Brannagan’s arm dethrones Western, carries Gaels to national semi-final

Burlington’s Danny Brannagan threw for 515 yards and five touchdowns as the No. 4 nationally-ranked Queen’s Gaels captured their first Yates Cup since 1978 with a 43-39 victory over the No. 5 Western Mustangs.

Brannagan’s 515 yards were the fourth-highest total in a playoff game in Canadian Interuniversity Sports history and for his performance, the fifth-year quarterback earned the Dalt White Trophy as Yates Cup’s most valuable player.

With the win, the Gaels will be hosts for the Laval Rouge et Or in the Mitchell Bowl, the CIS national semi-final, at Richardson Stadium on Nov. 21 at 1 p.m. Tickets for the Mitchell Bowl hosted in Kingston are now on sale by calling (613) 533-2500

Saint Mary’s will host Calgary in the Uteck Bowl, the other national semi-final, in Halifax at noon the same day.

“You always kind of hope for it, winning the Yates at home and the celebration afterwards,” Brannagan, said. “Queen’s plays Western, you wouldn’t want it any other way. I’m very excited. It’s kind of a surreal experience. The last five years, you’re always imagining the day and now it actually happened.”

The conference championship is the Gaels first since 1997 when they earned the Dunsmore Cup in the now defunct Ontario-Quebec Intercollegiate Football Conference (OQIFC).

In a see-saw affair that saw the lead change seven times, it was a 16-yard pass from Brannagan to Scott Valberg (Kingston) with 2:49 left in the fourth quarter that gave Queen’s the victory.

From the opening play, it was obvious that both teams were going to play their best game of the season. Western opened the scoring on a one-yard run from John Leckie (Georgetown) before Brannagan connected with Devan Sheahan (Kingston) to even the score.

After a Western field goal gave them a 10-7 lead, the Gaels offence exploded for 19 points in the second quarter. Brannagan connected with both Christopher Ioannides (Toronto) and Sheahan to push the Gaels in front 21-17. Sheahan’s second score of the game came one play after Frank Pankewich (Thunder Bay) picked off Western quarterback Michael Faulds (Eden Mills) on Western’s 19 yard-line.

Queen’s defence stepped up just 3:30 later when Shomari Williams (Brampton) sacked Faulds in the end zone for a safety. Dan Village (Abbotsford, B.C.) added a 44-yard field goal right at the half to stake the Gaels to a 26-17 lead.

Although they were down on the scoreboard, the Mustangs came out to start the third quarter fired up. Leckie ran in his third touchdown of the game to cut into the Gaels lead before Faulds connected with Jesse Bellamy (Guelph) on a 59-yard touchdown pass to put Western back in front for the first time since early in the second quarter.

As they had done all game, the Gaels offence quickly responded to the Mustang touchdown as Brannagan hit Valberg with a 57 yard catch-and-run touchdown for Valberg’s first major of the day.

With the Gaels up by three heading into the third quarter, the Mustangs began to show why they were the two-time defending Yates Cup champions. They prevented the Gaels offence from moving the chains and in turn, their offence did enough to grab the lead as kicker Darryl Wheeler (Hamilton) connected on field goals from 19 and nine yards.

With the game in their hands, Brannagan put together a drive that resembled the Gaels game-winning drive against the Mustangs in Week 7. The Gaels quarterback hit Ioannides for two first downs to get the Gaels to Western’s 16-yard line. That set the stage for Valberg’s 16-yard touchdown to put the Gaels in front for good.

Faulds and the Mustangs attempted to put together a game-winning drive but the Gaels defence held tough and when Faulds pass fell short on a third-and-20 play with 11 seconds remaining, the sidelines erupted in jubilation.

In total, the teams combined for 1,209 total offensive yards on the day with both Brannagan and Faulds throwing for more than 500 yards each. Three Gaels receivers finished with more than 100 yards receiving, including Ioannides, Valberg and Sheahan. Marty Gordon (Kingston) who picked up a number of key first downs in the game, finished with 81 yards rushing on 11 attempts.

Attendance at Richardson Stadium was a season-high 7,253.