Evan Daum, Canada West Communications
CALGARY – It was the home finale Calgary fifth-year quarterback Jimmy Underdahl had hoped for, but wasn't sure he'd get.
Sparked by the return of Underdahl to the lineup, the University of Calgary Dinos earned a trip to the Vanier Cup Saturday with a 50-24 win over the StFX X-Men in the ArcelorMittal Dofasco Mitchell Bowl at McMahon Stadium.
Underdahl made his return to the lineup count, sparking Calgary to 32 second half points in his first action since suffering an injury October 14th.
The veteran pivot entered the game to start the second half for the Dinos and helped the Hardy Cup champions race away from the Atlantic University Sport champion X-Men, who had given Calgary all they could handle in the first half.
With the score 18-14 after 30 minutes, Underdahl took over for starter Adam Sinagra, who just a week earlier was named Hardy Cup offensive MVP after guiding Calgary to the program's 16th conference title.
Underdahl needed less than four minutes of action to stretch the Dinos lead to 32-14, en route to being named Mitchell Bowl MVP after going 11-for-16 for 217 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
"We just felt that Jimmy needed to play in the game at some point. We talked about putting him in about halfway through the second quarter. We decided to let Adam finish off the quarter and then at halftime we had another discussion just around if it was the right time or not," explained Dinos head coach Wayne Harris of the QB switch.
"It wasn't anything (Adam) had done wrong, we just wanted to have that opportunity to see just what Jimmy would be able to do in a game situation. We were confident that he'd be able to come in and execute, but until you get him in there with the bullets flying, you're just not quite sure how he'll handle all of that pressure with the injury he's coming off of."
The southpaw QB more than handled the heat, finding Hunter Karl on a 41-yard touchdown pass just two minutes into the half, before Calgary defensive back Hunter Turnbull picked off AUS MVP quarterback Tivon Cook on StFX's first offensive play of the half to set the table for another Dinos major.
Underdahl made the most of the Turnbull interception, needing just two plays to reach the end zone, this time finding Jack McDonald on an eight-yard TD pass to extend the Calgary lead to 18 points.
Those quick strikes from Underdahl proved to be more than enough offence for the Dinos, who outscored StFX 22 to three in the third quarter alone.
"The whole week (coach) just said 'stay ready' and that's what I did. I'm a fifth-year guy and I know how to do that," said Underdahl, who went 5-for-5 for 119 yards to start the second half.
"I said it when I first injured myself…I'm not going to let this end my career and I'm really happy I was able to get back."
It was a fitting conclusion to Underdahl's home career, which included a year as a redshirt before four seasons down the depth chart behind the likes of starters Eric Dzwilewski and then Andrew Buckley.
For StFX, the game marked the second consecutive season the X-Men's national title hopes came to an end at the hands of a Canada West opponent, after falling 36-9 at home in last year's Uteck Bowl to the UBC Thunderbirds, who went on to claim the Vanier Cup.
"That third quarter really was our downfall. Credit to them – they came out and made some explosive plays on us in the third quarter and we just couldn't generate consistent play on offence," said StFX head coach Gary Waterman.
"Our kids played hard, but it's a 60-minute game and you just can't afford against a good team to have a little lapse. They took advantage and made the plays."
The loss extended the AUS' winless streak in national semifinal games to nine, with the 2007 Saint Mary's Huskies the last Atlantic squad to advance to the Vanier Cup.
As for Calgary, they now have their sights set on the program's fifth national championship, as they return to the big game after a two-year absence.
The Dinos will be looking for redemption in a rematch of their last Vanier Cup appearance, facing the Laval Rouge et Or, who downed the Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks 36-6 in the Uteck Bowl earlier Saturday.
"It'd be unbelievable. That's the goal. That's what we've all been working towards since January," said Underdahl of getting to the Vanier. "I can't wait to go. I'm at a loss for words."
The Vanier Cup is slated for Saturday, November 26th at Hamilton's Tim Hortons Field. Tickets are available by visiting VanierCup.com
NOTES: Canada West teams are now 33-15 all-time in national semifinal games and 3-0 as hosts when facing an Atlantic opponent…Calgary improved their overall record in bowl games to 9-6, while StFX fell to 1-5 all-time…The Dinos improved to 6-1 against AUS opponents in playoff games. Calgary's lone loss came in the 1992 Atlantic Bowl against Saint Mary's…The Dinos now head to the program's 10th national title game and are looking to claim their first Vanier Cup since a 54-24 win over Western in 1995…Calgary lost the 2013 Vanier Cup to Laval by a score of 25-14.
StFX 7-7-3-7: 24
CGY 5-13-22-10: 50
CGY – Niko DiFonte 73-yard kickoff single, 0:03 (1-0 CGY)
CGY – Team safety, 5:28 (3-0 CGY)
CGY – Team safety, 9:13 (5-0 CGY)
StFX – Dejuan Martin 25-yard pass from Tivon Cook (Jonathan Heidebrecht convert), 10:41 (7-5 ST FX)
CGY – Niko DiFonte 41-yard field goal, 0:18 (8-7 CGY)
CGY – Niko DiFonte 41-yard field goal, 3:30 (11-7 CGY)
StFX – Jonathan Heidebrecht 15-yard field goal, 7:30 (11-10 CGY)
StFX – Jonathan Heidebrecht 85-yard kickoff single, 7:30 (11-11)
CGY – Joel Van Pelt two-yard pass from Adam Sinagra (Niko DiFonte convert), 13:47 (18-11 CGY)
StFX – Jonathan Heidebrecht 37-yard field goal, 14:42 (18-14 CGY)
CGY – Hunter Karl 41-yard pass from Jimmy Underdahl (Niko DiFonte convert), 2:00 (25-14 CGY)
CGY – Jack McDonald eight-yard pass from Jimmy Underdahl (Niki DiFonte convert), 3:20 (32-14 CGY)
StFX – Jonathan Heidebrecht 16-yard field goal, 11:33 (32-17 CGY)
CGY – Jeshrun Antwi one-yard run (Niko DiFonte convert), 13:26 (39-17 CGY)
CGY – Niko DiFonte 71-yard kickoff single, 13:29 (40-17 CGY)
CGY – Niko DiFonte 24-yard field goal, 3:10 (43-17 CGY)
StFX – Dejuan Martin two-yard pass from Tivon Cook (Jonathan Heidebrecht convert), 10:09 (43-24 CGY)
CGY – Cole Kussmann one-yard run (Niko DiFonte convert), 13:50 (50-24 CGY)