QUEBEC CITY- Bang. Fizzle.
Many of the Dinos football team had already begun the long, cold walk to the locker room at PEPS stadium in Quebec City. Some waited behind, stopping to stare at the fireworks that lit up the darkening sky, marking the end of the 2009 Vanier Cup. Fireworks, seemingly meant for them at halftime. But a surging Queen's University Gaels squad, behind fifth-year quarterback Danny Brannagan, fought back to erase a 18-point deficit, take over the lead in the fourth quarter and outpace a listing Dinos squad. The game finished 33-31 in favour of the Gaels and the red, gold and blue faithful rushed the field, leaving the Dinos with their march to the locker room, fireworks echoing behind them.
Kickoff. The two offences misfire on their opening attempts and it takes until the 10th minute for the Dinos to score the first points of the game off a one-yard TD run by Matt Walter. The Gaels respond with a nine-yard Brannagan to Scott Valberg hook-up to tie the game. In the second, it's three straight Aaron Ifield field goals for the Dinos, another one-yard TD run, this time by quarterback Erik Glavic, and a safety conceded by Queen's to make the game 25-7 heading into the locker room at the break. At halftime, the Dinos had picked up nine more first downs than the Gaels and had outgained them through the air by a count of 195 yards to 61. Brannagan had only completed six of 14 passes. Glavic, 13 of 18, and secured another 31 yards along the ground. The outcome, like so much of the Dinos season- the redemption in Saskatoon, the return to Saint Mary's, the resurgence of Glavic- seemed preordained.
The teams jogged out of the locker room and it didn't take long for the Dinos to realize that the Gaels were still live and ready to detonate their plans at the launch pad. Brannagan, like he has throughout much of his career at Queen's, came up with a big play through the air: a 60-yard TD pass to Devan Sheahan, which put the Gaels to within 11. Three plays later, the Dinos were forced to concede a safety rather than kick it into a strong headwind. Score 25-16. Glavic fumbles the ball on the next Dino possession. The Gaels Dan Village converts the chip shot field goal. 25-19. The Dinos drive 65 yards, then Ifield's attempted field goal is blocked. Their next possession, the Dinos drive 48 yards and Glavic's pass is intercepted in the endzone. The two teams exchange frivolous offensive sequences and the third quarter ends. 25-19.
The Gaels take over the ball at the start of the fourth and Brannagan concludes a six-play, 51-yard drive with a 17-yard TD pass to Valberg. Gaels lead, 26-25. The Dinos accomplish nothing on their next possession and Brannagan comes back with back-to-back passes of 19 and 29 yards before running back Marty Gordon takes three consecutive handoffs 26 yards to the house. Gaels lead, 33-25. Glavic, the 2007 and 2009 Hec Crighton winner, would drive the Dinos down for a touchdown on their next possession, but Walter would drop the two-point conversion and leave the Dinos that much shy of a tie. Receiver Richard Snyder would fumble the ball the next time the Dinos got their hands on it, and after three Gaels first downs, the game was over.
Three Dinos turnovers in the second half sealed their fate.
The RCMP marched the Vanier Cup to the victors and the fireworks were ignited, echoing throughout the stadium as the Dinos walked towards the locker room.
One by one, they were called upon to dissect their season laid to waste once again at PEPS stadium and they marched out, faces red and eyes bloodshot, not from the bitter Quebec wind which blew throughout the game, but from the emotional toll of an expected victory turned narrow defeat.
"I feel like I've let down my team," said Glavic, struggling to get the words out. He finished with 23 of 35 passing for 354 yards and one TD, against two interceptions and one fumble.
"I made mistakes. I made bad decisions," he added. "I take a lot of the blame for this loss. I don't really know. I don't think it was – I just have to play better and I didn't."
"Pretty difficult. It feels like shit," said Walter. "So many people believe in you and you're making your school proud- to have everyone let down is a horrible feeling. It sucks."
Walter picked up 108 yards and one touchdown.
"That's the way the cookie crumbles, I guess," said slot receiver Anthony Parker. "At the same time . . . my heart is with the fifth-year guys. We wanted to dedicate this game to them, so they could go out on top. Unfortunately, that didn't happen here today."
Parker led all Dinos receivers with 187 yards and one touchdown.
"Not much you can say. It's the worst feeling in the world," said fifth-year defensive back Matt Grohn. "Fifth-year guy, to go into half, to have a lead like that, and just let it slide. It's terrible. It's something the team is going to learn from. Unfortunately, I won't be with it." Grohn was third on the team with 5.5 tackles, including one tackle for a loss. "It's really tough, knowing the last game you have played is going to be a loss," said fifth-year linebacker Chase Moore. "It crosses your mind before the game happens, but we were confident going into this game and it just makes it all the more hurtful and crushing after you feel so good going into the game. Everyone on the team thought we had a good shot at winning it. That said, you gotta hand it to Queen's. They came out in the second half and they wanted it." Moore tied for the team lead with seven tackles. Finally, out walked fifth-year defensive lineman Andrew Obrecht. The last man to leave the locker room. He slowly removed his Dinos jersey, for the last time, savouring a bitter ending to a university sports career. "It's very difficult. It would've been even more difficult if I didn't leave it all out on the field," he said. "Yes, I am disappointed that we didn't win the Vanier but I've got nothing left in me. This five-and-a-half year, six-year road obviously didn't come to the outcome like I wanted it to. But [I'm] moving on now." For two years in a row the Dinos will have returned from Quebec disappointed. For some, it's the end. For others, the next step in rebuilding a football powerhouse. Either way, the fireworks weren't for them today.