Young but relentless
Photos by Kyle West
The return of Canadian university football started off on a high note for the McMaster Marauders who won their home opener 16-15 against the University of Guelph Gryphons. The young team led by second-year quarterback Jackson White looked slow right out of the gate, as they trailed 0-10 in the first quarter.
The Marauders cut the Gryphons’ lead in half at the beginning of the second half thanks to Mac’s dependable kicker Adam Preocanin, the Mac men knew if they wanted to win this game, they could not just scrape by — they needed to score touchdowns.
“We recognized we were making some mistakes and we only want to make mistakes once they get it cleaned up,” said head coach Greg Knox following the game. “The message has been and will continue to be grit and perseverance, and we’re going to try and get better every day and every play.”
In the third quarter, Mac continued to slowly chip away at the difference, adding another field goal, bringing the score to 9-12. The Gryphons’ kicker Gabe Ferrero struck back and was able to extend his team’s lead, ending the third 15-9 in Guelph’s favour.
All hope was not lost as a fourth-quarter touchdown pass to Michael Bazzo from White gave the Marauders just the edge they needed to win the game.
“You expect to make mistakes but you want to fix them, and I thought we did that too,” said Knox. “First game of the season you never really know what you're going to get so you're defending everything.”
As for White, the win was an ugly one but the Marauders showed up and drove the field when it mattered. The team having as many first- and second-year players that they do, this result was not all that surprising.
Though the team is a lot more inexperienced, White believes that the Marauders are overall more skilled on offence and that Mac can depend on a good core group of players who can get the job done.
“Obviously last year with guys like [Mark] Mackie, Cody Stellar, and Mitch O’Connor we had a lot of good leadership guys, and it's definitely different this year without the amount of fifth-years that we have lost this year,” said White. “But I think a lot of guys are stepping up this year such as Jordan Lyons, Lucas Bill and even myself.”
Only being in second-year himself, White describes this new role that can be quite of a challenge at times. But as the team’s starting quarterback, it comes with the role.
Unfortunately for White, this was not the only challenge he faced in Mac’s burgeoning season. The Marauders’ second game of the season was a gritty 18-11 loss to the University of Ottawa Gee-Gees. With heavy rain in the first half, White found it hard once again to score those much-needed touchdowns. Mac relied heavily on the running game of Jordan Lyons who had a total of 174 yards on 24 carries, including an explosive 38-yard rush.
By the half, the Marauders were up 5-3 thanks to a safety and a field goal. Though not taking a chance to see if White could pull off another second-half miracle, Mac’s second-string quarterback Andreas Dueck stepped in.
With the rain gone, his impact was immediate, connecting with several receivers right off the bat which led to a field goal that helped the Marauders tie the game at 11 in the fourth quarter. But a late 10-yard pass from Ottawa quarterback Sawyer Buettner to Dylan St. Pierre in the end zone gave the Gee-Gees the win.
Starting off slow seems to be a bit of a trend for the Marauders.
“It's been kind of a thing in the last few years, it's not the best thing but sometimes we get off to a little bit of a slow start,” said fourth-year safety and captain Bill following the first game.
The low score of both games proves that when it comes to defence, the Marauders know how to contain their opponents which is great, as it is often said that defence wins games. But defence alone is not enough.
This was a similar tale for the Marauders last season during the Ontario University Athletics semi-final game against the Laurier Golden Hawks.
“As a team offensively in the final game against Laurier we put up six points and that's not good enough to win a championship,” said White.
Though Dueck’s performance in the second-half against the Gee-Gees showed that he too is capable of the starting job, it is still too early to be certain that he has what it takes to lead the team to fulfill the Marauders’ goal — to win the Vanier Cup.
“Obviously if the goal is not to win the Vanier Cup I don't know why you're playing,” said White.
“The goal is to win the Vanier Cup every year and we're going to have to get hot at the right time and stay injury-free like every championship team.”
But first, they will face the defending OUA champions who also happen to be the U SPORTS Vanier Cup holders the University of Western Ontario Mustangs. This will be the toughest test yet for the young team, but if they continue to channel their grit and resilience, with the combination of scoring much-needed touchdowns, Mac will be able to hold their own.