MONTREAL — Tears actually fell before kickoff, not after the kick in the gut.
The manner by which some of the McMaster Marauders rationalized their fate after coming up one point short in the 50th Vanier Cup, losing 20-19 to the Montreal Carabins after all-Canadian kicker Tyler Crapigna's 31-yard try was blocked by defensive tackle Mathieu Girard with 52 seconds left, speaks volumes for what coach Stefan Ptaszek teaches at the Hamilton school. The inches, to quote the Any Given Sunday speech, simply didn't add up for the Marauders in front of a pro-Carabins setting in front of 22,649 at Molson Stadium.
"This is such a great game to play in; I was crying during warmups because I knew it was my last time," said Marshall Ferguson, the fifth-year quarterback and one of 12 Marauders players who were hoping to earn a second Vanier ring in the past four seasons. "I'm not a super-emotional guy but my coaches were coming over to me and thanking me for my five-year career. Now that I'm done, I'm not in a state of shock or anything. It's just the raw emotion of it. I can't really be angry about anything that happened because it's such a great game. It's the game I love, the game I'll always love. It's sad to be done but it's the way it goes."
A less grounded person would obsess all winter long over That Damn Upright and The Decision. In the second-last minute of the third, Mac was second-and-10 on the Carabins 22 with a six-point lead. Wide receiver Max Cameron had a step, step and a half, on his defender. But Ferguson's pass hit the left upright for an automatic incompletion. Instead of going ahead by 13, Crapigna came on to kick his fourth field goal for a mere nine-point edge.
"We teed up that play, that route combo, that individual isolated route for Max all game," said Ferguson, who was 27-of-41 for 195 yards with two interceptions. "And then I decided that I wanted to forget I was playing Canadian football and throw it into an upright.
"I have actually never had a ball hit an upright or a crossbar in high school or here at McMaster," the 23-year-old Kingston native added. "As soon as I hit it I was, 'come on, really?' To be fair, from looking at the replay I might have underthrown. But yes, that was unfortunate. That sucked."
Crapigna added: "When things happen like that, it's just not meant to be.
"It's the Vanier Cup, anything can happen," he added. "We've been on the other end of this and had things go our way. Today things just didn't go our way.
And, of course, the Carabins merely had to put up a touchdown and a field goal in the fourth, which they got due to some big catches from 20-year-old rookie receiver Regis Cibasu (six catches, 90 yards), who took home the Ted Morris Memorial Trophy as offensive player of the game. And really, Mac's Achilles heel all season was not being to finish drives.
"We did not do enough, and he [Crapigna] could have saved it for us and he usually does, but we have to look in the mirror as to why we needed saving," Ptaszek said.
Following Louis-Phillipe Simoneau's go-ahead 13-yard field goal with 2:45 left, the Marauders took over on their own 35. They quickly got in range to retake the lead thanks to Wayne Moore, the game's leading rusher, busting a 24-yarder around right end to the Carabins 33. Two more handoffs to Moore (11 rushes for 111 yards, including a 50-yard scoot for Mac's only TD) brought up third down and inches with 58 seconds on the clock.
Montreal had the wind and momentum thanks to two fourth-quarter scores led by Gabriel Cousineau (17-of-33 for 196, one touchdown). In that situation, trusting the offence to gain the necessary footage would have created the chance to get closer for the field goal while leaving the Cousineau and Co. less time to respond.
The situation was eerily similar to a choice then-Ottawa coach Jean-Philippe Asselin made to kick a field goal for a two-point lead late in the 2010 Yates Cup against Western. In that instance, the Mustangs were left with a slew of time to get into Lirim Hajrallahu's range and win 26-25.
Crapigna, who as a teen developed his kicking by practising at an indoor golf range in Ottawa during the winter months, set the CIS career field goal record this season. He was also in the midst of his second four-field goal day in a row. All four of his field goals on Saturday came at the east end of stadium.
The Decision was to trust the kicker and the defensive players.
"When you have a kicker like Tyler Crapigna, you don't question that for a second," Ferguson said. "It was pretty elementary to put Ty out for the win. It was just a line drive and that's unfortunate. The snap was a little high, it was a great hold by Max Cameron as he's done all year. We were just not able to finish."
Verily, the Marauders were up against it all week as the interlopers from Ontario. Curiously, the Carabins, while not serving as the officlal Vanier host, were allowed to move practice to their campus on both Thursday and Friday. (The same courtesy wasn't granted to the Marauders two seasons ago when the title game at Rogers Centre was a one-hour drive from their campus.)
Yet a team that wasn't played up as a preseason favourite to get out of the OUA came close. Moore, the fill-in for injured No. 1 back Chris Pezzetta, was more of a home-run threat than Mac receivers. The defence, with Mark Mackie getting two sacks and fellow end Mike Kashak showing impressive closing speed for a 245-pound man, played inspired for the first 45 minutes.
Cousineau, who completed more than 70 per cent of his passes in the regular season, was below 50% in the first three quarters. Right about the time the third-quarter stats were distributed in the press box, he coolly dropped a 32-yard corner route into Cibasu's breadbasket despite tight coverage. Montreal scored on the next play to make it 19-17 with 10:48 left.
"My QB put a nice ball out there," Cibasu said. "I'm so thankful for that catch."
The setback was the end of line for Marauders stalwarts such as cornerbacks Joey Cupido and Steven Ventresca, safety Allan Dicks and offensive linemen Adam Dickson and Tyler Goldsworthy. Yet there wasn't that vacant now what vibe from the Marauders as they formed a handshake line, in one of those uniquely Canadian rituals, waited to shake hands with the celebrating Carabins. They took their shot and life will go on, even though several players' maroon-and-grey Saturdays are over. Which is what it's all about, really.
"It's tough to take," Crapigna said. "Our team played a hell of a game. We showed we deserved to be there."
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.