KINGSTON — The Queen's Golden Gaels finally are Ontario university football champions after knocking off a seemingly invincible coach and his battered quarterback in a thriller.
A 43-39 win over coach Greg Marshall's two-time defending Yates Cup champion Western Mustangs yesterday gave the Gaels their first Ontario University Athletics title since 1978.
The game, featuring a whopping 1,209 yards in offence and two outstanding quarterbacking performances from the Mustangs' Michael Faulds and the Gaels' Danny Brannagan, went right down to the wire. Faulds re-entered the game with a bum left knee for a last-ditch third-and-20 attempt from the Queen's 33-yard line with 17.5 seconds left.
Barely able to walk after his knee buckled with just over a minute left, Faulds somehow avoided a sack in the backfield and fired a pass that fell just short of Zach Bull for what would have been a first down,
The turnover on downs touched off a wild celebration as 7,253 fans celebrated the Queen's win and Marshall's first loss in the OUA playoffs this decade, breaking an 18-game winning streak.
“What I saw was a story in the making. I saw the headlines the next day — Faulds with a broken leg or a torn ACL and throws for the winning touchdown on third down with no time left on the clock,” Queen's centre Dan Bederman said. “But then our fantastic defence stepped it up when it counted and we came away with the victory that we fought so hard for and deserved.”
It was a true quarterbacking duel with Brannagan claiming victory after being edged by Faulds in voting for the OUA player of the year award.
The Burlington native torched the Mustangs secondary, throwing for 515 yards, fourth-best in Canadian Interuniversity Sport playoff history, and five touchdowns, including the game-winning 16-yard strike to Scott Valberg with 2:49 left.
“You always kind of hope for it — winning the Yates at home and the celebration afterwards,” Brannagan, the game MVP, said. “Queen's plays Western, you wouldn't want it any other way.
“I'm very excited. It's kind of a surreal experience. The last five years, you're always imagining the day and now it actually happened.”
It was a rough ending to Faulds' career after the fifth-year quarterback played through pain since suffering the left knee injury Oct. 8.
Faulds, who threw for 509 yards, convinced Marshall to let him go in for the final play.
“It's very difficult for me to talk about Michael Faulds right now,” Marshall said. “He means so much to me and to this football program. I've been very fortunate to have spent the last four years coaching him. He is a warrior.”
The Gaels shed their reputation as playoff disappointments with the victory.
The Gaels entered this year's playoffs having lost three post-season games in a row, including an OUA semifinal defeat at home against Ottawa last year after an 8-0 regular season.
“This year there was resolve right from the beginning. It was going to be Yates Cup or bust,” Gaels coach Pat Sheahan said. “(The players) would not have looked at this season as being a success if we didn't win the Yates Cup.”
The back-and-forth game featured seven lead changes. Western fought back from a nine-point halftime deficit.
John Leckie of Georgetown led the way for Western with three one-yard touchdown runs.
Valberg and Devan Sheahan, the coach's son, had two touchdown receptions apiece for the Gaels.
Queen's goes on to face the two-time defending Vanier Cup champion Laval Rouge et Or in a CIS semifinal — the Mitchell Bowl — next Saturday in Kingston.
The other semifinal sees the Saint Mary's Huskies hosting the Calgary Dinos.
The Vanier Cup is Nov. 28 in Quebec City.