A Yates to remember

Last week, I bemoaned how many of us in the media often transform quarterbacks from a story into the story of a game. Yet, if you were to pick a game where quarterbacks were the story, Saturday’s Yates Cup clash between the Western Mustangs and the Queen’s Golden Gaels would be a pretty good one. With the head-to-head matchup of Michael Faulds and Danny Brannagan, two 10,000 yard passers and the top two guys on the CIS career passing list, many expected a passing shootout, and they were not disappointed. Faulds completed 25 of 38 passes for 509 yards and one touchdown in a losing cause, while Brannagan completed 27 of 47 for 515 yards and five touchdowns in Queen’s 43-39 victory and was named Yates Cup MVP.

Both passers threw for over 500 yards, which is an incredible feat. There are only nine 500-yard passing games in the history of the NFL, and perhaps a few more in the CFL; I wasn’t able to find those records. The NFL has never seen two 500+ yard performances in the same game, though, and even the USFL’s greatest quarterback duel didn’t meet the criteria; Jim Kelly threw for 574 yards and five touchdowns to lead an improbable comeback by the Houston Gamblers, but Los Angeles Express quarterback Steve Young put up less than 300 yards in that game. 500-yard-plus duels have happened a couple times in the NCAA, including the clash of Houston’s David Klingler and Texas Christian’s Matt Vogler on November 3, 1990, but they’re very rare.

Saturday’s game still does illustrate my point about the game being about more than just quarterbacks, though. Faulds and Brannagan both turned in great performances, but Brannagan got much more help from his team. His experienced offensive line, led by the interior core of fifth-year veterans Dan Bederman, Jon Koidis and Vince DeCivita, gave Brannagan all day to pick apart the Western defence. In the stands, myself and Arden Zwelling of the Western Gazette were discussing how Brannagan barely had to move in the pocket thanks to the superior protection provided by his line. The linemen also helped establish Marty Gordon as a threat in the running game; he recorded 81 yards on 11 carries, which took pressure off Brannagan and kept the Mustangs honest. It helped that Western was missing several key figures on their defensive line, but Queen’s victory in the offensive trenches was a crucial part of their success yesterday.

The Gaels also dominated in the defensive trenches. In the earlier regular-season clash between these teams, Western focused their efforts on slowing down Queen’s star defensive ends Shomari Williams and Osie Ukwuoma, often double-teaming them. This left holes for interior linemen like Kyle MacDonald, who often made them pay. Western went with a more conventional scheme yesterday, and Ukwuoma and Williams took full advantage, getting into the backfield on many plays and pressuring Faulds. Gaels’ defensive coordinator Pat Tracey also dialed up plenty of successful blitzes by linebackers Chris Smith and T.J. Leeper, as well as cornerback Jimmy Allin. The combination of the defensive line winning key battles up front and the backfield penetration achieved on blitzes hurried Faulds into bad throws on several occasions, but he was able to overcome that and turn in an outstanding performance despite an injured knee and a lack of mobility. More importantly, though, Queen’s backfield penetration contained Western’s running game; Nathan Riva is an outstanding running back, but it took him 29 carries to pick up 100 yards because he was getting no blocking and was often hit before getting to the line of scrimmage.

What perhaps proved most crucial were the special teams. The wind made a huge difference, as both Queen’s Dan Village and Western’s Darryl Wheeler struggled kicking into it but excelled with it at their back. However, Wheeler was dealing with a hip injury, and he missed a short-range field goal (nullified thanks to a Queen’s penalty for rough play after a hit on holder Donnie Marshall, which gave Western a first down and let them drive in for a touchdown) and an extra point. The field goal didn’t matter in the end, but the extra point did. With little time on the clock, Faulds pulled off one last great drive and got Western near field goal range, but they needed four points to tie thanks to Wheeler’s missed convert and weren’t quite able to get into the end zone. A field goal would not have been a sure thing, as it would have been from at least 40 yards out and into the wind, but it might have proved a viable option at the end if not for that missed extra point; it also would have allowed Western to try short runs and passes late instead of long bombs. However, there are always ifs; Village also hit the upright on a long field goal earlier in the game, so if that had been a few inches to the left, Western would have needed a touchdown regardless of Wheeler’s missed convert.

Despite being on the losing end of this one, Faulds deserves a ton of credit, as good friend of the blog Norman James points out in this excellent piece. Faulds played the last few weeks with a damaged knee, and was obviously struggling with it as the game went on. On the final drive, he took a hit and had to leave the field, being replaced by backup Donnie Marshall. With the Mustangs facing third and 20 with only a few seconds left on the clock, Faulds begged head coach Greg Marshall to go back in, and hobbled back on to the field. That was one of the most inspiring sights I’ve seen in CIS football; he could barely walk, but you’d need an army to keep him off the field. Queen’s brought tons of pressure again, but Faulds somehow evaded it and launched a bomb downfield. Unfortunately for Western, it landed just inches away from the fingertips of a diving receiver, so the storybook ending didn’t come to pass. Faulds did everything he could, though, and he went out in an appropriate blaze of glory.

Faulds was sanguine in an interview afterwards, even though he could barely stand.

“It’s upsetting that that’s the end of my career, but I knew it was going to come this year anyway,” he said. “Whether it was two weeks ago against Guelph or last week against Laurier, or this week or two weeks down the road, I knew it was going to come to an end. It happened against a good team like Queen’s, and they fought hard.”

The Yates Cup victory was huge for Queen’s players like Leeper, a fifth-year linebacker who had been through the ups and downs of the program over his time.

“I can’t even find words to describe it,” he said after the game. “It’s like 23 years of birthdays, 23 Christmases and a couple of parties all rolled into one.”

Leeper said the team took new lessons and new motivation from their loss to 4-4 Ottawa in their first playoff game last year after a stellar 8-0 regular season.

“Absolutely,” he said. “Coming in, we knew what we had to do a little bit more. It’s a coming of age; there are a lot of fifth-years and fourth-years on this team, so when it came down to that experience, we knew what we had to do. We didn’t have to play perfect; we just had to play good enough.”

Leeper said he was concerned during the final drive, but it was a great way to end it.

“It was pretty scary,” he said. “But that’s the way I want to win, with the defence on the field making plays.”

In the end, this was one of the best football games I’ve seen at any level. It had a tremendous quarterback duel between Faulds and Brannagan, with both making many exceptional throws. It had some huge defensive plays and even a stellar trick play, where Faulds faked a handoff to Riva, gave the ball to Nick Pasic, received a lateral from him and found an open receiver downfield for a touchdown. It also had one of the oldest rivalries in the CIS and a great atmosphere. There are still two weeks of playoffs left, but this one’s going to be tough to top.

However, next week’s game could still be classic, as the Gaels face top-ranked Laval (1 p.m. Eastern, will be live-blogged here). The Rouge et Or have dominated CIS football for so long that many believe this may turn into a blowout, but Leeper thinks the Gaels have a shot. He even took a quote from Terrell Owens’ playbook to make his point.

“Get your popcorn ready.”

[Cross-posted to Sporting Madness]
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  1. You forgot the great play of freshman Queen's d lineman Frank Pankiewiecz...

  2. You also forgot the great play of rookie John Miniaci #98. The kid has played in every game attempting to fill the shoes of Dee Sterling.

    Not bad for a young kid right out of high school.

  3. Both guys were indeed very impressive. Tough to include everyone in a recap, but they did have solid games.

  4. I really think Faulds and Brannigan should have shared the MVP, it took both QB's to make this game as great it was. It's also a shame their isn't being more attention focused on what Western did to make this game great, maybe the OUA should do something acknowledge that! The games could have gone either way and there's way too much attention being given to Queen's, especially from some of the Queens grads on this blog (especially Saeger!)

  5. @last Anon: It's absolutely true that Western's accomplishments shouldn't be understated. What made this game great in my mind wasn't that it was a Queen's win, but just that it was a fantastic football game; that doesn't happen without a great showing from both sides. Also, the most memorable moment for me was Faulds' last stand. Both sides deserve a lot of credit for what they did; as I've said all year, these are two great teams and two of the best in the country.

  6. Honestly, the OUA should be putting both names on the Yates Cup. Theres no way you can tell me only Queens should be on there!

  7. Great story Andrew! Nicely done. It's unfortunate that there had to be a losing side but that's the nature of sport. I totally disagree with anon 6:16's suggestion to put both names on the cup. Clearly a Stang fan. Whoevere won deserves the spoils of being the victor in battle. Today it was Queen's.

  8. Sorry, but the Stangs were screwed out of a touchdown on that catch where Travail was clearly in the endzone. If that happens it's 43-36 and Queen's would have folded like they almost always have since they started their football program again in 2001.

    The OUA used to have Yates co-champs in the 70's when it had two divisions and the teams didn't meet up in the semifinal. This game was close enough the league could do that.

  9. I'm sorry but why is their no mention of the clear touchdown Western Reciever Nick Trevail was robbed of. Due to a bad spot by the referee, Western has to settle for a field goal. For christ sakes, even the guys on the score were astonished. I really feel like Western was robbed of this one. Although it was a very close game, and well played all around. The refs were a little one sided, and that one call affected the whole game.

  10. Andrew,

    Do you know if the OUA has the authority to overturn the result of this game? It's pretty clear Western was screwed.

  11. "Sorry, but the Stangs were screwed out of a touchdown on that catch where Travail was clearly in the endzone. If that happens it's 43-36 and Queen's would have folded like they almost always have since they started their football program again in 2001."

    Really????? I hope your not serious..
    This game was amazing, please don't bitch about that call. It ruins everything when ppl are sore losers. It was a tough fought game by both sides and someone had to win. Queens played better up front and deserved the win.
    Besides Queens was screwed in the first half when they called roughing the holder?? thats an extra 6 points for western right there.. Besides its not like the drive ended on that call, after Travails catch Western still had 3 shots to get it in from the 1 and couldn't do it.
    All I'm saying is that there were bad calls boths ways so please don't ruin such an amazing game by talking about the refs

  12. At 7:06 — The Trevail play was mentioned here and here by one of the site's other authors, who is a Queen's graduate.

  13. Another fact Buchholz overlooked is that Queen's should not be viewed as a full member off the OUA — they left the league and came crawling back so they wouldn't get their butts kicked by Laval, why should we reward a team who did that?

    UWO was jobbed.

  14. Sounds like a sore loser to me. You are a shining example of why the rest of the OUA hate Western. They rub your nose in it when they beat you and claim the world is against them when they lose.

    What happened to the 150 kids Western recruits. General Marshall uses #59 both ways and then gives the kid heck when he messes up one play.

    Maybe we should put UWO on the cup to stop the crying. I was hoping for a dry winter but with all that precipitation coming from London I think I may need a rain coat.

    Too bad my Golden Hawks didn't put you out of your misery in the semi's. It would have saved a whole lot of negative discussion on the boards.

  15. Great summary, Andrew. Couldn't agree more about Queen's O-Line and the spectacular play of Williams and Ukwuoma. Thanks for the shout out, by the way.

    My game story is linked below if anyone is interested in how it played out in UWO's daily:


  16. Brendan in SK11/16/2009 9:30 pm

    For the Western fans complaining about Trevail's non-TD: We had 2 more chances from the 1 yard line and Queen's stuffed it. Yes it was a bad call by the refs, but Western should have been able to score from that distance. In fact, I think Marshall should have brought in Donnie for the QB sneak rather than handing off to Leckie for the 4th time (as much as I wanted to see it).

  17. Western had a clear shot at going for third and one from deep in Queen's territory prior to the Queen's final drive. However , as noted here in my blogs last week the biggest weaknesses of Western were third and one(lacking a big bruising back)conversion, and the deep pass coverage especially after reception by Western.

    If you noticed there was very few long gainers by Western after the reception with exception being the Western option pass in the third quarter. Queen's tackled hard and efficiently afer Western receiver receptions. This in my opinion is a function also of Western defensive coaching strategies which I also raised last week.

    Whatever you make of the game(I was in attendance) Queen's committed less errors and especially as receivers were open way more of the time. Several of the Queen's TD's were embarrasingly under covered by Western and those that were in coverage that went for TD's for Queen's, Western defender over committed and tried for the pic or the knockdown.

    As a clear Western suporter, I am glad Western showed as well as they did, disappointed they lost a winnable game, but pleased that Queen's will be representing the OUA.

    BTW, the after ceremony with Queen's team receiving the Yates Cup was as fun and classy as I've seen in years. Full marks to the Queen's student side that stayed for the whole game for tnearly the first time this year!

    Good luck to Queen's at Mitchell Bowl. I hope they show Laval a thing or two.

  18. @11:22: Good point about the third-and-ones ... that has been an issue at times for Western. Marshall likes to pound it in there and have teams have stopped them.

    There were a few during the 0-4 start in 2007. Those who saw the Mac-Queen's game in '0-3 will remember Kyle Pyear getting stopped trying to leap over the pile, Walter Payton-style, when the ball was about 1½ yards out.

  19. For the record, I didn't mention the Trevail play because I couldn't get a good enough view of it from my seat in the stadium without a look at a replay. It had already been discussed ad nauseum, including on this very site by people who got a good look at it, so I didn't think writing "Not sure what the call should have been on the Trevail play" added a lot to the discussion. You do never know what would have happened if that call had been different, but there were plenty of other "what-if" moments too, some of which I mentioned above. As well, as some of the other commenters point out above, unless you're the B.C. Lions, getting a first-and-goal on the one is pretty much equivalent to a touchdown most of the time.

  20. Those NFL and NCAA numbers put an interesting perspective on the two QB's phenomenal performances, but the Canadian University playoff records for the other 500-yard passing games are even more relevant:

    561 Tommy Denison, Queen's vs Western Nov. 2, 2002

    555 Warren Goldie, Western vs Toronto Oct. 29, 1994

    528 Brent Schneider, Saskatchewan vs Western Nov. 19, 1994 (Vanier Cup)

    500 Kevin McDonald, Laurier vs Waterloo Nov. 2, 1996

    Western was involved in all but one.

  21. You forgot some key players here - like Chris Ioannides - without his key plays so many first downs would not have happened. He also had the most yards for the day - remember some of the other players too!
    Also - #7 - Marc - some great plays and hard hits taken.
    Ref's calls were brutal - for every one against Western - Queens got 8 calls against!

    And finally - remember that Faulds is in his 7th year of play - what goes around comes around! CHeaters never win

  22. There was a quote I heard on the Score broadcast something like "in the end it's not the winning or losing but the magnificence of the struggle". That was never more true than in this game and those that preceded it this year. Games like these turn on a thousand "ifs" and in the end there is but one winner. The loser should hardly bow their head after such an incredible effort.

    I have been on the field with players in the final game loss scenario and felt the palpable heartache. It is tough but inevitably a life lesson and one which builds personal honour and a stoic inner strength.

    As a Queen's fan I couldn't help but rise and applaud Michael Faulds for his performance. It was something I will always remember. Further, his chin-up humility in defeat was inspiring.

    You could sense in players on both sides, a mutual respect borne from the all-in battle (i.e. Scott Valberg going first to console the Western DBs at the final gun before celebrating the win).

    All these gems borne from "the magnificence of the struggle" transcend the game itself. There is much for all of us to learn from it.

    Congrats to Queens and Western.

  23. Brendan in SK11/17/2009 10:09 am

    Faulds a cheater? Seriously? 7 years of play?

    Faulds spent 1 year after high school in a US private school to get a NCAA scholarship, then spend a year at Toledo never playing a down. Neither of these count towards his CIS eligibility. Furthermore, with the introduction of the new 7 years out of high school eligibility would be satisfied by Faulds who left high school in 2002.

  24. Let's keep this in perspective. It was one of the finest football games ever played and has been covered immensely well by many super high quality people in the media who know how to write and know football.

    All the other comments about Faulds eligibility, Queen's being from the OQ, bad calls, giving out 2 Yates and not giving enough credit to other players is simply useless noise.

    Enjoy the memory of a great event in the life of many people. I am just thankful so many people were able to enjoy this experience, from players to coaches, fans, students, etc

  25. Whether you're a Gaels or Mustagns fan, you had to enjoy this game. I haven't been able to talk since the game ended as I didn't stop yelling for 4 quarters.

    If you want to argue about the blown TD call that led to a field goal, then you have to remember about the blown call that turned a missed field goal into a TD. If both calls are made correctly, Western is down 3 more points than they ended up with.

    Brannagan was amazing. Faulds was great. One team had to win and it was Queen's. I want to thank both teams for playing a game I'll never forget.

    Now, lets get set for Laval. Go Gaels Go!

  26. In looking forward to next week, I'd like to point out Queen's running game. Queen's has proven they have one of the finest O-lines in the country. A lot of people are completely dicounting Marty Gordon (and Jimmy Therrien as well). Look at Marty's stats from this game, his YPC are more than twice what an outstanding back in Riva put up (81/11= 7.4, 100/29= 3.4). Jimmy T is also a Quebec native who I guarantee you will be fired up for this one. Queen's doesn't put up the yardage numbers rushing because they just don't run the ball a lot, instead of using it as a huge cog in their offense, like they did when Giffin was there, they use it just to keep defenses honest. That being said, watch out for it, it could make a difference.