Brian Devlin's 'dream' kick a chance to redeem himself

MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 7:49 AM ET

National championship games should all end this way.

A last-second drive for a touchdown or a pressure-packed field goal from a missable distance. Maybe an overtime game.

It's a consistent script of Canadian football championships.

This time, Sarnia's Brian Devlin wound up being a star player in the drama.

Four years ago when his Laurier Golden Hawks were 1-7, Devlin was ineligible to play. He participated by videotaping the games for the coaching staff from atop University Stadium in Waterloo.

Saturday, he was on the 32-yard line at Ivor Wynne Stadium in Hamilton waiting for the ball to come back from his centre. The Hawks were trailing the Saskatchewan Huskies 24-22 in the Vanier Cup, with less than 25 seconds to play. Devlin had a national championship riding on his foot.

"Strange but I wasn't nervous," he said. "I missed a field goal early in the game, probably because I had a little too much adrenaline, and you immediately think 'I want a chance to redeem myself.' I wasn't really counting on it being to win the game but I'll take it."

Take it he did. He hit the ball sweetly and when the final 19 seconds had run out, the Hawks had won their first Vanier Cup since 1990.

"I watched it go through and it was like, wow, it's like a dream," said Devlin. "The snap was good, the hold was great. I knew I hit it good.

"As soon as it went through the uprights we started jumping up and down and fell to the ground and I thought, 'Holy Cow, this is crazy.'"

A riveting comeback saw the Hawks rally from eight points down midway through the fourth quarter. Even after they scored a touchdown, they failed to tie the game with a two-point convert. Their final drive included a successful third-and-16 conversion.

As the Hawks marched down the field, Devlin, a Sarnia St. Pat's grad, was getting a pretty good idea it would come down to him.

"It's pretty hard in a game like that not to pay attention. It was pretty intense," he said. He had to pull himself away from the sideline to loosen up his leg.

A week ago it was the Grey Cup game that captured centre stage. It was an overtime spectacle that saw the Edmonton Eskimos defeat the Montreal Alouettes, a game so enthralling as it neared its conclusion that non-football fans were glued to their television sets.

That forced the football fan to explain the overtime procedure to non-football fans. Not an appealing process when one is trying to watch the game but a testament to the entertainment value of championship Canadian football.

The Vanier Cup victory was ultimate proof the Golden Hawks were back from their 1-7 season. But it was also proof that good coaching and recruiting allows Ontario schools to compete with schools in other conferences.

Ontario schools often complain they can't compete with other conferences because they can't offer the same financial incentives schools in Quebec, the Atlantic provinces and the West can offer potential athletes.

Hawks head coach and manager of football operations Gary Jeffries proved it can be done. His team completed a 12-0 season.

Recruiting is a big part of university football. But recruits don't always go where the money is. They go to attractive programs, progressive programs that try different things.

"Coach Jeff, he's the father of the family," said Devlin. "He makes sure that every little piece is working. It's just the character we've built through coach Jeff. As long as that final whistle doesn't go, we know we have a chance to win."

While Devlin's field goal will become the most remembered play of the 24-23 Vanier Cup game, spare a thought for the point-after touchdown. Devlin has not missed one at Laurier, making 103 of 103.

Devlin's university football career is now done. He'll wait to see if any pro teams come calling. But last night he headed home to Sarnia to what should be a nice celebration.

"Well, we had quite a time (Saturday)," he said. "I think I'll just go home and take it easy."


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