons in terms of rushing as both are relatively undersized and aren’t blazers but have excellent footwork and vision. The same way Guelph believed in Fitzgibbons, York needs to believe in Marshall.

4) “Offense gets all the glory, Defense wins championships” – In the year 2000, we saw the Baltimore Ravens of the National Football League win the Super Bowl solely based on a shut-down defense. Their offense was widely considered one of the poorest in the league and despite the lack of points; the defense came together, forced turnovers and played as if they were the only ones in the game. It resulted in a ring and thousands of memories together. The York defense needs to re-live that same situation. The offense is not putting enough points on the board to secure victories, so it is up to the defense to stop opponents and get the ball back. Despite the lack of offensive production this season, the defense is fully capable of being one of the premier defensive teams in the OUA. They rank in the upper half of the CIS (14th) in yards allowed per game at 374 which is phenomenal considering the amount of time the defense has spent on the field. Better yet, they have a strong pass defense which ranks 12th in the nation led by captain Robin Legault and returning starter David Mills. Again, very strong considering switching starting cornerback Jerome Walker to offense. The defense is led by the energetic linebackers Chris Russell, versatile 1st team OUA All Star Jared Corbin and the speedy import Aaron Adusei who played high school football in the States. Beyond the stats, the defense is solid and a strong push by the defensive lineman can give the rest of the team enough room to make plays. But the team must unite and stick together despite the troubles on offense.

5) Bring it – Three games are left in the season. Western are 1-4, McMaster who has been an utter disappointment this season due to lack of consistency (starting with last week, their worst loss in 15 years – a 60-7 trouncing by Ottawa) and Laurier who is a national contender at 5-0. Two of the three games are winnable but it is up to the York team to see if they want to win badly enough and potentially make the playoffs.

As you can see, York has an abundance of athletes and talent, but there is one remaining question is… are the Lions’ bite as strong as their roar?

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