CIS football Mitchell Bowl: Gaels upset Laval, advance to Desjardins Vanier Cup
By Queen’s sports information
KINGSTON, Ont. (CIS) – The No. 4-ranked Queens Gaels took a 20-point lead early in the fourth quarter and held on to upset the No. 1 and defending national champion Laval Rouge et Or 33-30 in CIS football semifinal action in front of 6,972 Richardson Stadium fans, Saturday afternoon.
The Mitchell Bowl victory sends the Gaels to the Desjardins Vanier Cup where they will face the No. 2 Calgary Dinos next Saturday in Quebec City. Queen’s beat Saint Mary’s 31-0 in its last appearance in the title match in 1992 and also hoisted the coveted trophy in 1968 and 1978.
The Dinos defeated the No. 6 Saint Mary’s Huskies 38-14 in the Uteck Bowl at Huskies Stadium in Halifax earlier today to also qualify for the 2009 CIS final which is set for November 28 at 12 noon at PEPS Stadium, live on TSN and Radio-Canada.
Queen’s and Calgary met in the 1983 Vanier Cup at Varsity Stadium in Toronto, with the Dinos prevailing 31-21.
With the loss, the Rouge et Or, who were hoping to become the first team in history to attempt a Vanier Cup defence in its home city, fall to 1-4 all-time in Bowl games played on the road. They were appearing in a CIS record seventh straight national semifinal.
Queen’s all-star quarterback Danny Brannagan of Burlington, Ont., overcame a slow start to finish 24-of-41 passing for 306 yards, two touchdowns and only one interception.
Fellow fifth-year senior Benoit Groulx of Montreal, last year’s Hec Crighton trophy winner and the Quebec conference MVP again this season, was equally impressive in a losing cause completing 26 of 42 passes for 425 yards, three majors and no interceptions.
Groulx, however, was sacked eight times by a relentless Gaels defence led by defensive end Shomari Williams of Brampton, Ont., who tallied 3.5 sacks and seven tackles to earn the Maury L. Van Vliet trophy as the BlackBerry player of the game.
“Hats off to Laval. They are a really strong team and deserve all of the credit they get,” said Williams. We just executed our game plan perfectly. We stuck to it and we really worked hard to win this game”
“We really showed up today,” added head coach Pat Sheahan, who took over the Gaels program in 2000 after 11 campaigns at the helm of the Concordia Stingers, whom he took to a Vanier Cup appearance in 1998. “The kids played well. The offence did just enough today and defence won it in the second half. Laval is a great football team and it was an honour to compete against them.”
After surrendering two early leads to the heavily-favoured Rouge et Or, the OUA champions dominated the second and third quarters and took a commanding 33-13 advantage 13 seconds into the fourth frame when Brannagan found fellow Burlington native Mark Surya in the corner of the end zone on 24 yards.
But Laval refused to go down quietly and mounted a furious comeback that fell just short.
Queen’s led 7-3 after 15 minutes of play following a 40-yard field goal by Laval’s Christopher Milo of Montreal and a one-yard touchdown run by Jimmy Therrien, also of Montreal, which capped a six play, 77-yard Gaels drive.
The Rouge et Or started off the second quarter with a bang as they went 67 yards on three plays to re-take the lead 43 seconds in. Freshman Junior Seydou Haidara of Quebec City caught a five-yard TD pass from Groulx after the QUFL MVP had hit Maxime Béland of Neuville, Que., for a 62-yard gain to set up the score.
It would be Laval’s last lead of the afternoon.
With just over two minutes to go before the break, Brannagan made it 14-10 Queen’s when, from Laval’s two-yard line, he faked a handoff to Therrien before hitting Christopher Ioannides of Toronto in the end zone.
Following a defensive stop, Gaels kicker Dan Village of Abbotsford, B.C., connected on a 37-yard field goal to send the locals to the locker room ahead 17-10.
The Queen’s defence came up big again early in the third stanza recording a pair of tackles for a loss deep in Laval’s territory to force the Rouge et Or to concede a safety 3:50 into the half.
After Milo made it a six-point affair with a 35-yard field goal, he had a chance to pull his team to within three with two minutes to go in the third quarter but missed wide left from 44 yards out, and the game swung dramatically in Queen’s favour moments later.
Star returner Jimmy Allin of Belleville, Ont., took the ball out of the end zone and ran it back 120 yards for a touchdown. It was the longest missed field goal return in Queen’s history and the second longest in CIS playoff annals.
The spectacular return gave the Gaels all the momentum heading into the fourth quarter and Brannagan seemed to put the final nail in Laval’s coffin when he connected with Surya for a score seconds into the frame.
But the Rouge et Or quickly showed why they were the top-ranked team in the nation going into the duel.
Less than two minutes later, Groulx hit Béland for a 12-yard touchdown to give Laval life.
The Queen’s offence, needing first downs to run down the clock, could not penetrate the Rouge et Or’s defence as Laval cracked down on the Gaels rushing attack. Queen’s was forced to take a safety after being pinned deep and Laval was suddenly within 11 points.
On the ensuing drive, Groulx drove the Rouge et Or down the field again and connected with Julian Feoli Gudino of Costa Rica for an 11-yard score. Laval went for the two-point conversion and Groulx ran in the ball from five yards out to cut the deficit to three.
Queen’s only managed one first down on its next possession and Laval got the ball back at its own 15 with 1:19 left in regulation and needing only a field goal to send the duel to overtime.
On the first play of the drive, Groulx seemed to have connected with Feoli Gudino at midfield but the receiver dropped the ball as he was being tackled.
Moments later, Groulx was pressured by the Gaels front three and Frank Pankewich of Thunder Bay, Ont., came from behind to strip the ball out of Groulx’s hands. Osie Ukwuoma of Mississauga, Ont., recovered the fumble at the Laval nine-yard line and Brannagan kneeled out the clock to pull off the upset.
“We came close. Julian came close to making a huge catch to continue our final drive. We were centimeters away from making big plays all game,” said Groulx. “I think the team showed great character right to the end, coming back from 20 points down and never giving up.”
NOTES: Allin held the previous Queen’s record with a 115-yard missed field goal return in an OUA quarter-final game against Western on October 27, 2007… The Mitchell Bowl appearance marked the latest the Gaels have played at home since the 1922 Grey Cup when they topped the Edmonton Elks 13-1 on December 2… The Rouge et Or’s only Bowl win on the road in five tries came over McMaster in Hamilton in 2003. They had previously lost against Saint Mary’s in Halifax in 2001 and 2007, and to Saskatchewan in Saskatoon in 2005…
Queen’s: 7-10-9-7: 33
LAV-FG Christopher Milo 40 7:28
QUE-TD Jimmy Therrien 1 run 12:12
LAV-TD Junior Seydou Haidara 5 pass from Benoit Groulx (Christopher Milo kick) 0:43
QUE-TD Chris Ioannides 2 pass from Danny Brannagan (Dan Village kick) 12:49
QUE-FG Dan Village 37 14:59
QUE-SAFETY team 3:50
LAV-FG Christopher Milo 35 6:36
QUE-TD Jimmy Allin 120 MFG return (Dan Village kick) 13:19
QUE-TD Mark Surya 24 pass from Danny Brannagan (Dan Village kick) 0:13
LAV-TD Maxime Béland 12 pass from Benoit Groulx (Christopher Milo kick) 2:05
LAV-SAFETY team 9:12
LAV-TD Julian Feoli Gudino 11 pass from Benoit Groulx (2pt Groulx rush) 11:22