Assistant Sports Editor
By defeating the Queen’s Gaels 40-13 at Ron Joyce Stadium last weekend, the McMaster Marauders not only clinched the program’s first trip to the Yates Cup since 2004, but gave the team’s senior players an opportunity to play at least one more football game sporting the maroon and grey.
Stand out linebacker Ryan Chmielewski, who leads the team in tackles, is one of nine seniors faced with this reality of OUA football in November: each game could be the last.
McMaster’s veterans seem not only able to cope with this reality, but seem to draw inspiration from it.
“We need to play like it is not our last game. I think all of us expect to play three more games,” said Chmielewski. “We expect to win.”
This attitude translated into results, evident by the play of McMaster’s defensive unit, which features six seniors, during the semi final game.
The Marauders “D” neutralized a powerful Gaels offense by containing the nation’s leading rusher Ryan Granberg and paralyzing the passing game.
Queen’s quarterback Ryan Mitchell threw six interceptions, including four to cornerback Joey Cupido and the Marauders converted the turnovers into enough points to put the game’s outcome out of the question early on.
A similar performance would go a long way towards a victory on Saturday at Western’s TD Waterhouse Stadium, where they will contend for the 104th Yates Cup.
Standing in their way are the defending champion Mustangs, who have had a dominant season of their own. Although both teams finished with identical records of 7-1, it is Western who got the better of the head-to-head matchup defeating the Marauders by a score of 48-21 in the second week of the season.
Western had the element of surprise on their side in week two as rookie running back Tyler Varga, who ended up leading the CIS with 15 touchdowns, had played in only one CIS game, making it very difficult to gauge his ability to impact a game.
“It was tough to put into context how tough Varga was. We walked into the hornets’ nest and found out first hand how good they were,” said McMaster head coach Stefan Ptaszek.
This time around, the Marauders know what to expect from Varga, the 18-year old phenom.
“They are the premier rushing team in the nation and can flat out run the football. That is going to be a huge challenge for us. [Stopping the run is] not a weakness of our defense, but our strength is certainly in the back end which they won’t attack too often,” said Ptaszek.
The Marauder secondary has intercepted opposing quarterbacks 25 times in 9 games, which would certainly suggest that Mustangs head coach Greg Marshall will continue with his run-heavy strategy. In their semi-final victory over Windsor, the Mustangs had more turnovers (7) than pass completions (6).
To answer, McMaster will need to see disciplined and ferocious play from the front seven. In the eyes of coach Ptaszek, the leadership on the defensive line will be an integral part of any success.
“We need the fifth-years on our defensive line to have the best games of their entire career. We need Roberto Filice and Mackenzie Dent to have the game of their lives to help contain that run game,” said the coach.
On the offensive side of the ball, Marauder quarterback Kyle Quinlan must continue to move the ball with the same efficiency that helped McMaster lead the CIS with an average of 530.5 total yards per game this season.
Held to only 21 points in the first meeting between these conference juggernauts, the McMaster offense has grown into the most formidable unit in the country.
However, it is not the 50-yard bombs or 30-yard rushes that will be the deciding factor in this game.
“Taking care of the football and turnovers will have a huge impact. Both [McMaster and Western] are high powered offenses, so keeping the other offense on the sideline by sustaining drives and ending with touchdowns instead of field goals will decide the winner of this game,” said Ptaszek, adding “it’s going come down to the subtle differences”.
Comparable in essentially every categorical comparison, there is a looming intangible factor that may play a roll in the outcome of this game. A key difference between McMaster and Western is the playoff experience.
Coach Ptaszek does not have one player on his roster with Yates Cup experience, compared to a Western team that returns a many of its key players from their 2010 championship team.
“Our opponents are defending champions and have won two of the last three. They have way more experience in this big game, that is an advantage we will have to address” said Ptaszek of the challenge presented to his team.
Western advanced after a 33-27 victory over Windsor. Varga ran for 209 yards and a touchdown. Mustang starting quarterback Donnie Marshall, who has been out since an Oct. 10 win over York with a severe ankle sprain, did not play. It’s still unclear whether he will play vs. McMaster.
The Yates Cup, which kicks off at 1 p.m., will not only produce a provincial champion, but a legitimate national championship contender as well. The winner will play the AUS Champion in the Uteck Bowl for a right to play in the Vanier Cup Nov. 28 in Vancouver.