When the Marauders beat the Guelph Gryphons 20-15 on Nov. 15, they did more than win a trophy or earn a berth in the Mitchell Bowl. They solidified the McMaster football program’s place in history.
With the Yates Cup win, McMaster can rightfully say that they are the most consistent program of the new millennium. Since 2000, Mac has won seven Yates Cups in eight championship game appearances — three more than Western, the next closest program.
The team is undefeated in Yates Cup finals under head coach Stefan Ptaszek and has won three championships in the last four years. Achieving “dynasty” status in sports is incredibly difficult, yet here we are. And of all the squads to win a Yates, this one may have had the toughest road.
The team came into the season as relatively unknown given a less-than-stellar campaign the year before. Winning the OUA was a goal, not an expectation like in previous years, and that showed in the celebra- tion. The post-game scene was emotional chaos.
Players yelling, screaming about the win, finding family and loved ones to embrace and running toward the stage — it was an outpour of feelings. No one really had a direction; players darted between runs to the stage and the people calling their names.
As someone who has witnessed Yates Cup wins by the Marauders before, it was interesting to see the confusion. This group has a handful of players who have won the Yates before, and they still have players who won the 2011 Vanier Cup, too. But you couldn’t tell that anyone had been there before, because in a way, they never have.
Recent Marauder generations had dominated the competition, running through Yates Cup opponents with little regard for who lined up on the opposite side of the ball. Now though, the league talent has caught up and the Marauders were not as balanced.
This game encapsulated all of that. Mac’s passing game was non-existent: Marshall Ferguson (one of the 2011 Vanier Cup winners) completed 24-34 passing for only 191 yards, throwing three interceptions in the process.
The ground game was effective, but running back Chris Pezzetta could not get every first down. He tried, though. Pezzetta, who tore his ACL twice in the past two years, rumbled for 144 yards. Guelph, while under-manned due to injuries to Jazz Lindsey and A’Dre Fraser, put together good drives and stymied Mac’s attack. The only Maroon touchdown of the game came from defensive lineman Mike Kashak, picking off a James Roberts screen pass, stiff-arming the Guelph QB and running for 30 yards to put six on the board.
It was the defence that brought the Yates back to McMaster. Joey Cupido picked off the Gryphons twice in the game — once in Mac’s endzone — and has 14 interceptions in 14 career playoff games. The CIS does not know who the all-time leader in post-season interceptions is, but let’s just give it to Cupido.
It was a performance so good, there is little risk of time stretching the truth and exaggerating just how well Cupido played. A crucial break-up in the fourth quarter solidified his spot as the Yates Cup MVP.
As the players ran around in post-win delirium, it seems like they were running with a bit more freedom. There has been nothing convincing about this season and most of the games against real competition have been ugly affairs.
The season, up until now, left something to be desired because we had experienced the best teams in school history.
But all the talk about being a team that can make a run at the Vanier was validated when that Yates Cup was hoisted.
This new brand of football delivered a Yates and really, that is all that matters. This team is playing with house money, escaping the toughest conference in the country and looking like they still have another gear. The rest of the CIS is wide open too. Laval lost to Montreal in a 12-9 kicker’s duel. Mac’s opponent Mt. Allison made it through a transitioning AUS conference, playing few, if any, games against national contenders.
“It’s okay to be proud. It’s not okay to be satisfied,” said Ptaszek after the game. And watching that group celebrate while taking the group photo, banner and trophy in the centre of the team, you saw the pride. You didn’t see satisfaction. You talk to the players, and you hear that pride but you don’t hear satisfaction.
Players like Pezzetta, Ferguson, Cupido — you could see that they do not want to be a checkpoint on the 2014 Vanier Cup bracket.
They want to be there at the very end.