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McMaster wins first Vanier in one of best CIS games ever

The underdog McMaster Marauders took down Goliath Friday, defeating the previously-dominant Laval Rouge and Or 41-38 in double overtime in what may have been the best Vanier Cup ever played. The Vanier was thrust into the limelight this year thanks to its pairing with the Grey Cup, and it didn't disappoint. This one had everything, from incredible runs by both teams to spectacular plays to crucial moments of failure and redemption, and the insanity just kept building. When the dust finally settled, though, the Marauders had broken the curse of the wedding bells and hoisted their first Vanier Cup in school history, and the defending champion Rouge et Or had suffered the first blemish on their previously perfect 6-0 record in Vanier Cup games.

To a degree, McMaster's heroes were also its goats. First-team All-Canadian kicker Tyler Crapigna, playing in the first playoff game of his career thanks to a broken leg last year and severe illness this season, was the man who eventually won the game with a 20-yard field goal in double overtime, but he also missed a 30-yard field goal at the end of regulation that would have clinched it for the Marauders. Similarly, quarterback Kyle Quinlan was deservingly selected as the winner of the Ted Morris Memorial Trophy as game MVP, as he threw for 482 yards (the second-highest total in Vanier history) and two touchdowns with a completion percentage of 65.4 per cent and ran 14 times for 106 yards (7.6 yards per carry), but his two interceptions were also crucial to Laval getting back into the game. In the end, though, both came out on the right side of the equation.

It was a crazy game, full of momentum swings and back-and-forth moments. Led by their trench warriors on both the offensive and defensive lines, the Marauders roared out to a solid start, picking up two field goals in the first quarter and adding 17 more uncontested points in the second to take a 23-0 lead at the half. Laval struck back with a 17-point third quarter though and jumped into a 24-23 lead with just over 13 minutes left in the final frame of regulation. The teams went back and forth from there, with McMaster's Matthew Peressi scoring on a nine-yard touchdown pass from Quinlan, the Marauders picking up the two-point conversion and then Laval's Julian Feoli-Gudino hauling in a five-yard pass from Bruno Prud'homme to tie the score with just over two minutes left. McMaster came back with a drive of their own and gave Crapigna a chance to end it there, but his field goal was wide and Laval knocked it down and returned it out of the end zone, preventing a game-winning rouge and sending the contest to overtime.

It was overtime where things were kicked up to a new notch, though. The Marauders started in fine form, with Quinlan hitting the uberconfident Brad Fochesato for a 26-yard touchdown, but Laval responded with an even more incredible play. On second and 13 following a sack, Prud'homme tossed a 33-yard bomb to the end zone. McMaster's Steven Dennis got a hand on it, but couldn't reel it in, and the Rouge et Or's Adam Thibault came up with an incredible juggling touchdown catch to send things to a second overtime. Laval couldn't finish there, though, as Prud'homme threw an interception that McMaster came close to breaking away with thanks to a series of laterals, and the Marauders then capitalized on their own drive and Laval took a crucial too-many-men penalty at just the wrong moment, giving Crapigna another chance to win the game. He made no mistake this time, drilling the ball through the uprights from 20 yards out and giving the Marauders their first Vanier Cup.

On intrinsic merits alone, this has to be one of the greatest Vanier Cup games ever played. It was only the second to go to overtime (following the 1994 Vanier in Toronto where Western beat Saskatchewan 50-40), and it had absolutely everything a football fan could want; a dominant passing performance by Quinlan, excellent execution by both offensive lines (at times), tremendous defensive plays, a punt-return touchdown and double overtime. It gets even better when you throw in the Marauders slaying Goliath and claiming their first title. The CIS got its big stage, and it couldn't have asked for more from its participating teams. If this game doesn't convert you to Canadian university football, I doubt anything will.

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