Photo: Kim Wiens.
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Victory over fifth-ranked Marauders silences doubters

After a bye-week to start the season, followed by a thrashing of a struggling Waterloo team, the Gee-Gees football team had to make a statement in their home opener.

For the Gees, everything up until kickoff against the nationally fifth-ranked McMaster Marauders really didn’t mean much.

In the eyes of many across the country, the Gee-Gees were not trending upwards coming into the year, but with a 30-8 dismantling of a bitter rival and high-quality team, the Gees appear to be the real deal.

This game wasn’t a blowout, but it also was never truly within reach for the Marauders. While the Gee-Gees had their struggles and successes throughout the game, when it came time to crack down and execute the team showed they can play with the big dogs.

Last season, the Gee-Gees and Marauders engaged in a shootout in Hamilton, which resulted in a 57-42 McMaster victory. Quarterbacks Derek Wendel and Asher Hastings both had fantastic games, but it was Hastings that led his team to the early season win.

This year, Wendel outplayed his counterpart and affirmed his status as the top quarterback in the conference, and possibly the nation.

The fifth-year signal caller was poised and well-prepared in the pocket, his tempo and execution proved to make the difference in leading the Gee-Gees offence to 535 total yards and five scores.

Wendel finished with 441 yards and three touchdowns hitting on 35 of 47 passes. He also led the team in rushing with 67 yards. His only missteps were three interceptions, one of which was a freak play where his receiver dropped the ball directly into the hands of a Marauder.

Third-year running back Bryce Vieira had a breakout game. Despite only picking up 31 yards on the ground, the Montreal native hauled in an impressive 146 receiving yards resulting in one touchdown.

“This was amazing,” said Wendel. “The guys on defence and special teams killed it today.”

As for the offence, Wendel was a little more reserved in his praises, saying the team needs to focus on fixing their mistakes.

“We could’ve executed a lot better on a lot of different things,” he said. “We did have some big plays, but we’re going to take that with a grain of salt and work on the bad things that happened.”

Defensively, the Gee-Gees have looked their best in a long time so far this season. Through two games, the team has only given up nine points, none of which have been touchdowns.

The unit did a remarkable job at shutting down a typically potent McMaster offence, only forfeiting 249 passing and 87 rushing.

Last season, the defence was a liability for the Gees and often singled out as the source of the team’s struggles. New defensive coordinator Jean-Vincent Posy-Audette has worked hard to prepare players on his side of the ball  for the season, which is something that head coach Jamie Barresi is pleased with.

“It’s a great improvement for the defence,” said Barresi. “No one has seen our defence before and we were very conservative last week … that’s why I didn’t have an exhibition game, I didn’t want to let too much out of the bag.”

It seems that the surprisingly vast improvement of the defensive unit was a well-planned and equally well-executed offseason endeavour.

One of the cornerstones of the new Gee-Gees defence is Jamie Harry, a former wide receiver turned cornerback, who led the team with five and a half tackles, an interception leading to a 33-yard return, and a forced fumble. Harry also had a solid game against Waterloo on Sept. 5 with four tackles and an interception.

“It’s a crazy feeling,” said Harry about his personal and team success. “With a new coach I didn’t know what to expect, but now that I see what we can do I’m excited for the season.”

On all sides of the ball, the Gee-Gees physically look different. This year, it seems that an injection of size, speed, and strength has paid off for the team.

With young players like Harry, receivers Kalem Beaver and Luke Ffrench, linebacker Jackson Bennett, and defensive tackle Parker Bolton, among others upping the physicality of the team, everything seems to be headed in the right direction.

“I thought our offseason conditioning was outstanding in terms of developing speed and athleticism,” said Barresi. “You can see it on the field, our kids can flat out run … we’re a speed team.”

With a definitive win in the books and with sweeping change of opinion and national ranking being likely, the Gee-Gees football team is on path to succeed this year. For now, every game will be a new test where the team has to prove themselves.

It seems as if they’re going to revel in being the underdogs—only time will tell how far this team can go.

“Our team legitimately believes every single week we play we can beat any team,” said fifth-year receiver Mitch Baines, who had monster 110-yard, two-touchdown game.

“Every time we come out and play, whether it’s McMaster, Guelph, Western whatever big team it is, we feel confident we can beat that team.”

The Gee-Gees will look to put that confidence to the test  on Sept. 17 against the tenth-ranked Guelph Gryphons, when they come to Gee-Gees Field at 1 p.m.