It didn’t come by way of penalties, but the Marauders’ most recent OUA Championship lost none of its luster by wrapping up in 90 minutes.
Playing against the same Varsity Blues squad that they defeated from the penalty spot two seasons ago to claim the provincial title, McMaster notched their second OUA crown in three years with a 3-1 victory in the Nov. 6 final.
The Sunday triumph came in a radically different fashion from that of 2009, as the Marauders convincingly played their way to the top of the provincial field. Unlike their Cinderella run of two years ago, the Maroon and Grey entered play at this season’s Final Four in Ottawa as a known quantity.
McMaster had comfortably beaten the upstart Guelph Gryphons in their quarterfinal contest a week before, and continued their strong play into the provincial championship tournament.
After a hard fought semifinal encounter with the Carleton Ravens saw the team pull through from the penalty spot, the Marauders came up against familiar opposition on the OUA’s highest stage.
Thanks to a pair of goals from sophomore striker Paterson Farrell and a solo effort from rookie Brandon Gutierrez, McMaster’s latest tilt against the Varsity Blues would be much less suspenseful than its last.
For several Marauders, the celebratory scenes on Sunday were reminiscent of those that erupted at the conclusion of the team’s improbable 2009 title run. Team captain Anthony Costa – who was named to the All-Canadian First Team on Nov. 9 – believes that both championships are valuable for their own reasons.
“Our first title was built on the concept of working very hard defensively,” said the fifth-year senior. “Having said that, we had a very strong team spirit as well, and in the first two playoff games we had to come back from behind to win them in shootouts.
“This year, we realized that attack was our best form of defence. I feel that our team perfected the three pillars of football: fluid attacking, solid defending and swift counter-attacking. We made sure that everyone was love and cared about, and the scenes at the final whistle really highlighted that.”
For Costa, the manner of his team’s victory this time around highlights the quality of a squad that has been among the most lethal in the province for the entirety of the 2011 campaign.
“I don’t mind winning games in shootouts, but I was glad that we ended the final this year in regulation,” said the captain. “That should silence the doubters if there were any at this point. We clinched the title in 90 minutes and fully deserved it.
“Our football this weekend was exquisite at times.”
The result of that quality play sees the Marauders jet across the country to Victoria to take part in the CIS Championships beginning on Nov. 10 and ending with the conclusion of the final rounds on Nov. 13.
The Maroon and Grey will take added confidence into their westward journey this weekend as the squad boasts seven players with experience of the team’s 2009 appearance at the national level.
Costa believes that the value of that experience lies in knowing the level of focus and determination needed to compete with the best teams in the country.
“Previous experience in the CIS championships will only emphasize how difficult the tournament will be and that concentration will be needed as soon as the flight lands,” said McMaster’s stalwart defender. “These are the eight best teams in Canada and everyone has an equal shot at the title. We know what needs to be done, and having beaten York and Toronto this season, we feel our chances are good.”
The Marauders’ first opponents will hail from the east coast, coming in the form of the Cape Breton Capers.
The Nova Scotian squad finished their conference season with only a single loss to their name, and was ranked second in the final CIS top-ten of the campaign.
The two teams also have a measure of history, as the Capers dealt McMaster a defeat in the consolation round of the 2009 tournament. Despite the stiff challenge ahead, the Marauder captain argues that opposition counts for little at an event as prestigious as the national tournament.
“To be the best you have to beat the best,” said Costa. “CBU are a very talented team. We lost to them in the consolation round two years ago and they still have a handful of players from that team, including one from an English academy and a couple members of the Bermudan national team.”
“But our style has brought us here as OUA champions, so we need to execute those three pillars of football to the best of our ability. If that happens, I don’t see why we can’t return as national champions.”
Costa and his teammates will be hoping that such execution will be good enough to propel them past the best in the country this weekend. They begin their bid for the national title on Nov. 10 against the Capers.