Historic comeback caps Vanier Cup win

The wind was strong and the University of Calgary Dinos were tough, but the football team overcame an 18-point halftime deficit to win the Canadian championship in Quebec City on Saturday

Wide receiver Blaise Morrison eludes two tackles before taking on Dinos’ defensive back Michael Lau on Saturday afternoon at the PEPS Stadium in Quebec City.
Wide receiver Blaise Morrison eludes two tackles before taking on Dinos’ defensive back Michael Lau on Saturday afternoon at the PEPS Stadium in Quebec City.

Queen’s win in Saturday’s Vanier Cup will outlive everyone who watched it. The biggest second-half comeback in Vanier history is sure to live forever in Queen’s football folklore.

The Gaels were up against the second-ranked team in the country whose quarterback, Erik Glavic, was fresh from receiving his second Hec Creighton Award as the most outstanding Canadian player.

The halftime score seemed to validate the rankings. Queen’s trailed by 18 points after two quarters.

Gaels head coach Pat Sheahan said he told his team they needed a touchdown to open the second half.

“We had to score next,” he said. “To get down 32-7 would have been too much.”

Despite the desperate situation, quarterback Danny Brannagan said Sheahan’s halftime speech wasn’t dramatic.

“He was just trying to keep us calm, trying to say that they hadn’t really stopped us,” he said.

The Gaels took just over a minute to carry out Sheahan’s orders in the third quarter with a 60-yard Brannagan touchdown pass to the coach’s son Devan Sheahan through double-coverage.

All-Canadian receiver Scott Valberg, who had seven receptions including two touchdowns in the game, said after the Sheahan touchdown he knew he’d be wearing a championship ring.

“When Dev hit that ball, I knew we were going to win this game,” he said.

There was still an 11-point deficit, though, and with the fourth quarter to be played into strong winds, the Gaels were far from sealing a win.

Brannagan said the deficit shadowed worries about the wind.

“When you’re a passing team, it does affect you. It does affect your mentality,” he said.

The Gaels played with the wind in the third and used the advantage to build on Sheahan’s touchdown, forcing a Dinos safety and adding a field goal to bring them within six.

A Valberg touchdown early in the fourth quarter gave the Gaels a one-point lead, their first of the game.

Valberg said the comeback was a testament to the team’s character.

“It was the maturity of our team that didn’t let us get down and get down on each other.”

Dinos receiver Anthony Parker scored on a 15-yard pass from Glavic with six minutes to go, giving the Dinos a chance to tie the game. But the two-point conversion attempt failed when Glavic’s pass slipped through running back Matt Walter’s hands.

The 33-31 final was the last of three consecutive Gaels playoff games to conclude in a fashion that generated ulcers in fans’ stomachs. The Yates Cup, the Mitchell Bowl, and the Vanier Cup were all won by four points or less. Saturday’s final clock-killing drive included two gambles on third-and-short by Pat Sheahan.

Brannagan, who was the Vanier Cup Player of the Game, defeated a Hec Creighton Award nominated-quarterback in each Queen’s playoff game. He beat Western’s Michael Faulds in the Yates Cup and Laval’s Benoit Groulx in the last weekend’s Mitchell Bowl.

“Danny should be the Hec Creighton award winner,” left tackle Matt O’Donnell said.

Pat Sheahan said he wouldn’t have been devastated by a loss had Calgary made their two-point conversion.

“When we came back and made it a game I was prepared for either,” he said. “If Calgary had came back and won it in the end, I’d be happy that the guys came back and at least showed everybody that they weren’t quitters.”

With time expiring and the teams separated by two points, every play had the potential to be the game’s defining moment.

At the four-minute mark, Sheahan said an unusual personnel issue put the Gaels in a vulnerable situation.

“6’10” Matt O’Donnell comes up to me and ... says he has to go to the bathroom,” he said. “Can you imagine? Biggest play of the season and we’ve got a 6’10 guy going to the bathroom ... This game had everything, that’s all I can tell you.”

Anatomy of a season

A game-by-game breakdown of the football team’s national championship season:

Sept. 7: Win 52-49 vs. Guelph Gryphons

After leading 46-18, the Gaels eke out a win thanks to backup kicker Mike Petranovic’s last-second 37-yard field goal.

Sept. 12: Win 8-7 vs. McMaster Marauders

Running back Jimmy Therrien accumulates a career-high 181 rushing yards and tight end Chris Ioannides scores the Gaels’ only touchdown. Quarterback Danny Brannagan suffers a mild concussion in the second quarter.

Sept. 19: Win 20-8 at Ottawa Gee-Gees

In defensive lineman Shomari Williams’s first CIS game, the Gaels hold the Gee-Gees to 264 yards of offence and kicker Dan Village notches three field goals. Therrien scores the Gaels’ only touchdown.

Sept. 26: Win 67-0 vs. York Lions

Returning from injury, Brannagan posts a career-high 543 passing yards in the Fauxcoming weekend game.

Oct. 3: Win 42-13 at Windsor Lancers

Defensive back Jimmy Allin returns a punt for his third returning touchdown of the season. Village tallies 18 points.

Oct. 10: Win 43-21 vs. Waterloo Warriors

Brannagan passes for 347 yards to become the OUA’s all-time passing leader. Running back Marty Gordon rushes for 180 yards.

Oct. 17: Win 27-26 vs. Western Mustangs

Brannagan leads an 85-yard drive in the final minute that ends with a 30-yard touchdown pass to receiver Blaise Morrison.

Oct. 24: Loss 23-13 at Laurier Golden Hawks

In the Gaels’ first regular-season loss since Oct. 6, 2007, receiver Scott Valberg catches 10 passes for 159 yards. Brannagan finishes second on the all-time CIS passing list to Western’s Michael Faulds, but is first quarterback in CIS history to reach 10,000 career passing yards.

Nov. 7 – OUA semifinal: Win 32-6 vs. McMaster Marauders

Brannagan, Gordon and Therrien rush for one touchdown each as the Gaels hold the Marauders to two field goals.

Nov. 14 – Yates Cup: Win 43-39 vs. Western Mustangs
In a game with seven lead changes, Brannagan connects with Valberg on a 16-yard touchdown pass with three minutes to go. Brannagan and Faulds both pass for more than 500 yards.

Nov. 21 – Mitchell Bowl: Win 33-30 vs. Laval Rouge-et-Or

Allin returns a missed field goal 120 yards for a touchdown late in the third quarter, the second-longest touchdown in CIS playoff history. Game MVP Williams sacks Laval quarterback Benoit Groulx three and a half times.

Nov. 28 – Vanier Cup: Win 33-31 vs. Calgary Dinos

The Gaels roar back from an 18-point deficit at the half, scoring 26 unanswered points on touchdowns by receiver Devan Sheahan, Valberg and Gordon. Brannagan is named the player of the game, with Chris Smith named the defensive MVP.

Michael Woods

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