It's feeling of fait accompli vs. fate in the Mitchell Bowl. Laval, the heavy favourite, will be counting on ho(i)sting a Vanier Cup in front of those 15,000 fans who sound like barbarians on crystal meth (fist bump: Duane Rollins). There's probably little in their thinking that would even allow them to contemplate watching two teams from the ROC play for it on their field.
Queen's and Dan Brannagan, Scott Valberg, Osie Ukwuoma and Shomari Williams have had been on a come-too-far-to-lose roll since Oct. 17, the first of two Instant Classics vs. Western Mustangs. The Golden Gaels' 43-39 Yates Cup win over Western, the first CIS playoff game where both quarterbacks passed for more than 500 yards and had about a 1,000 stomach-knotting twists, the last Michael Faulds evoking John Wayne ("I might not finish it standing, but I'll finish it") when he limped in to try a last-gasp, third-and-20 pass.
The Gaels didn't always have momentum, but always had control. There's a difference. Stuffing Nathan Riva on a third-and-1 at midfield and Williams planting Faulds for a safety late in the first half indicated the roles had been reversed, at least for one Saturday in one November. It was only a five-point swing, but every little bit helped where there was so little margin between two pretty good teams.
OUA Yates Cup
Queen's 43, Western 39 — Styles make fights, which is why this game worked on every level.
The Yates was this season's latest greatest shootout in the OUA, with seven lead changes and about 1,200 yards offence. Going deeper and deeper, to keep with the air-it-out ways of both passers, Queen's Pat Sheahan finally beat Greg Marshall, the quote-unquote "guy who never loses it" in a big game.
Queen's has faced questions whether its approach can work in the playoffs. Sheahan's Gaels have always drawn their identity from a precise, pro-style passing game. Marshall knows that's the motion of the ocean and has adapted well, but he's steeped in a tradition of power football. The Mustangs, like McMaster at this dawn of the decade, have had a singular talent at quarterback, but they expect to mash teams. That's how they roll.
Except they couldn't do it against a Queen's front of Williams, Ukwuoma, John Miniaci and Frank Pankiewicz, who made a key interception (go figure a defensive lineman made an INT in a game with so much passing). Start with Queen's run defence (Jimmy Allin and Chris Smith, among others, also helped make big plays on Riva) if you want to find an X-factor between two teams who played 120 minutes of football this season where the outcome was in doubt for all of 19 seconds.
The Golden Gaels held a possibly limited Nathan Riva to 3.4 yards per carry (29 rushes for 100 yards). That aforementioned third-down stand in the first half, which was a role reversal of a play at a similar stage of the 2002 Yates in Hamilton between Queen's and Marshall's McMaster team (which stopped Bryan Crawford for a huge loss and went on to win). It showed Queen's was going to be pushed around. Western ended up trying four field goals from inside the 20, which is unheard of for a smart-aggressive team.
There was a lot for the armchair quarterbacks:
- What might have been if Faulds doesn't take the killer shot on his knee. A colleague questioned whether Marshall should have let Faulds go in, but it was the last play of the man's career. Let him throw. (Faulds will be a good coach some day, and you wonder how anyone wouldn't play for someone who showed that amount of chutzpah.)
- The no-touchdown call on a goal line catch by Western's Nick Trevail (nine receptions, 171 yards) in the fourth quarter.
Replays seemed to confirm Marshall's observation, "It looked to me like Trevail was in and scored," but Western was stuffed on two subsequent cracks from the 1-yard line and settled for a chip-shot field goal (what happened to play-action).
Another minute also rolled off the clock before Western went ahead 39-36 instead of 43-36. Who knows what might have happened if either offence had another minute.
- Mistakes in the kicking game. Western's Darryl Wheeler honked a PAT in the third quarter. Queen's Dan Village also hit the upright in the fourth quarter, otherwise the Gaels might have built more of a lead.
- Da'Shawn Thomas being such a non-factor (no rush attempts and one catch for minus-2 yards).
- Dan Brannagan or Michael Faulds? Faulds got the Hec Crighton Trophy nomination, but Brannagan got his Yates Cup.
The roles ended up being reversed. Last season, Queen's had individual accolades and no team prize.
- Chris Ioannides' day. On Queen's winning drive, the Gaels tight end caught a first-down pass, limped off, came back in and caught another to set up the go-ahead strike to Scott Valberg.
QUFL Dunsmore Cup
Laval 31, Montreal 7 — The Rouge et Or are awfully good, and after seeing Benoit Groulx be on-target (13-of-17, 216 yards), Queen's might be living in fear. The early crossing pattern to Mathieu Picard which set up the day's first points seemed to set a tone. Guillaume Rioux also had a gorgeous TD catch.
Laval is Laval, for lack of anything original to say at this hour. Montreal ultimately might have been too banged-up to make this interesting, but please remember the Carabins did some damage back on Bleu Sunday.
(Special thanks to Andrew Bucholtz, Arden Zwelling, Mike Radoslav, Rob Pettapiece, Greg Hughes and Daniel Da Silva and many others for their work on the Yates Cup live blog.)