The McMaster Marauders are off to their first Yates Cup since 2004.
McMaster beat the Queen’s Gaels 40-13 in the OUA semi-final on Saturday, running all over the nation’s top-ranked defence and earning the right to take on the Western Mustangs next weekend in London with the title of OUA Champions on the line.
Joey Cupido picked off Queen’s quarterback Ryan Mitchell four times in the first half alone – his four picks tied a CIS record – and Kyle Quinlan and the Marauders did what no other team had done all year: score a rushing touchdown against the Gaels.
“Our defence attacked and played outstanding. They jumped all over a young quarterback and made plays,” said McMaster coach Stefan Ptaszek.
For McMaster, that first touchdown was just the beginning. The Marauders got things started with a 60-yard drive that took just 2:34 to find the end zone, ending with a 6-yard Quinlan rushing TD. Cupido followed that with his first pick, leading to a Teddy Peters field goal. Then, Cupido picked off Mitchell once again, and Chris Pezzetta ran it in from 9 yards, giving Mac a 17-0 lead and giving McMaster all the separation they would need.
Pezzetta ran for 101 yards on the day, which would have been by far the largest total against Queen’s this season if Quinlan didn’t run for 96 yards – on just nine attempts – himself.
It was an impressive and unexpected display against a Queen’s defence that has hardly allowed any teams to run the ball against them this season. Queen’s came into the game allowing a paltry average of 68 rushing yards against per game, but the Marauders quickly turned the ground game in the favour, rushing for over 150 yards before halftime and 280 total.
“Joey Cupido deciding he was going to intercept every ball in the air gave us a short field and a lead and we thought we could run the ball more than teams had,” said Ptaszek. “We certainly weren’t going to try to go strength against strength and jam it down their throat, but it kind of played out a little bit that way.”
The Marauders would intercept Mitchell six times in the game, including a 58-yard touchdown return by rookie linebacker Aram Eisho.
“[Cupido]’s a competitor and tough as nails. You’re taking your chances when you throw it near him,” said Ptaszek. Despite Cupido’s early interceptions, the Gaels continued to the throw the ball in his direction – and Cupido made them pay for it.
“The fact that they kept throwing it to him, well, they kept taking chances,” said Ptaszek with a grin.
“We figured that our front four would shut down the run and they’d have to put the ball in the air and give us an opportunity to make plays,” said Cupido.
Five Marauders, including Pezzetta, Quinlan, Matt Peressini, Mike DiCroce and Joey Nemet got multiple touches running the ball.
“[Queen’s has] a good front seven, man. You can keep them off balance but we certainly weren’t going to make a living trying to jam it down their throats,” said Ptaszek.
Quinlan finished with just 214 yards passing on the day, but it was hardly necessary given the way the Marauders ran the ball. Backup pivot Marshall Ferguson, who took over punting duties from ill starter Tyler Crapigna, also completed a 13-yard pass to Tyler Loveday on a fake punt.
DiCroce led all receivers with 103 yards on the day, including a 38-yard touchdown pass where he danced around nearly the entire Queen’s secondary into the end zone.
Eisho led Mac with 7 tackles, while Frank Pankewich had 8 and a sack for the Gaels.
Gaels running back Ryan Granberg, the CIS rushing leader in the regular season, was held in check in the first half before finishing with 128 yards in the game. He was carried off the field in the fourth quarter after suffering a left leg injury.
“I think that we have a good team and we can shut down the run or the pass,” said fifth-year linebacker Ryan Chmielewski.
The win gives Mac its first Yates Cup berth since 2004. Ptaszek said there will be distractions for his players, but was confident in his ability to prepare them over the coming week.
“What I have to be careful of is that it’s a bit of a gong show now with press and media and these kids are gonna be rock stars for a little while, and you can’t distract them from the task at hand,” he said. “Given how hard it’s been for us to get to this game – we haven’t been there since ’04 – I don’t think anyone’s getting distracted.”
Western has been without their starting quarterback Donnie Marshall since he suffered a sprained ankle against York on Oct. 1.
“[Marshall] has been out four or five weeks and he’s the kind of guy who can change the game, so we have to know if he’s playing and gameplan around that,” said Cupido.
The winner of the Yates Cup will play in the Uteck Bowl against the AUS champion, with a chance to play in the Vanier Cup on the line. Chmielewski said he expects the Marauders to make it that far, but that the preparations for the Yates Cup start right away.
“We play like it’s not our last game. All of us expect to play three more weeks.
“Tomorrow we’ll be here in the morning, we’ll be running and looking at film,” said Chmielewski.
“Tomorrow it’s all about the Yates.”