Losing the Vanier
The championship window has shut on the McMaster Marauders' first Vanier Cup-winning generation.
Behind 2011 winners like Joey Cupido, Steven Ventresca, Marshall Ferguson and Chris Pezzetta, the 2014 Marauder football program shoehorned their way into the Vanier Cup. There are handfuls of other players that contributed to the run, but these players were the leaders.
The 2014 Vanier Cup featured only one lead change after the 0-0 score was broken, and that change would prove to be the fatal one. McMaster lost 20-19 after a 13-yard field goal from Montreal’s Louis-Philippe Simoneau gave the Carabins the lead.
McMaster used a drive with three minutes left to march down and set Tyler Crapigna up for a 31-yard field goal attempt. Montreal’s Mathieu Girard broke through to block the kick and ended Mac’s chances to win their second Vanier Cup in school history.
Now, that play will probably be discussed to no end. McMaster had the ball with only half a yard to go, and Mac had already pushed the ball for a first down in two situations prior. The percent of kicks that get blocked at that distance is just above zero. If Mac makes the kick, they lead 22-20 and the Carabins have to move the ball down the whole field with 58 seconds left. The Marauders have one of the best passing defences in the country, so it is a gamble that made sense.
The counter-argument is that Mac moves the ball, gets the first down and runs the clock down. Maybe they score a touchdown; maybe they get a field goal but they likely end up with a lead and Montreal has even less time, if any. There is a possibility they don’t the first down, and Mac is in the same spot as if they have their kick blocked. There’s no definitive answer to that situation, but it is important to at least hear the logic.
And let’s not act like Montreal wasn’t a better team. In front of 22,649 fans – mostly Carabins supporters – they weathered a lackluster first half and took advantage of good field position. On the Carabins' game-winning drive, they were given a short field after Mac conceded a no-yards penalty on the punt return. Converting on the short field against Mac isn’t easy though, and Montreal set up a tee-shot for the win.
McMaster has made three Vanier Cup trips in four years, a respectable and significant mark. For the players, that does not mean anything, at least not right now. In the locker room, there was just red eyes and silence. The only breaks in the quiet were some murmurs and the sound of pats on the back as players and coaches embraced.
This group was not supposed to be here. Head coach Stefan Ptaszek said that his group isn’t as physically talented as the teams from 2011 or 2012, but they had more heart and toughness. You cannot cheat the football gods for this long, though. Without the ability to get the ball into the endzone, it is hard to win championships. Yet, McMaster came within a point of doing just that.
As this championship window closes, another may be opening. The team is deep and talented at skill positions, and the coaching staff has shown the ability to transition teams well. 2013 was a season littered with injuries to key pieces, a defensive co-ordinator change and they still made the playoffs. 2014 saw the insertion of a ton of young talent. Between Ptaszek, Jon Behie and Greg Knox, they make the pieces fit and any regression will be short lived.
That isn’t supposed to make this any easier – to lose on a blocked kick is rare and especially heartbreaking. But the McMaster Marauders looked adversity in the face and beat it time after time. For that, the Maroon family should raise their glass and cherish the ride.
Photo credit: Fraser Caldwell