Last sunny Saturday afternoon, the Toronto Varsity Blues took to the field against the Ottawa Gee-Gees to play their 999th game since the beginning of the program in 1861.
The Blues celebrated by honouring Rick Kollins, a 2014 hall of fame inductee. Both teams came into the game hoping for a win to recover from tough losses in the previous week. Both teams were looking for a rebound win after the 6th place Gee-Gees (2-2) lost a nail-biting Panda Bowl game against the Carleton Ravens from a last minute Hail Mary touchdown and the eighth place Varsity Blues (1-3) were defeated by a very strong Western Mustangs team.
The game got off to the worst possible start for U of T. Ottawa’s Jackson Bennett took the opening kickoff 101 yards to the end zone to give them a very early 7-0 lead. The Blues were rattled, and after some indecisive play from both sides, Ottawa put together a string of first downs. Toronto fought hard defensively, but still conceded a field goal. The Gee-Gees kept pushing and the valiant Toronto defence could not keep Bryce Vieira out of the end zone; he increased the margin to 17-0 for Ottawa as the first quarter approached its end.
The second quarter opened with both teams ready to fight for the win. Toronto came close to scoring early when Ashton Rochester received and ran for 49 yards to give Toronto good field positioning. However, penalties and incomplete passes returned the ball to the Gee-Gees, who managed to get two long passes of their own, and scored on an over-the-top throw to a wide-open Ben Fisher in the end zone.
The 24-0 lead was daunting, but U of T would not be intimidated. The overly aggressive Gee-Gees were penalized multiple times, which helped the Blues find some consistency with their offence. Toronto finally capped off their drive with a one-yard punch-in from Marcus Hobbes to get on the scoreboard. It seemed the Varsity Blues’ defence had also found their rhythm, as they made Ottawa fight for every yard.
Seven minutes later, the defence got the crowd up on its feet when Jaiden McBride sacked Ottawa’s punter and Divonte Smith took the resulting fumble 22 yards into the end zone. The team was fired up, and a minute later, Toronto’s Brittley Mokube registered a sack of his own to keep the crowd excited. However, this did not stop the Gee-Gees, who managed to break through U of T’s defence once more when Derek Wendel took the ball in from seven yards out and ended the half with Toronto down 13-31.
The sunlight was glaring on the field as the teams took to the field for the second half of the game. Both sides seemed fatigued by the heat, because neither could get their offence going. After two minutes, Toronto was forced into fumbling the ball and Ottawa gained possession. Nevertheless, Ottawa was not faring much better, and Toronto’s Jaiden McBride recorded his second sack of the game soon after and regained possession.
Unfortunately, the Gee-Gees paid back Toronto’s earlier punt block with one of their own, which led to a one-yard score from quarterback Derek Wendel to increase Ottawa’s lead to 38-13. Toronto was immediately back on the offensive and kept possession until Lukas Gavac capped off an 83-yard push with a touchdown run from just outside the end zone to make the score 38-20. The third quarter drew to a close with Toronto pushing up the field with growing confidence.
This momentum carried into the fourth quarter, and Toronto pressed Ottawa on offence and defence, gaining several yards through forced penalties. Two minutes in, they were rewarded with a safety from the Gee-Gees that brought them within 13 points. Toronto kept fighting and drove up the field multiple times, but couldn’t finish in the end zone and repeatedly lost possession in Ottawa’s half of the field.
As the game wound down, both teams lost decisiveness, and possession was very scattered. Ottawa put the nail in the coffin by scoring a field goal with 25 seconds left in the game to make the final score 41-25 for Ottawa.
Though disappointed with the result, the Blues players were proud of their performance. “The effort was there. We fought right to the end,” says quarterback Simon Nassar. “The slow start didn’t help, but we came together as a team. We could’ve given up or we could’ve fought, but we chose to fight, and I think it showed at the end of the game.”
“We know that the guys play their hearts out every week, and that’s why we come out,” says first-year student Francesca Campos. “We know they’re not just playing for themselves, they’re playing for us too, which is why we support them. We all bleed blue!”
The Toronto Varsity Blues are looking to rebound with a win next week in Ottawa against the Carleton Ravens, who currently sit one spot above the Blues in the OUA standings.