Queen's captures Vanier Cup

Queen’s University Golden Gaels Alex Daprato holds the trophy after they defeated University of...

Queen’s University Golden Gaels Alex Daprato holds the trophy after they defeated University of Calgary Dinos in the CIS Vanier Cup college football game at Laval University in Quebec City, on Saturday, Nov. 28. (Mathieu Belanger, REUTERS)

Mike Koreen, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 7:48 PM ET

QUEBEC CITY — Overlooked for individual awards and overtaken for a national record, Danny Brannagan wasn't about to let the big prize slip away.

The fifth-year Queen's Gaels star quarterback saved his best for last, leading his team to the biggest second-half comeback in the 45-year history of the Vanier Cup on Saturday.

Brannagan threw for 221 of his 286 yards in the final 30 minutes as Queen's erased a 25-7 halftime deficit in beating the Calgary Dinos 33-31 before a sellout crowd of 18,628 yesterday at PEPS Stadium. It was the Gaels' first Vanier Cup title since 1992 and fourth overall.

“They kept shafting him and he just kept fighting through it,” Gaels rush end Shomari Williams said of Brannagan, who fell short in his bid for the Ontario player of the year award and the national career passing record, both of which went to Michael Faulds of Western.

“He's a class guy and I've got all the respect in the world for Danny Brannagan.”

So do the Dinos after the Burlington native completed his third win in a row against a player nominated for the national player of the year award — Faulds, Benoit Groulx of Laval and, finally, Hec Crighton Trophy winner Erik Glavic of Calgary.

The largest previous comeback for a Vanier Cup winner came in 1996 when the Saskatchewan Huskies beat the St. Francis Xavier X-Men 31-12 after trailing 12-0 at halftime.

Brannagan, who struggled under consistent pressure in the first half, showed the Gaels weren't going to go down easily when he hit a streaking Devan Sheahan for a 60-yard touchdown pass on the first drive of the third quarter.

The Gaels trimmed the Dinos' lead to 25-19 with the wind at their backs in the third quarter before Brannagan came up aces again.

Going against a stiff breeze on the opening drive of the fourth quarter, Brannagan rolled out of the pocket and threw a 17-yard touchdown strike to Scott Valberg, putting Queen's up for good — 26-25.

“(Brannagan) is the premier player at his position,” said Gaels coach Pat Sheahan, who won his first Vanier Cup in his 21st year as a Canadian Interuniversity Sport head coach — his 10th at Queen's.

“He's terrific. The sad part is it's his last football game at Queen's.

It's the last one for him and a number of other seniors and they're going out as champs. You can't be any better than the champion and that's what he is.”

The Dinos were their own worst enemies in the second half. Glavic fumbled once and threw an interception in the end zone to Matt Vickers, while Richard Snyder fumbled near midfield after catching a pass from his quarterback with just over three minutes left.

From there, the Gaels turned to Marty Gordon and the running game, overpowering the Dinos to run out the clock.

The Dinos had a chance to tie it with 6:38 left after Glavic connected with Anthony Parker for a 15-yard touchdown to cut the Queen's lead to two. But on the two-point conversion, Matt Walter couldn't haul in a pass from Glavic.

“It's difficult. I feel like crap,” said Walter.

“People believe in you and you want to make the school proud and we let them down. We turned the ball over too many times. It's just a terrible feeling.”

The Gaels, who had just 121 yards of offence in the first quarter, exploded for 315 yards in the air and on the ground in the decisive second half.

Queen's was outstanding in tight games all season, going 5-0 in contests decided by a touchdown or less.

“The mood was calm (at halftime),” Queen's defensive end Osie Ukwuoma said. “You might think we'd be a bit frazzled, but Danny was calm, coach Sheahan was calm, the whole defence was calm and we came out with the game plan we've been using all season. It couldn't have come out any better.”

With 18 of 25 starters in their fourth or fifth year of eligibility, the Gaels were desperate to make a championship run this year after last year's stunning opening-game playoff exit in the aftermath of an 8-0 regular season.

“That's a great way (to finish),” said Brannagan, who plans to become an accountant. “Five years ago coming to Queen's, that (winning the Vanier

Cup) was always the goal. It means a lot to go out in the last game and get a victory in the Vanier Cup.”

mkoreen@thewhig.com


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