Andrew Gillis played his last game for U of T on Saturday. CISBLOG.CA/PHOTOS

Varsity Stadium’s cold, hardened field flooded with emotion when U of T’s Varsity Blues’ football team marched onto the gridiron for their final home game of the 2011 season.  It was a chance to celebrate and pay tribute to the veterans who will graduate from the team, following the game—the U of T equivalent of what teams in the NCAA term “Senior Day”. The veteran Blues players led the way to the U of T home field for their game against the winless Waterloo Warriors.

Friends, family, and students came prepared with hoodies, jackets, and blankets for the cold and frigid weather conditions at Varsity Stadium to get one last look at the 2011 Varsity Blues football team. After a 2–1 start, the once-promising season turned to disappointment, as the team dropped the next four games in a row, eliminating them from playoff contention for a 12th straight season. Still, the team played hard, knowing that this one was more than just a regular season game.

The Blues set the tone early, producing the game’s first score, led once again by the dual threat Andrew Gillis, captain and fifth-year quarterback. Gillis took the shotgun snap and burst straight through the defence, diving in the end zone for a 1-yard rushing touchdown, giving the Blues a 7–0 lead. In his next play he completed a 51-yard bomb to receiver Paul de Pass, which set up an 18-yard connection, again to de Pass, giving the Blues a 14–0 lead.

The emotions of both teams bled through the game, resulting in a hard-hitting but slow and sloppy four quarters. The Waterloo Warriors suffered at least 15 separate injuries, and both teams were penalized an unbelievable 38 times, amassing 387 yards, and with 2:47 left in the first quarter, there was a wild scrum that featured a Varsity Blues offensive lineman losing his helmet while trading blows with Waterloo opponents. The dispute resulted in five unnecessary roughness fouls: two on Toronto and three on Waterloo.

U of T carried themselves the right way by clocking in two more scores in the second quarter. Fullback Stephen Borenjic of UTM took advantage of his opportunity—his big 32-yard run into the red zone set up a 2-yard touchdown run by running back Aaron Milton, who finished with 140 yards on 18 carries. It was back to “The Andrew Gillis Show” when he threw a 10-yard touchdown pass to Sebastian Magalas and pushed the lead to 28–0 going into halftime.

The Varisty Blues’ defence came out stingy and equipped to punish the Waterloo offence. They sacked the Warriors’ quarterback Luke Balch four times and forced head coach Dennis McPhee to turn to backup Brian Chris. Kevin Asare, a fifth-year UTM star linebacker, produced four tackles, and standout defensive back Dorian Munroe from Florida added another five, including one for a loss of yards and an acrobatic interception with 13:47 left in the third quarter, adding to his season-long highlight package.

In the fourth quarter, first-year running back Emiljano Daci showed that although the team is losing personnel, he is someone to watch in the coming years. He punched in a 2-yard touchdown run, finishing the game with 137 yards on 15 carries. The fourth quarter gave head coach Greg Gary the opportunity to show fans a glimpse of the future of the Blues as Gillis’ replacement, Richard Quittenton, made his way on to the field. Even with Gillis off the field, fans (perhaps jokingly) cheered “We want Gillis!” as a sign of appreciation for him in his last game.

When the final whistle blew and the scoreboard read 45–6 in favour of U of T, the mood was bittersweet. It was the Blues’ best performance all season, a solid way for the veterans bow out, and for the stars of next season to be on display. It was emotional for Andrew Gillis, Kevin Asare, Michael Prempeh, and the other players who appeared for their final game as members of the Varsity Blues football team.

The team took a moment to share a team prayer in the middle of the field, and then took as much time as possible to leave the field one last time, embracing their last opportunity to be united as a team. Though standing in the cold all game, the entire crowd—a mix of alumni players, members of the media, U of T staff, coaches, fiends, fans, and family—were overwhelmingly appreciative.

Following the game, a smiling Asare was eager for the future: “That’s it, that’s it—memories and babies going forward. It was a great five years; now let’s see what the future holds.”

Gary was elated to finish the game so decisively, but already had his sights on the future. “Both of our backs our coming back, [Aaron] Milton and [Emiljano] Daci; you add [second string quarterback Richard] Quittenton to that mix.He’s our future. We’re going to get him a lot of the stuff in the off-season, spring camp—and he’s going to be ready to go.”

“It’s a bittersweet feeling, just thinking of it, like an end-of-career kind of thing,” said Gillis. “But it’s definitely a great feeling to have played the last game like that with all of my boys, going out in style.”