Coach Stefan Ptaszek's McMaster Marauders might be doubted all the way to the Vanier Cup — and everyone not wearing maroon and grey might still be confused if they win it in two weeks
The Mount Allison Mounties, whom the No. 3 Marauders will host in the Mitchell Bowl national semifinal next Saturday, might not have been quaking in their boots by what was on display in the Yates Cup: 11 lost fumbles and interceptions and only one offensive touchdown, by the losing team team no less. However, No. 3 McMaster is still kicking. Defensive lineman Mike Kashak's 30-yard rumble to the house after a first-half interception provided the winning margin for Mac to finish the OUA football season the same way it started, scrapping past No. 5 Guelph 20-15.
"This one was for everyone — all our players, all our guys who didn't get to dress today, all our fans, everyone in this city, everyone who came out to support us all year," fifth-year cornerback Joey Cupido, whose two interceptions in the first half gave him a CIS-record 14 career post-season pickoffs, told TV Cogeco Hamilton. "This is the ultimate team win. This one is for you guys. This is the best feeling in the world. I came back this year because I knew we had a team capable of going farther.
"I couldn't ask for a better way to finish my OUA career," added Cupido, who received the Dalt White Trophy as game MVP. "Now we're going to keep on going in the CIS."
These Marauders might not make eyeballs pop the same way as the 2011-12 iterations that split two Vanier Cup games with Laval. Guelph, which has now seen three 7-1 regular seasons end without a Yates Cup, was also missing its most dangerous receiver, A'Dre Fraser. It had to turn to rookie James Roberts after veteran Jazz Lindsey, limited by an injury, was intercepted on three of his first six pass attempts.
Ultimately, the 11 players still around from the '11 national championship team, including Cupido and QB Marshall Ferguson (24-of-34, 191 yards), helped Mac win the day. It was the fifth time this season that they won by a single-digit margin, although Ptaszek and his coordinators Jon Behie (offence) and Greg Knox (defence) often take a vanilla approach until the fourth quarter arrives.
"There's no easy way out of Ontario," Ptaszek told Cogeco. "To be out of it speaks to the entire Marauder nation. We have no idea what we just accomplished. Coach [Gary] Jeffries [Ptaszek's former boss at Laurier] taught me, and I'm trying to teach them, it's okay to be proud but it's never okay to be satisfied. And there's no way they're satisfied with just this step."
The win gives McMaster a chance to be the first OUA team to go to the Vanier Cup three times in four seasons since the Western Mustangs (1976-77, '79). They host unbeaten, No. 6-ranked Mount Allison on Saturday (4 p.m. ET, Sportsnet 360).
Tailback Chris Pezzetta, whose past two seasons were ruined by knee problems, ran 22 times for 142 yards, allowing McMaster to overcome Ferguson's three interceptions and receiver's Josh Vandeweerd's two lost fumbles.
Cupido's first interception came in the end zone after a Vandeweerd fumble on a punt had set up the Gryphons on Mac's two-yard line.
Roberts, from Cambridge, Ont., was 12-of-22 for 154 yards in a game effort. Alex Charette led Guelph with six receptions for 95 yards. However, Kashak, linebacker Nick Shortill and the McMaster front seven generally contained Guelph tailback Rob Farquharson, whose 78 yards were just one-third of his total (232) from the semifinal against Western. More than half of Farquharson's tally came on a 41-yard touchdown in the first quarter.
The day's only other touchdown came from Kashak. In the second quarter, he shed a block, blocked Roberts' pass, secured the interception and stiff-armed the 185-pound quarterback before going in untouched.
McMaster also beat Guelph 34-27 in overtime on Sept. 1. The Gryphons won eight games in a row to earn a rematch. In the past three seasons under coach Stu Lang, Guelph is 24-6 overall and has lost only to McMaster, Queen's and Western, but have yet to win the Yates.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.