Lions defeat Ottawa Gee-Gees in a thrilling home opener

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A raucous crowd at York Stadium was treated to an exciting home opener as the York University Lions football team defeated the visiting University of Ottawa Gee-Gees 47-36 on Saturday afternoon.

The Lions in action during Saturday's home opener at York StadiumThe Lions in action during Saturday’s home opener at York Stadium
The win marked the first at home under head coach Warren Craney and the 47 points was the most scored by the team since they hung 55 on Waterloo in 2004.

The team’s game ball went to fifth-year running back Kyle Exume, who rushed for 180 yards on 31 carries and scored three touchdowns, including an 85-yard run in the second quarter that tied the game.

Quarterback Myles Gibbon was again impressive, going 23-of-39 for 341 yards, with one touchdown and two interceptions. Both of his picks were thrown early in the first quarter before he quickly settled down. He also had 83 yards on the ground, on 14 carries, and added a pair of touchdowns.

His counterpart, Aaron Colbon, finished 6-of-16 for 86 yards and two touchdowns. He did most of his damage on the ground with 132 rushing yards on 13 carries and another pair of touchdowns.

York received the ball at the kickoff, but turned the ball over on an early interception by Gee-Gee François Rodrigue of St-Georges de Beauce, Que. Ottawa opened the scoring on the subsequent drive, with Simon Le Marquand of Gatineau, Que., scoring a touchdown less than two minutes into the game.

The Lions answered in a hurry, on a long drive that eventually saw Gibbon run 17 yards into the end zone for York’s first scoring play of the game. York kicker Heneri Dervishi of Toronto added the extra point.

The Gee-Gees added two additional touchdowns in the first quarter, with Colbon making a 48-yard touchdown run by himself, and linebacker Rob Griffiths running 24 yards into the end zone after intercepting one of Gibbon’s errant passes.

York rallied in the final minutes of the first quarter, when an incredible catch by Nathaniel Griffith left the Lions in scoring position on the six-yard line to start the second quarter. Exume ran the ball in for the touchdown.

The Lions got their first lead of the game with just over four minutes in the half when Gibbon threw a touchdown pass to Jonelle Tolbert. It was one of his seven catches on the day and he finished with a team-high 98 yards.

The Lions’ defence even contributed to the second quarter scoring, when Kellen Aiken made a tackle in the Gee-Gees end zone off a rushing play, scoring the safety and adding another two points to York’s lead with just 1:44 remaining in the half.

The Lions put up 23 points in the second frame and succeeded on both ends of the field. Cornerback Cory Bellerdine and linebacker Hussein Hazime both made critical tackles for the defence, keeping the Gee-Gees from registering any points in the second quarter, and the Lions carried a 30-21 into the second half. Hazime finished the game with a team-high 6.5 tackles and one sack, while Bellerdine was just behind him with six tackles.

The Lions kicked to open the second half, and though the Gee-Gees looked to be off to a strong start in the quarter, Jordan Nugent knocked down a certain Gee-Gees touchdown pass early in the third. The Gee-Gees then failed to make their third-down conversion, as defender Patrick Russell finished off the Gee-Gees’ drive with a sack on Colbon, for a 12-yard Gee-Gee loss on the play.

York’s return drive led to a 32-yard field goal for kicker Dervishi, with 5:12 remaining in the quarter.

The York defence continued to excel throughout the third quarter, denying the Gee-Gees’ offence effective scoring drives. Linebacker Emerson Morassutti forced a fumble on Colbon and the Lions recovered the ball for the turnover with just under three minutes remaining in the quarter.

After the Lions’ offence turned the ball over on downs deep in their own end, the Gee-Gees were finally able to break through the Lion defence, with quarterback Colbon sneaking in on a short rush to record his second rushing touchdown of the game.

York’s offence shone in the final quarter of the game, making two long drives from deep in their own end all the way to the opposing end zone to add two more touchdowns to their scoring and put their game away.

Second-year receiver Devontae Hobbs made a fantastic leaping catch for a gain of 30 yards, setting up a running touchdown for Exume, his third of the game, to cap off a 12-play, 107-yard drive and increase the Lions lead to 40-28.

The Lions got one more touchdown from Gibbon with 4:20 left on the clock, and the Gee-Gees scored a meaningless touchdown with 31 seconds left in the game after Colbon threw a long pass to Brendan Gillanders and Colbon himself ran in the two point conversion that brought the Gee-Gees’ point total to 36.

With the win, the Lions’ season record improves to 1-1. Their next game is Saturday, Sept. 15 against the Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks on the road in University Stadium, at 1pm. Their next home game is Saturday, Sept. 22 against the Waterloo Warriors at 1pm at York Stadium.