McPhee can be as good as Quinlan

Watching a classic Vanier Cup in Vancouver shows Queen’s can compete in the next few years

VANCOUVER — Friday’s Vanier Cup between the Laval Rouge-et-Or and the McMaster Marauders was an instant classic. The underdog Marauders flew out of the gates at B.C. Place, riding a virtuoso first-half performance from quarterback Kyle Quinlan to take a 23-0 halftime lead.

Quinlan — who finished with 588 all-purpose yards — picked apart the top-ranked Laval defence while the Marauders held Laval’s receiver Julian Feoli-Gudino and running back Sebastian Lévesque to a combined 75 first-half yards.

The second half was all Laval. A punt return touchdown from receiver Guillaume Rioux and an interception by safety Frédéric Plesius engineered a comeback that saw the Rouge-et-Or take a 24-23 lead in the fourth quarter.

Quinlan threw two interceptions in the third quarter, but responded with a seven-play, 69-yard scoring drive to put McMaster ahead 31-24 midway through the fourth. Laval answered three minutes later to tie the score 31-31. In the final play of regulation, Marauders kicker Tyler Crapigna missed a 30-yard field goal to set the stage for overtime.

The second-half fireworks paled in comparison to the overtime. The teams traded touchdowns on their first possessions to push the game into double overtime.

Rouge-et-Or quarterback Bruno Prud’homme was intercepted by Marauders defensive back Steven Ventresca on the first possession of double overtime. A few plays later, Crapigna redeemed himself with a successful 20-yard field goal to give McMaster its first-ever Vanier Cup title.

As the Marauders celebrated in front of 24,953 fans at B.C. Place, I wondered where the Queen’s football team stood in Canadian Interuniversity Sport.

I covered every Gaels game this season for local radio station CFRC. Two resounding losses to the Marauders — a 26-2 season-opening defeat and a 40-13 OUA semifinal blowout — proved they weren’t ready to hang with the big boys this season. But they were close.

In that Sept. 5 home loss to McMaster, Queen’s fielded a completely revamped young team against a veteran squad with the best quarterback in the country. On Nov. 5, they travelled to Hamilton without the services of emerging star quarterback Billy McPhee and were pummeled.

This season, McPhee proved himself as one of the better quarterbacks in the OUA — without him, the Gaels had little hope against a healthy Marauders team with Quinlan at the helm.

The 2009 Vanier Cup-winning Gaels and this season’s Marauders both proved that the OUA is a league where you must have experience at quarterback to be successful.

Two years ago, fifth-year quarterback Danny Brannagan led the Gaels to a national title and was named offensive MVP of the Vanier Cup. This season, fourth-year Quinlan did the exact same thing.

McPhee can be that good.

At times this season, McPhee was playing the best football in the OUA. As he continues to cut down on mistakes, there’s no reason why he can’t be as good as Quinlan or Brannagan by his fourth or fifth year.

But experience isn’t just important at quarterback. McMaster and Laval had a combined 28 fourth or fifth-year players on Friday night. Queen’s only played six veterans this season. While the Marauders and Rouge-et-Or used a combined 18 rookies for the Vanier Cup, the Gaels had 21 in the lineup for the Nov. 5 loss in Hamilton.

But the future looks bright for the Gaels. With head coach Pat Sheahan having to replace only six graduating players over the winter, Queen’s will be ready to improve on this year’s 7-3 season that ended at the hands of the national champions. Anything less than a Yates Cup appearance next November will be a disappointment.

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