Heartbreak at Rogers Centre
A crowd of 37,098 streaked the Rogers Centre with maroon and grey for the 48th Vanier Cup against the Laval Rouge et Or Friday night. Unfortunately, the record-breaking crowd for the CIS championship game also left, for the most part, with heavy hearts. Glen Constantin’s team would not be stopped. In a battle for historical milestones, it was Laval who would prevail, winning their seventh Vanier Cup title. No program in Canadian history has won more.
In the much anticipated rematch of last year’s overtime thriller of a championship game, which the Marauders won 41-38, the Rouge et Or came out firing on all cylinders. Without question the nation’s second ranked team had not forgotten about their loss from a year ago.
The first quarter of the game was scoreless for both teams, as neither seemed willing to give up the first points.
Running a strong ground game in the second frame, Laval went out to an early 12-0 lead. It looked as though their opponents outmatched Mac. Suddenly, a drive was sustained which ended in an all too familiar Kyle Quinlan rushing touchdown. The environment was electric, and undeniably hostile towards the Rouge et Or who despite travelling to neutral ground for the game, walked into a visiting team role.
With less than two minutes remaining in the first half, Laval took possession of the ball only to be promptly shut down by Mac’s defense, which showed its first spark of the game. It was clear that for the first time, the Maroon and Grey had gained momentum.
What happened next was unthinkable. Pinned to their own 14, Quinlan led his team up the field for a 24 second, 96 yard scoring drive capped off by a 52 yard Dhalin Brooks touchdown reception. On the biggest stage ever for CIS football, the Hec Creighton trophy winner demonstrated why he is considered to be one of the best players to ever don the McMaster colors.
As a result, the Marauders entered half time with a 14-12 lead; much different from the 23-0 margin they had at half the year before.
In an eerily similar fashion to the 2011 Vanier, though, when both teams returned to play in the third quarter, the Rouge et Or played a completely wired and vicious brand of football.
Laval looked determined to take the Vanier Cup away from the defending national champions, and they did just that.
The Rouge et Or went up 18-14 and never looked back. It was not the day for Mac to repeat as champions, and Laval tailback Maxime Boutin did his part to make sure of that. The second year player, who only began to start recently, rushed for over 250 yards, including an 84 yard run-which marked the third longest play from scrimmage in Vanier Cup history. Boutin was part of a team rushing performance of 373 yards, breaking a previous record for Vanier Cup single game yards formerly held by the 1982 UBC Thunderbirds. “They made it easy for me, and I almost always had a huge gap to run into,” Boutin said of his offensive line after the win. For his efforts, Boutin was awarded CIS player of the week along teammates, defensive end Arnaud Gascon-Nadon and kicker Boris Bede.
The 6 foot 5, 255 pound senior Gascon-Nadon decided to return for a final year despite the opportunity to go pro. Drafted by the Hamilton Tiger Cats in last year’s CFL draft, Gascon-Nadon cited that “This is the reason I came back and didn’t go pro” in a CIS press release. “After last year’s loss to Mac in the Vanier, we all wanted to get this payback. We really wanted this seventh banner to become the most decorated team in history,” he continued.
For both teams, the long journey to the 48th Vanier was one of domination and preparation. Laval undoubtedly had practiced all season for a chance to take back what they believed to be rightfully theirs from McMaster. The Marauders looked to join Laval in the upper echelons of CIS football by winning a second straight national championship. Truly, it was a story that wrote itself. For McMaster fans, it was a bittersweet conclusion.
As the crowd thinned out and the clock winded down, it was clear that the spirits of Mac’s fans had been broken. That being said, the players on the field continued to battle, persevering through tough calls and plenty of time wasted by Laval injuries.
Regardless of the 37-14 loss, Mac’s run to the 48th Vanier broke CIS records and they carried their school and the entire Hamilton community the entire way through. It was a story made memorable regardless of the ending.
For all the players, coaches and fans of McMaster football it was a difficult day. That being said, one loss is certainly not enough to break the spirits of this program. The streak of 21 consecutive victories had come to an end. There was no repeat of a national championship. But there is not yet a way to measure the impact that the Marauders have had on CIS football; the 48th Vanier Cup was evidence that it is on the map in a way it has never been before.