In a very one-sided game against the Waterloo Warriors, the Marauders gain momentum moving into homecoming weekend
Photo: Graphic request made week prior
McMasters football team kicked off their Ontario University Athletics regular season with a dreadful losing streak. With their first three games all ending up as losses, they found themselves at the bottom of the OUA standings — an unfamiliar position for a team who is only one season removed from their provincial championship run.
Making matters even worse for the Marauders, their second game of the year, a 39 to one win over York, was overturned due to a player registration violation committed by the McMaster team. As a direct result, the football team started their season with three games and three losses.
On the weekend of Sep. 17, the Marauders rebounded with an impressive win over the Waterloo Warriors. With a final line score of 43 to zero, the team finally showed what they can do. It appears that despite the poor start, they have not given up.
In all four quarters of the game, the Marauders dominated. The first quarter ended 14 to zero, the second 24 to zero, the third 34 to zero and finally ended with the 43 to zero score.
Last season the Marauders dominated the Warriors with a 34-13 final score but they took it to a whole new level this time around, increasing their win margin by a whopping 22 points. It was also the first time that the Warriors had been shutout since 2016.
This successful game should be a confidence booster for the Marauders, though there are still some challenging games ahead for the team, making them one to watch this season.
Former Mac football offensive lineman Jakub Szott takes us through his journey as a rookie to working for a spot on the CFL's Ottawa Redblacks
C/O Owen Mertens
It all began in Summer 2016 when Jakub Szott went from high school to a training camp with the McMaster University men’s football team. Moving from a small team to a team full of veterans, Szott was able to grow both as a player and a person.
“Honestly, I just tried to approach every single day with the same work ethic when I first came into the school . . . I have to keep fighting,” said Szott.
Aside from field play, teammates spend most of their time in the locker room. As a first-year player, Szott did recognize the age difference among the players and as years passed, he emulated the same experience for the rookies during his senior year.
However, it's not always about shining bright in the locker room. During Szott’s third year on the team, their head coach was fired towards the end of the season.
“We were just completely wondering what’s happening with our future. Everyone is working super hard in the off-season,” said Szott.
Fast forward to the following season, Szott’s fourth season on the team, when the team advanced to the prestigious Yates Cup, the trophy awarded to the champions of the Ontario University Athletics conference. After being down 10-0 to start the game, the Marauders fought back to defeat the favoured Western Mustangs by a score of 29-15 and claimed the Cup.
“Beating Western for the first time in my four years at university was truly an awesome experience . . . it goes to show how tightly knit our group was, to overcome everything that happened the year before and for us to grow and to be able to accomplish something like that,” said Szott.
While winning the Yates Cup was a remarkable achievement for the athlete, his journey was nothing short of challenging.
“We suffered a ton of different injuries, we were having the next guy up and up, having to rotate guys in there shows our tight-knit group,” said Szott.
Fortunately, for Szott himself, while he suffered a concussion, he did not miss time as it happened during his bye-week.
Furthermore, as a leader on the team, Szott understood that he needs to instill personal responsibility into his own mistakes but also keep the team morale up after losses.
“Trying to be level-headed and positive and understanding the coaches' goals and moving past everything that comes,” said Szott.
Aside from winning the Yates cup, Szott’s personal favourite game was their homecoming game against the Waterloo Warriors in his most recent season.
“They didn't want to dress as many defensive linemen, so I kind of took that as a challenge as an offensive lineman and we rushed for over 200 yards that day,” said Szott.
When McMaster’s defence was able to shut down Waterloo’s offence that day, a unit that featured one of the best quarterbacks in the nation, Szott knew the team had something special on their route towards the Yates Cup.
After the fourth season of his undergraduate career, it was tough to adjust when COVID-19 locked down Ontario last March. That being said, Szott was fortunate enough to gain access to training equipment with gyms being closed.
“I've had some great guys that were able to hook me up with some racks to lift some weights . . . At the start I remember working with just bands and it’s not the same,” said Szott.
As Szott graduated this past December, he was still participating in activities with the McMaster football team since training camp in August.
“I did try to attend all the meetings that I got invited to and to stay in the loop because I can still come back . . . I don't want to close any doors because I did enjoy my time at Mac,” said Szott.
Although he maintained his ties to the Marauders' program, Szott was ultimately drafted by the Ottawa Redblacks in April 2020's CFL Draft.
“I have to be physically ready regardless of where I get drafted if I want to make the team,” said Szott.
As draft day approached, circumstances were quite unusual with online interviews, yet Szott enjoyed the process of dressing up and doing it within the comfort of his home.
Despite being drafted and successfully signed by the team, Szott still has lots of work to do to earn a spot on the final roster. While having an extra year to maintain conditioning and be physically ready for the tryouts, Szott’s coaches at McMaster have also been encouraging on his route to the CFL.
As the former Marauder mainstay has to compete against other offensive linemen at the training camp for a spot, Szott knows that he will most likely have to once again take that extra step to beat someone out and earn his spot.
By Jovan Popovic, Staff Writer
Another year is in the books for McMaster sports. While it was a little earlier than expected, it was a successful year nonetheless. Since so much happened, I suggest you strap in and tighten your seatbelts while I try to recap it all.
Unfortunately, both the volleyball and wrestling teams were unable to finish their seasons. Growing concerns about COVID-19 led to many cancellations for McMaster athletics, but most sports were still able to get a full season in.
The biggest winners from McMaster’s 2019-2020 sports teams include the football team, the women’s curling team, and the men’s cross country team, each finishing the year with great accomplishments and motivation for more.
The football team managed to bring home the Yates cup, meaning they were the best team in the province! The Marauders managed to bring down the perennially tough University of Western Mustangs, who were the favourites to take home a fourth straight Yates cup. However, our Marauders successfully quelled the Mustangs’ thirst for the four peat, bringing home the cup for the eighth time in school history.
Six players were named to the All-star teams, including superstar defensive back Noah Hallett, who became the first Marauder since 2016 to make the football first team All-Canadian. The team continued their journey to the Vanier cup, where they unfortunately ended their season with a semi-final loss to the University of Calgary Dinos, who went on to win the national championship. Following their excellent season, the Marauders ranked fourth in the nation, which is a significant jump from their ninth place rank last season.
The women’s curling team was the next success story from the year, winning their first provincial title since 1995. The Marauders were the highest ranked team entering the tournament and lived up to the hype, beating the University of Queen’s Gaels with a score of seven to five in the finals. McMaster’s team went on to the national championship, where they placed fourth overall. In a hard fought rematch of the Ontario University Athletics finals, the Marauders lost to the Queen’s Gaels in the national tournament. Not only had the Marauders beat Queen’s in the provincial final, but also earlier in that same national tournament. Grace Lloyd was named a first team All-Canadian after the playoff run.
As per usual, McMaster’s powerhouse cross country team showed up big, ranking as the second best team in the nation for the second straight year. The team managed to finish second overall in their annual U Sports tournament, only falling short to the Calgary Dinos, who successfully defended their title. Alex Drover and Max Turek were among McMaster’s top performers, finishing sixth and seventh, and both were named first team All-Canadians.
For the women’s track team, team captain Caroline Forbes and first-year student Morgan McKeown dominated on the track. They became the first female track athletes to represent McMaster at nationals in the 3000 meter race since 2014. In the contest, McKeown finished ninth overall while Forbes just missed the top ten, nabbing 11th place.
The men’s wrestling team was yet another team that drew success this season, despite their season being cut short. After three silver medals and a bronze at the U Sports championships, the team looked great going into nationals. The tournament was cancelled due to concerns of spreading COVID-19, which was a necessary call to make. Unfortunately, the team was never able to put their skills on display at the national level. With that being said, it was still a successful season overall.
Moving onto men’s volleyball, the program has been one of McMaster’s best for a long time and this season was no different. The team finished the season with a bronze medal in the OUA championship, sweeping the University of Guelph Gryphons in the final game of the OUA tournament. They had an outstanding regular season record of 16-2. Nathan Delguidice made the All-Canadian team, as well as the OUA first team, both of which were career firsts for him. Similar to men’s wrestling, the remainder of the season was cancelled. The team will have to wait another year to represent McMaster at the national level.
Now, onto winter sports. The figure skating team finished off a strong season in third place after their championship tournament. This high performance year was mainly supported by standout skater Belvina Mao, who was the lone gold medalist for the team.
In other winter sports news, Nordic skiing made its McMaster debut in 2019, marking this past year as the first for the school's newest sports team. The women’s team impressed with a fourth place finish with the help of Soren Meeuwisse’s strong performance, leading to her being named an OUA All-star! Placing fourth for the squad is an incredible feat for a brand new team.
Marauders basketball proved to be exciting once again, despite no podium finishes. Both the men’s and women's teams ended up losing in the quarterfinal, with the women’s team losing to the number one seeded Western Mustangs, and the men losing to the number one seeded Carlton Ravens, who won the championships to continue their dynasty. Second year guard Jordan Henry continued to show his value as a young developing talent, earning OUA second team All-star honours. From the women’s team, Sarah Gates earned an OUA second team All-star nod and Christina Buttenham took home the defensive player of the year award. Unfortunately, the women’s team was unable to repeat the success of last season where they won the national championship, but this year was nonetheless great in it’s own right. The finish was significant, as the team will continue to gain experience and develop, looking to regain their championship form for years to come.
The women’s rugby team is becoming quite familiar with the podium, as they earned their third straight bronze medal this season. They defeated the Brock Badgers 41-3 in the bronze medal game, earning them a 10th place ranking in the nation after being previously unranked. Katie McLeod and Taylor Price were both named OUA All-Stars after their strong performances this season.
McMaster soccer saw the same results as basketball this season, with both the men’s and women’s teams being eliminated in the quarterfinals. Anand Sergeant maintained his status as an OUA West first team All-star for a second consecutive season, while the team captain Yordan Stoyanov, Dusan Kovacevic and Matt Monteiro were all named to the second team. Regarding the women’s team, Steph Roberts made the division's first team All-star group for her second straight season. On top of this, Hannah Chau-Stacey and Carling Goold were named to the second team.
It’s important we acknowledge the tragic loss of the team’s former head coach Joe Valvasori, who was not only an outstanding coach, but an essential part of our community. The adversity the women’s team showed this year was nothing short of remarkable. It’s safe to say that Valvasori would have certiainly been proud.
The baseball season finished in the fall with the men losing in the semi-finals to the Laurier Golden Hawks, who went on to win the tournament. Despite being unable to place, the team had many significant accomplishments throughout the season, including outfielder Nik Motruk being named a co-recipient of the OUA’s Most Valuable Player award, as well as the sole winner of the top hitter award for the conference. Motruk also earned OUA first team All-star honours along with his teammate Michael Ong. Sliding over to women’s softball, the team managed to win the Ontario Intercollegiate Women’s Fastpitch Association bronze medal this year. Emily Campbell was one of the team’s studs throughout the year, having won female athlete of the week earlier this year.
Coach Quinn Fairley of the men’s water polo team won his second consecutive coach of the year award following his team's loss to Queen’s in the bronze medal round, earning them fourth place this season. This year’s award marks coach Fairley’s fifth in his career. Colin Colterjohn, the team’s star player, was named an All-star for the fifth time in his career as well.
To cap it all off, Talia Ng of the badminton team shined this season, achieving an absurd undefeated record of seven wins and zero losses at the OUA championship, aiding the team in securing their fifth place finish in the tournament. Ng, being in her first year, is among many young athletes on the badminton team, whose talent will only mature in future years. McMaster is set to be a future powerhouse team in this sport, and will undoubtedly be a great team to watch for years to come.
While the school year was cut short, it is important to focus on past successes, especially in troubling times like these. Hopefully the which are hopefully an indication of great things to come. All in all, it’s safe to say 2019-2020 was a successful year for McMaster sports across the board, which could be an indication of great years to come. We are certainly primed for a great year next year.
The Marauders began their season in an unusual way by taking their bye week during the first week of the Ontario University Athletics season. While other teams were starting their regular season, McMaster had the opportunity to play host to the Saskatchewan Huskies for the first time in team history. This was also the first time since 1994 that the Marauders have played an interlock preseason game.
“This was a good opportunity for us to have a team from out of conference to fill that void so I don’t think it’s detrimental,” said head coach Greg Knox following the game. “Otherwise, byes first week aren’t that fun, frankly.”
While it can be easy to dismiss preseason games in any sport, they allow teams to test out new players and determine the starters in competitive positions. University sports do not usually have preseason games, but this was a great opportunity for the team’s youngest recruits to get the feel of the game at a university level prior to the beginning of the regular season.
“This was a great opportunity for the team’s youngest recruits to get the feel of the game at a university level prior to the beginning of the regular season.”
While the Marauders have many returning players, they had to deal with many impactful departures as well. Former star wide receiver Danny Vandervoort has moved on to the Canadian Football League. Former starting quarterback Asher Hastings and running back Chris Pezzetta both finished their eligibility and moved on to positional coaching for the Marauders.
Any concern over whether or not the Marauders could pick up where they left off were quickly put to rest as the Marauders pulled off impressive back-to-back wins. The preseason game against the Huskies ended in a solid 22-10 win and was followed by a 23-9 win against the Carleton Ravens. It is clear the 2017 McMaster football team has the potential to have a great season.
Despite the win, the Marauders’ game against Saskatchewan began with a slow start. The Huskies were the first to get points on the board, setting the tone for the ﬁrst quarter. The Marauders trailed behind 7-0 as the offence led by sophomore quarterback Dylan Astrom struggled to move the ball.
Looking to the fill the void following Asher Hastings’ departure, McMaster used this game as a chance to give the three quarterbacks on their roster some playing time. Next up was newcomer quarterback Jackson White, whose play changed the pace in the game quickly when he entered the game in the second quarter.
Following star kicker Adam Preocanin’s 25-yard ﬁeld goal, White completed an impressive 28-yard touchdown pass to Brett Ledingham. With the Marauders now in the lead 13-7, both offence and defence were beginning to pick up momentum and cornerback Nolan Putt picked off the ﬁrst of four Marauders interceptions of the night. White finished the quarter with an impressive 131 yards on seven completions.
Something finally clicked for Mac in the second quarter as they headed into the second half up 13-7.
“You could define that game less about what they were doing and more about what we weren’t doing in terms of some mental mistakes, which you can expect early on in the season,” explained Knox.
By the third quarter, both sides of the ball were now comfortable showing off their speed. Freshman quarterback Andreas Dueck stepped in for the Marauders, starting and finishing the second half. The Winnipeg native maintained composure throughout the integral parts of the game.
In the fourth quarter, the Huskies kicked a 45-yard ﬁeld goal and were able to bring the score to 10-15. It was beginning to look like a close game. However, strong efforts from McMaster’s leading receiver Tommy Neild and Jordan Lyons’ three yard touchdown with 58 seconds left in the game allowed Adam Preocanin’s fourth field goal to seal the game for the home team.
Freshman running back Justice Allin impressed with a few game-breaking runs, leading McMaster in rushing with 97 yards and splitting the backfield with Jordan Lyons’ 80 yards. On the other side of the ball, veteran Hassan Berry led the defence with six tackles and one sack.
“[It was] a good first step. We learned a lot. I think we competed, a little shaky start all around. We’re a very young group, an inexperienced group, but I thought that we showed good composure and did enough to win a football game we wanted to win.”
Building off their strong preseason game, the Marauders traveled to MNP Park in their first regular season game to face off against the Carleton Ravens. Coming off of a 22-17 road win against the Queen’s Gaels, the Ravens looked poised to challenged the Marauders in their home opener.
However, the Marauders did not let the Ravens begin their season with two straight wins. In a game filled with penalties, sacks and turnovers, the Marauders’ capitalized on Carleton’s mistakes. Despite only 142 yards of total offence, exactly half of the Ravens’ total, the Marauders were able to execute a dominant 23-9 win.
As the Marauders’ new starting signal caller, Andreas Dueck struck early by throwing a five yard touchdown pass to Tommy Nield. That would be the highlight of the Marauders’ passing game as Dueck would finish 9 of 22 for 65 yards and an interception.
While not accumulating many passing yards, Dueck showed off why he was chosen to start the game by showcasing an impressive ability to scramble and throw on the run. Dueck racked up 19 rushing yards of his own to pick up a couple of first downs with his feet.
The Marauders began another game slowly as they finished the first quarter leading 7-2 and letting the Ravens march the ball down the field on several drives, but stopping them from converting them to points. The pace of the game changed in the second quarter as McMaster took advantage of the Ravens’ turnovers to break out for 16 points.
Running back Jordan Lyons was the source of the majority of the Marauders’ yardage for the game, responsible for 94 yards on 21 carries. Lyons almost scored a touchdown after a 25-yard run, but fumbled close to the goal line. The ball was luckily recovered by the Marauders’ Mitch O’Connor and essentially sealed the game for the road team.
The Marauder’s defence shined brightly under the lights in Ottawa, allowing only three points and coming away with six turnovers, including a pick-six snagged by OUA All-Star cornerback Robbie Yochim. The defence also posted five sacks, competing with the Ravens’ defensive line who had seven sacks of their own.
One bright spot for the Ravens was second-year running back Nathan Carter who was able to break off for several big runs, finishing the game with an impressive 150 yards on 22 carries. Carleton will head to Laurier next week to see if they can bounce back from this loss.
The Marauders will now play host to the Western Mustangs on Sept. 9. The Mustangs will be a tough test for the Marauders after opening their season with a commanding 66-3 win over the York Lions. If McMaster’s defence can continue their dominance and they can get their passing game going, the Marauders can go far in their 2017 season.
As Hamilton prepares for the Vanier Cup game at Tim Hortons Field on Nov. 26, the biggest U Sports football news of the week comes from the McMaster University campus.
Jon Behie, offensive coordinator and former associate head coach, has left the Marauder football program. The McMaster athletic department announced the departure in a press release.
"I've been a part of the McMaster football program for 15 years, both as a student-athlete and a coach. I've made some great friends and have amazing memories, but it's time for me to move on," said Behie. "I owe a lot of who I am to McMaster and this is difficult, but it is in the best interest of the football program, and I wish for nothing more than continued success for the Marauders."
Behie started as an assistant coach in 2007. Under Behie, McMaster fielded some of the most explosive offences in the country. Since 2010, the Marauders were no lower than third in points per game average, until this year where they finished fifth. The Burlington, Ont. native played football and basketball for McMaster as an undergraduate.
This marks the third significant coaching departure in 2016. Stefan Ptaszek left his position as head coach of McMaster football in May to be the offensive coordinator for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. Mac then hired Greg Knox from the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. who had been the defensive coordinator for the Marauders when they made Vanier Cup runs in 2011, 2012 and 2014. Prior to Knox being hired, Behie was the associate head coach.
The second coaching change was the resignation of co-defensive coordinator Joe Sardo. Sardo joined the Marauder coaching staff in January 2015, but left after this year's game against the University of Ottawa.
"The structure did not have room for me there," Sardo told the Hamilton Spectator.
Knox took over the defensive duties alongside Mark Forsyth, who has been an assistant coach since 1989.
Future of Mac football
Now, fans of Mac football look ahead, though the future is foggy. Knox will have to address vacancies both on the field and the sidelines. It is unclear if the defensive coordinator position will be filled or if Knox will continue to handle those responsibilities.
The Marauders will have major gaps to fill from a player standpoint. On offence, receiver Danny Vandervoort will likely be selected in the first round of the Canadian Football League draft. Given his skill set and domination at the U Sports level, it would be a surprise to see him return to Mac. Quarterback Asher Hastings finished his U Sports career. Hastings spent two years playing junior football and three at Mac. His departure means McMaster will be using a new quarterback. Dylan Astrom was the back-up this year, though he only has 19 total career pass attempts in two seasons.
OUA first-team all-star guard Zach Intzandt is out of eligibility, as are receivers Josh Vandeweerd and Max Cameron. Running back Chris Pezzetta finished his career in the Maroon and Grey as well.
Defensively, McMaster waves goodbye to mainstays like safety Keldyn Ahlstedt, defensive end Mike Kashak and linebacker Kyle Fitzsimmons.
This is officially Knox's program now and where it goes from here is one of the most intriguing storylines for Marauder sports fans in recent memory.
Homecoming is a celebration, and for the elite Ontario University Athletics football programs, it is a sign of dominance. The top teams typically schedule one of the bottom feeders to serve as punching bag for four hours, giving the fans lots to cheer about.
2016 should be different, though. McMaster hosts the reigning Yates Cup champion Guelph Gryphons in a key OUA match-up. The Gryphons are going through a major struggle after the departure of important defensive pieces and head coach Stu Lang. They are 2-3, but those two wins come against the Queen’s Gaels and University of Toronto Varsity Blues. Guelph is averaging 33.0 points against, the fifth-worst mark in the league.
The Marauders and Gryphons have a short but significant history. Guelph rose to prominence over the recent years because of a major anonymous investment in the school’s football program. The Globe and Mail reports that Stu Lang, the head coach from 2010-2015, donated anonymously to the program. Lang’s family owns CCL Industries, a global shipping company.
In that short time, the Gryphons program was completely revamped. Throughout the 2000s, Guelph was an also-ran; they made the playoffs all but two years but only made it past the quarterfinals once. Not bad, but nothing worth writing home about either. Under Lang, Guelph became a powerhouse, ripping off four consecutive 7-1 seasons from 2012-2015, including a Yates Cup win last year.
The legacy of that era is not going to be their competitiveness. It can’t be; McMaster and Western won more OUA championships and Mac made it to the Vanier three times. If anything, that era will be remembered for the bravado in which Guelph did nearly everything.
The program invested millions into Alumni Stadium, renovating a space that needed a facelift. They wore seemingly endless combinations of uniforms and helmets, prompting the OUA to limit teams to three game-day uniforms and two helmets per season. Guelph held some spring training camps in Florida. They have an $8.5 million facility dedicated specifically to football coming in December.
This makes Guelph the perfect rival to Mac. The Marauders have been a successful and consistent team, winning three Yates Cups and making three Vanier Cup finals. They have not been too flashy, they do not play with the same cockiness that Guelph does.
Games over recent years have been physical and competitive. Since 2012, Mac is 4-2, though the last four games have been split 2-2. McMaster is only +2 in point differential in those four games.
In 2010, Mac punted up seven with seconds left in the game, but kicker Tyler Crapigna took a late hit and broke his leg. In 2012, Mac beat Guelph in the Yates Cup final and drank Gryphon Gold beer after the win.
The 2014 opener at Ron Joyce Stadium was a scorcher, and it led to some tempers on the field. When Mac attempted a quarterback sneak on third-and-short, a Guelph player skirted around the pile and yanked on the leg of QB Marshall Ferguson to stop him from moving forward. The play was met with penalty flags and a handful of maroon jerseys, causing a quick skirmish.
When Guelph won the Yates Cup in 2015, the Gryphons yelled out a McMaster chant, the same one the Marauders performed when they beat Guelph in 2014.
The 2016 Homecoming game provides the Marauders with an opportunity to reaffirm their position in the OUA hierarchy. Likewise, Guelph will be out to prove that 2015 was not just an anomaly and that they should still be considered Yates Cup threats in 2016.
Asher Hastings and Guelph’s defensive line
Hastings has been dynamite in the air. He has the third highest completion percentage (64.7) and the best touchdown-to-interception ratio amongst OUA quarterbacks (7:2).
Guelph’s defensive line will look to put pressure on Mac’s QB before he has time to look downfield. Guelph currently ranks second in the OUA in recorded sacks (11), and will use their frontline pressure to reach Hastings as much as possible.
Linebacker pair and first time starters Lukas Korol and Riley Baines have been standout defensive players for Guelph and currently rank in the top five in total tackles in the OUA (41 and 34 respectively), while St Mary’s transfer Matt Delmas has already collected three sacks on the season.
Danny Vandervoort and Guelph’s Defensive Secondary
Danny Vandervoort has been unstoppable this season. Vandervoort is McMaster’s leader in career touchdown receptions (27), fourth in receiving yards per game (88.5) in the Ontario University Athletics conference, and fifth in touchdown receptions (seven), despite sitting out against Waterloo.
Always a deep threat, Guelph will look to contain him quickly and force the Marauders to other options.
“In every game we have to figure out early how teams are going to try and take away Danny Vandervoort,” said offensive coordinator Jon Behie. “Everyone has a different plan to do that, and they have some veterans in the their secondary, so who matches up against Danny and how [they do it] is going to be an important piece of the puzzle for us.”
Free safety Tristian Doughlin has been absent from the Gryphons’ lineup due to injury, but third-year player Mike Carney has stepped into his role and played consistently well. Guelph’s secondary kept Ottawa to a season-low 286 passing yards, 160 yards less than his season average, when they met in week four.
Doughlin and the rest of the secondary will look to take Vandervoort out of the offense, and force Mac to adjust on the fly.
Keys To The Game
Capitalize on offence - McMaster has struggled to finish off long drives this season, with 14 field goal attempts but only nine touchdowns on the year.
“We need to score touchdowns instead of just field goals,” said Behie. “That is something we have been struggling with this season but against Guelph we are going to need 7s instead of 3s.”
The offence has entered the red-zone only eight times. While they have scored on every trip to the redzone, only four times have they scored a touchdown. Look for them to create long drives to wear down the Guelph defence.
Playing disciplined - Guelph is second in the OUA in defensive interceptions (seven), while Mac has struggled with a league high 552 total penalty yards, giving opposing teams more opportunities gain ground.
If Mac gives Guelph the ball on offence, odds are that the Gryphons will take advantage, who are currently third in first downs (137) in the OUA. Guelph quarterback James Roberts has been consistent with 91 completions for just over 1000 yards this season, and a balanced run game already has eight touchdowns.
Ground n' pound - To keep the field open for Hastings and his receiving core, Mac will look to running backs Chris Pezzeta and Jordan Lyons to keep the Guelph defence on their toes.
“[We have to] establish the run game early to help open things up downfield,” said Behie. “We weren’t able to do that against Guelph last year and it hurt us, so that will be a point of emphasis for us throughout the week of preparation.”
Both Pezzeta and Lyons will look to carry their momentum from Waterloo, where they picked up two touchdowns and 105 receiving yards respectively.
Wildcard: McMaster’s Defence
McMaster currently leads the league in defensive interceptions with 11 through four games. Taking possession back from Guelph on defence could play a major part in the momentum of the game.
Bad blood - a Marauder history
2014: McMaster 34 vs Guelph 27 - The Marauders came back with ten points in the fourth quarter to send the game to overtime. QB Marshall Ferguson ran the ball into the end zone to seal a Mac win in their home opener.
2014: McMaster 20 vs Guelph 15 - Mac captured their third Yates Cup in four years by beating Guelph in a defensive battle. The Marauders had five interceptions and no touchdowns, but did enough to come away with the win.
2015: Guelph 33 vs McMaster 23 - Playing in Guelph’s second homecoming in three years, a 96-yard drive late in the fourth quarter kept things interesting, but McMaster’s struggles in the rain saw them fall to the eventual Yates Cup champions.
Home field advantage
McMaster has the highest average home attendance in Ontario, and when Behie was asked how important their playing at home would be, the answer was clear.
“It’s huge. Our record at Ron Joyce stadium since it opened is very good. It is a great environment to play in and our fans, especially at homecoming, have been the 13th man for us. I think it’s a huge advantage playing an opponent like Guelph at home as opposed to on the road.”
People are taking note of Danny Vandervoort.
McMaster’s leading receiver claimed the fourth spot on the Canadian Football Leagues Fall central scouting list, the highest of any Marauder at a skill position. He falls second on the all-time list behind Matt Sewell, an offensive lineman who peaked at the no. 2 position in 2012 before being drafted eighth by the Toronto Argonauts the following year.
Vandervoort adds this achievement to an already impressive resume, which includes three OUA all star appearances and CIS rookie of the year honors in 2013.
He also holds the McMaster record for career touchdown receptions with 27, crushing the previous mark of 19 set by Vaughn Swart (2000-05) and Matt Peressini (2007-11), despite having played only 27 career games. In fact, Vandervoort was half way to the record last season alone, putting up an OUA-best 11 TD receptions on 664 receiving yards, and becoming a first team All-Canadian in the process.
Carrying his momentum into the fall, Vandervoort benefited from a terrific start, bagging two back to back games with 100+ receiving yards against Carleton and the University of Toronto. He also sits second atop the OUA leaderboard in both receiving yards (354) and touchdowns (3) so far this year.
Known for his vertical ability and speed down the seam, Vandervoort has a knack for leaving defenders on their heels. A perfect match for quarterback Asher Hastings, who threw a CIS-record 31 touchdown passes last year, the duo is averaging 118 yards a game and an OUA best 32.2 yards per catch, a testament to Danny’s ability to reign in the deep ball.
Mac’s high flying offence will be on full display against the Waterloo Warriors, where they hope to rebound on the road following their first loss of the season. Winless through three, the Warriors have dropped their last five regular season contests with McMaster.
The torch has been passed to familiar hands.
Following Stefan Ptaszek’s departure to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, McMaster’s football program was in need of a head coach. And after a brief search, Greg Knox has been named interim head coach. Knox is a former McMaster defensive coordinator and the job is a realization of work that started two decades ago during his Canadian Football League playing days.
“Back when I was playing, I was heavily involved as a player out in Calgary. I ran a number of different camps at a time when there really weren’t high school camps available for kids,” said Knox.
Who is Greg Knox?
The new bench boss of the Maroon and Grey carries a stellar resume. The Peterborough, Ont. native was a linebacker for the Laurier Golden Hawks and won the 1991 Vanier Cup. In the CFL, Knox won a Grey Cup in the first and last year of his career, as well as earning nominations for Outstanding Canadian Player and the Tom Pate Memorial Award, recognizing players who show incredible commitment to both club and community.
In 2006, Knox joined the Marauder staff as a defensive coordinator and held the position until 2013. After a one-year stint with the University in Toronto, Knox returned to the McMaster sideline to coordinate the defence that powered Mac to its third Vanier Cup game in four years. Overall, Knox won three Yates Cups and one Vanier as defensive coordinator.
Now, with his children through high school and heading to McMaster, Knox has the time to be a CIS football head coach. By the sounds of it, he could not be happier.
“I believe CIS football, from a coaching perspective, is a sweet spot. Dealing with this type of student-athlete, I enjoy it a great deal. Being able to run a program is an obvious destination for me,” Knox explained.
The head coaching role will be different from his previous gig, though. When asked about what the defence will look like, Knox made it clear that he is not going to come in and overhaul the systems that current defensive coordinator Joe Sardo has in place.
““We’ll collaborate, as every head coach and defensive coordinator will do. We are going to build on what Joe put in last year,” said Knox.
That philosophy applies to “all three phases of the ball” – offence, defence, and special teams – as Knox believes strongly in the abilities of his staff, which includes Jon Behie as assistant head coach and offensive coordinator and Rob Underhill as special teams coordinator.
“I’m lucky enough to be surrounded by good people that I know can do a good job. My role will be to support them, to make sure we are all on the same page and we are playing our definition of Marauder football,” said Knox.
The future of the program
OUA and CIS football has changed since the time the former Calgary Stampeder standout started coaching in Hamilton. The Marauders are among the CIS football elite, but the competition has moved beyond the field of play. Now, programs are being built in boardrooms and through the bank accounts of wealthy donors. Programs like Laval, Montreal, Carleton and the University of British Columbia are leaning on private funding and creating a hierarchy. While they are still well-funded, McMaster lags behind the others. Knox knows how to make up the difference.
“It’s going to take a lot of elbow grease,” Knox said, with a laugh. “We’re going to have to work as hard and as smart as we can, be efficient with the resources we have.”
Realistically, Mac boasts an elite coaching staff with top-tier academics. The football program has experienced the most success during this financial arms race era, and money cannot solve every issue. Money is not be an issue until it is one, and all signs point to “confidence” about the programs future.
What’s up for next year?
Training camp will open on Aug. 14, but in the mean time, there are broader questions around the program. A new coach means a different direction, even if its only slight changes.
One major question question with coaches at the CIS level, across all sports, is “how do you measure success?” Teams are dynamic, and competition – especially in OUA football – can be lacking. While the casual observer usually judges success by wins and losses, Knox plans to look beyond the standings.
“Success, to me, is being a champion on and off the field. That does not necessarily mean winning your last game. It’s playing to the best of your ability and reaching as close to your potential,” said Knox.
“They don’t say ‘any given Sunday’ for no reason. Any team can win a football game. [Success] is a sustainably successful program, that brings kids who are a good fit academically and athletically for our program, that get plugged in and come out the other end better for it.”
McMaster is already in the position Knox describes. Their on-field success is well documented and the squad just had a record tying six players drafted to the CFL in May. And the wins should keep coming next year.
When asked about what excites the former linebacker, he pointed to the potential for an explosive offence. Asher Hastings returns at QB following a record-breaking campaign, along with a stud receiving group, headlined by Danny Vandevoort. Last year, McMaster finished second in total points scored in the OUA.
The defence improved as the year went along. Knox said they have a “strong group up front” and he’s looking forward to watching the secondary’s continued growth. It was a young group that gave up big passing totals early in the season, but hit their stride towards the end of the year.
McMaster football is coming off the best decade in its history. The price of that success is losing Ptaszek, but with Greg Knox taking over and the rest of the assistant coaches returning, there is every reason to believe that success will continue when the 2016 football season kicks off later this summer.
The head coach of Marauder football, Stefan Ptaszek, is leaving McMaster to be the offensive coordinator for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. The news originally broke on May 4 through the Hamilton Spectator, and the Ticats confirmed the news on May 5.
This news comes less than a year after McMaster signed Ptaszek to a "multi-year agreement" to continue serving as head coach.
“I just want to thank Glen Grunwald, the entire McMaster University staff, students and our players for an amazing 10 years. Marauders football will always be a huge part of who I am and I will never forget what we accomplished," said Ptaszek in a press release.
Ptaszek took the reigns of McMaster in 2006 and brought the program to new heights. Mac won the Vanier Cup in 2011 for the first time in its history and went to the national championship game three times in four years.
The Burlington, Ont. native finishes his head coaching tenure with a 73-29 overall record, including a 22-game winning streak spanning from the second game of the 2011 season to the Vanier Cup in 2012. He won the CIS Coach of the Year award in 2012 after an undefeated regular season.
In the Tiger-Cats release, Ptaszek explained his decision.
“To have a chance to support and learn from Coach Austin and the Tiger-Cats organization is a once in a lifetime opportunity,” said Ptaszek. “The City of Hamilton is critical to this decision because my family has zero interest in ever leaving this wonderful community. I am extremely motivated and determined to be a positive force that adds value to the entire Ticat organization.”
Ptaszek is no stranger to the CFL. After an illustrious career as a wide receiver at Wilfrid Laurier University, Ptaszek was drafted ninth overall in 1994 to the B.C. Lions. The man who drafted him - Eric Tillman, the current general manager of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
“Stefan is a smart, innovative coach with strong leadership qualities, integrity and a proven track record of success at the CIS level. He has a thorough understanding of the Canadian game, and his body of work with respect to producing top ranked, efficient and explosive offences at McMaster speaks for itself,” said Austin. “He and his family are committed to the area and already entrenched in the Hamilton community. We are excited to have him on board as we continue to prepare for the upcoming season.”
With the football program’s spring camp over, the hunt for a new head coach likely begins immediately.