Gaels capture 45th Desjardins Vanier Cup
QUEBEC CITY (CIS) – The Queen’s Gaels scored 26 unanswered points to turn a 25-7 halftime deficit into a 33-31 victory over the Calgary Dinos in the 45th Desjardins Vanier Cup on Saturday at Université Laval’s PEPS Stadium before a standing-room crowd of 18,628.
The win is the Gaels’ fourth Vanier Cup championship, emblematic of Canadian university football supremacy, and their first since 1992. The game was a rematch of the 1983 final when Calgary prevailed 31-21 in the only previous meeting between the two schools.
After trailing by 18 at the break, Queen’s scored 12 third-quarter points and proceeded to add a pair of touchdowns driving against a fierce wind in the fourth stanza. It marked the largest comeback from a halftime deficit in Vanier Cup history, and only the eighth time a team won after trailing at the midway point of the title match.
The Dinos drew within two points on a 15-yard touchdown reception by Anthony Parker of Okotoks, Alta., with 6:38 remaining in regulation, but quarterback Erik Glavic of Pickering, Ont., was unable to complete a two-point convert pass that would have tied the score.
“I’m so proud of the guys, there’s no quitting in this group,” said winning head coach Pat Sheahan, who had led the Concordia Stingers to a Vanier Cup appearance in 1998 and has been at the helm of the Gaels since 2000. “At halftime, I was direct with them, I just told them we didn’t play very well in the first half and had to play better.”
“Winning a Vanier Cup is an opportunity that doesn’t present itself every year. You have to take advantage of these opportunities when they come,” added Sheahan, who hoisted the trophy as offensive coordinator of the McGill Redmen in 1987.
Gaels’ pivot Danny Brannagan of Burlington, Ont., playing the final game of his five-year CIS career, earned the Ted Morris memorial trophy as the game MVP by completing 17 of 33 passes for 286 yards. He threw three touchdown passes and was intercepted once.
“We had a couple of close games lately. I think it really helped us stick through this one,” said Brannagan, who led the Gaels to a 43-39 win over Western in the OUA Yates Cup final and a 33-30 victory over 2008 national champion Laval in the Mitchell Bowl. “We were down 18 points and we really needed to come back quickly in the third otherwise it would have led to a snowballing effect. We went out there and executed well.”
Brannagan completed two of his TD tosses to fifth-year senior and first-team all-Canadian Scott Valberg of Kingston, Ont., who led all Queen’s receivers with 109 yards on seven receptions.
Queen’s fourth-year linebacker Chris Smith of Toronto earned the Bruce Coulter award as the top defensive player of the game. Smith posted 4.5 tackles, a 15-yard sack, one forced fumble and a fumble recovery.
The Queen’s defence generated five turnovers from Calgary, including two fumbles, two interceptions and one blocked field goal.
Running back Marty Gordon of Kingston led the OUA champions’ ground attack with 102 yards on 19 carries. He scored the game-winning touchdown on a 15-yard run 6:26 into the final frame.
Glavic, who received the second Hec Crighton trophy of his career on Thursday night, amassed 354 yards on 23-of-35 passing in the losing effort, throwing for one score and being intercepted twice. Parker snagged nine of Glavic’s passes for 187 and one touchdown. On the ground, Matt Walter of Calgary added 108 yards of offence on 19 carries, including one major score.
Walter opened the scoring for the Dinos at the 10:34 mark of the first frame, capping an eight-play, 54-yard drive with a one-yard TD run.
Queen’s equalized the tally three minutes later with Brannagan connecting with Valberg on a nine-yard passing play.
Taking the wind in the second quarter, Calgary piled up 18 unanswered points. Aaron Ifield booted three field goals, establishing a single-quarter Vanier Cup record. Glavic later added a one-yard rushing major, and Queen’s conceded a safety touch in the dying seconds of the quarter rather than punt into the driving breeze.
Queen’s reasserted itself on the third play of the third quarter with Brannagan connecting with Devan Sheahan of Kingston for a 60-yard pass-and-run score.
The Gaels defence dominated play in the third quarter, generating three crucial turnovers through a fumble recovery deep in Calgary territory, a blocked field goal and an interception in the end zone. While robbing Calgary of a potential 10 points, Queen’s offence found difficulty capitalizing on these turnovers, emerging with one field goal and still trailing 25-19 going into the final period.
Driving against the wind to open the fourth quarter, the Gaels mounted a six-play, 51-yard campaign, capped with a 17-yard touchdown toss from Brannagan to Valberg at the 2:23 mark. The ensuing convert gave the Gaels a 26-25 lead, their first of the afternoon.
Trailing 33-25 following Gordon’s touchdown, Calgary responded on its next possession, capping a 70-yard drive with Glavic’s 15-yard pass to Parker to bring the Dinos within two points. Glavic’s two-point convert attempt, directed at Walter, was unsuccessful, as the all-Canadian couldn’t hold on to the ball when he hit the ground.
Calgary’s final drive was stifled by a fumble recovered by Smith, solidifying Queen’s victory.
“We knew it was going to be important to have a good start in the third quarter, and we didn’t,” said Blake Nill, who guided Saint Mary’s to four Vanier Cup appearances and two championships before taking over the Calgary program in 2006. “We had two opportunities to score in the third and came away with nothing. We lost on turnovers.”
The Vanier Cup returns to Quebec City next year, when the 46th edition of the championship will be hosted again at PEPS Stadium.
GAME NOTES: The victory makes Queen’s the first team to win a Vanier Cup in four different decades, having claimed national titles in 1968, 1978, 1992 and now 2009… Queen’s also appeared in the 1983 Vanier Cup game, making it the only school to have competed in a national final in each decade of the championship’s existence… The 2009 Vanier Cup marked the first time the national championship was hosted in the Province of Quebec, and just the second time the final has been held outside of Ontario. The 2006 game was hosted by the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon… Calgary was appearing in the Vanier Cup for the first time since 1995, when the Dinos captured their fourth banner…