The highly anticipated home opener for the U Sports No. 7 McMaster Marauders against No. 4 Western Mustangs left Mac fans and players disappointed after a 29-14 loss.
With a total of only 13 first downs for the entire game, the Marauders’ young and inexperienced offence had a hard time against the Mustangs’ more seasoned defence.
All three quarterbacks got a chance to touch the ball throughout the game. Dylan Astrom played briefly in the first quarter, followed by Andres Dueck who played the majority of the first and the entire second quarter, and finishing with Jackson White who played the entire second half. Yet some of the most exciting plays of the game were thanks to the Marauders’ defence.
With nine junior and senior defensive starters, even when losing, the defence was still able to create much needed game changing plays. Mac is currently tied at second in the country with five interceptions, while sophomore cornerback Robbie Yochim is tied for second in individual interceptions.
When asked if the defence was proud of their current national interception statistic, Yochim praised his teammates, but knows they have to work harder if they want to be consistent winners.
“Our defensive backs are really skilled this year. We’ve come along way since last year,” said Yochim. “If we clean up all those edges and dot those Is and cross those Ts, we’re going to be really good on defence. You never want to learn a lesson with a loss but this is definitely a lesson to be learned for us.”
Both Yochim and McMaster’s current defensive leader, senior linebacker Eric Mezzalira, attribute the defence’s success to the seniority, but both know there is still a lot of room to grow for the team as a whole.
“We have a lot of seniors on our team. In our defensive front we have a lot of older guys so were kind of setting the tone for the younger guys coming in and they’re really picking it up. It’s good to see that they’re learning from us,” said Mezzalira.
“We got too many mistakes out there on every side of the ball,” added Yochim. Defence is making too many errors. Special teams had that one block where we didn’t seal the edge and offence had some things they messed up on as well. We just really have to clean up our game and have a solid game all around next time.”
Although there is room for improvement for defence, they were still able to make key plays that would set up offensive scoring opportunities. The Marauders’ offence was able to score two touchdowns due to crucial interceptions forced by the defence.
Leading by example, senior linebacker Jake Heathcote picked the ball off Western’s quarterback Chris Merchant and returned it 34 yards. The return set up Mac’s running back Jordan Lyons to score the Marauders’ first touchdown of the day.
“We just really have to clean up our game and have a solid game all around next time.”
Sophomore cornerback Nolan Putt later followed in the footsteps of Heathcote, intercepting Western’s Stevenson Bone’s pass. This allowed rookie quarterback Jackson White to put a 33-yard rushing touchdown on the board, the first touchdown of his career.
While unable to stop the Mustangs, it is obvious that Mac’s defence is able to make the big plays that they need to.
“The expectation is that we can play good defensive football and be opportunistic, but we’re still making mistakes all over the place,” said head coach Greg Knox. “From a coaching perspective, we got to figure out what needs to happen in our preparation to start limiting those mistakes, and we need to be better next week.”
With the number of upper-year defensive players starting, that expectation is undeniable. Although with much younger key players, such as first-year quarterbacks White and Dueck, there is still room and time for improvement.
Mac’s perseverance was definitely tested against Western. Coming off of a preseason win against the Saskatchewan Huskies and their first regular season win against the Carleton Ravens, it was their first true taste of being down and out this season.
“I think we played gritty football. We’re learning what the definition of grit and determination is at this level. The tale of the game isn’t about how much we wanted it, it’s about if we were able to limit our mistakes. I think that’s the telling tale,” said Knox.
Next up the Marauders will play the Ottawa Gee Gees in Hamilton. The last time the two teams met in Ottawa, the Marauders lost 30-8.
“[The loss to Western is] a wake up call. We got Ottawa next week and we got to be ready to go,” said White. “Our defence played well, we just have to be better on offence.”
For next week’s game against the Gee Gees, the Marauders will have the advantage of playing at home, as well as the loss to Western to learn from. This will give Mac ample opportunity to clean up their game and play good football on both sides of the ball.
With leaders like Robbie Yochim, Eric Mezzalira, and Jake Heathcote, and a so far promising future for White, McMaster football should be in good hands.