Mitchell Bowl a matchup of elite QBs

Mike Koreen, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 11:08 PM ET

They are remarkably similar quarterbacks who have taken totally different paths to the Mitchell Bowl.

Not known for their athleticism or their physical builds, Benoit Groulx of the Laval Rouge et Or and Danny Brannagan of the Queen's Golden Gaels have been two of the best in the business since joining their respective teams in 2005.

Saturday's Canadian Interuniversity Sport semifinal at Richardson Stadium is old hat for the five-foot-nine, 190-pound Groulx, who makes his fifth appearance in a bowl game in as many years. But for the six-foot, 200-pound Brannagan, it's a semifinal debut in his final crack at a national championship.

“They are very similar,” said Gaels defensive co-ordinator Pat Tracey, an assistant coach on an East all-star squad that featured Brannagan and Groulx last year at the CIS East-West Bowl.

“They both wait in the pocket and have great protection and talented receivers. They get the call, they calculate what they want to do and, zip, the ball's out so fast. They play extremely well under pressure.

“They are almost mirror images. They have seen it, watched it, calculated it.”

Both quarterbacks have seen their teams post strong records during their careers. The Rouge et Or are 52-4 in Groulx's five years, while the Gaels are 30-16 in the Brannagan era.

But Groulx has enjoyed far more time in the national spotlight. The reigning player of the year in Canada, Groulx is nominated for the Hec Crighton Trophy for the third time this year. He also has won a pair of Vanier Cups.

Brannagan was named Ontario University Athletics rookie of the year in 2005, but he's been overshadowed by other quarterbacks around the country in recent years.

Even this year, a banner year for the Burlington native, Brannagan was overtaken by Michael Faulds for the CIS career passing record and edged out by the Western Mustangs pivot for Ontario player of the year honours.

However, Brannagan made himself familiar to fans across Canada last week by throwing for an astounding 515 yards in a nationally-televised Yates Cup victory over Faulds' Mustangs.

“I see the same thing as I see in Benoit (with Brannagan),” Rouge et Or coach Glen Constantin said. “They're both undersized quarterbacks and they don't seem to be the most mobile guys. Their strength resides in their understanding of the game. They're both very smart and their decision-making process is extremely quick. They are both generals out there.”

The end of one career will come today. Brannagan has said he's going into the accounting world, while Groulx hopes to be a coach.

“I've coached university for 19 years and I've never seen a kid understand football the way this kid understands it,” Constantin said of Groulx. “He picks up things in coverage, he's a good leader and a mature kid. We go as Ben goes. He's going to be a great coach.”

But, of course, Constantin would like to delay Groulx's job interview until after the Vanier Cup, which Laval hosts in Quebec City next Saturday.

The national championship already is a sellout. It would be a large disappointment for the fans if the Rouge et Or are not playing.

“For sure, that puts a little bit of extra pressure on us,” Groulx said. “But for us, our goal has always been to be at the Vanier wherever it is. ... For me, it would be perfect to finish my career in front of our fans in Laval at the Vanier Cup. But Queen's is a really good team and we've got to take care of them first.”

While one could come up with a few advantages for Queen's — the game is on grass (Laval plays home games on artificial turf) and the Rouge et Or are 1-3 on the road in bowl games — the visitors have to be considered significant favourites.

The Rouge et Or have won five Vanier Cups in the past 10 years. The Gaels, conversely, haven't won one since 1992.

Being an underdog, however, can be a motivating factor for a team.

Queen's star defensive end Shomari Williams might want to think back to 2007 to get himself pumped up. As a member of the Houston Cougars, Williams travelled to Tuscaloosa, Ala., to face the powerful Alabama Crimson Tide before a crowd of 92,138.

No one gave Houston a chance, but the Cougars took the Crimson Tide right to the wire before losing 30-24.

“We lost in the last minute,” said Williams, who registered his first NCAA Division I sack that day, taking down John Parker Wilson, now a member of the Atlanta Falcons. “They were all saying 'Roll Tide Roll' and singing Sweet Home Alabama after the game. It was just a crazy experience.”

What did Williams learn from that memorable afternoon?

“Honestly, the only people that matter are the people in the dressing room,” he said. “Other people are just noise. You have to believe in yourself and believe in the coaches and believe in what we can do. I think the guys in our room all believe. That's what we need.”

Rouge et Or (9-1) at Gaels (9-1)

1 p.m., Richardson Stadium

TSN/CFRC 101.9 FM

Long association: Laval coach Glen Constantin first met Pat Sheahan in 1983. Sheahan was an assistant coach with the Montreal Junior Concordes and Constantin was a defensive lineman. “I'm facing a mentor,” Constantin said. “He's been really, really good to me.”

Lights out: The last time Sheahan beat the Rouge et Or in a playoff game — as coach of the Concordia Stingers in 1998 — certainly was memorable. The game, a triple overtime win for Concordia, took place over two days as darkness forced officials to suspend play in Montreal.

On the road: The other semifinal — the Uteck Bowl — sees the Saint Mary's Huskies hosting the Calgary Dinos today in Halifax.

mkoreen@thewhig.com


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