By: Tom Lewis
The Marauders made the best of their OUA Final Four tie on Saturday, Nov. 1 against Ryerson, but ultimately dispatched the Rams side on penalties to qualify for this week’s national championships in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island.
While Mac may have missed out on the OUA gold medal, losing 2-0 to West Division champions York, qualifying for the nationals will allow Dino Perri’s maroon-clad charges to test themselves against some of Canada’s most talented teams, beginning this Thursday, Nov. 6 against the University of New Brunswick.
McMaster almost jeopardized qualification inside the first minute of the game against Ryerson, with a mix-up in the back four almost freeing Ryerson’s forward line to open the scoring.
The opening stages proved an open affair, with McMaster dominating possession and building up in a composed fashion, though the Marauders’ defence was forced to head away a number of crosses as Ryerson grew into the game.
Jinking runs from Gersi Xhuti and Paterson Farrell gave McMaster a valuable attacking outlet, while Mark Reilly opened up the Ryerson defence on 25 minutes with a clever touch, but his back heel flick proved slightly too heavy, sending the ball out of play.
McMaster’s patient possession game was frequently interrupted by rough tackles from the Rams, with Brandon Gutierrez left spread-eagled on the touch line after a big slide tackle 23 minutes in, while a thundering challenge saw striker Mark Reilly land heavily and injure his right arm.
McMaster’s solid but inspired performance continued into a finely poised second half. Perri saw the need for an injection of pace and urgency, bringing on wingers Sasha Ricciuti and Marco Gennacaro, though Mac’s best chance came courtesy of a Kody Kazda free kick, which wrong footed the Ryerson keeper and grazed his right hand post.
Frustrations began to mount on both sides as the game remained goalless, with Ryerson’s Jackson Tooke substituted soon after hammering a loose ball into the Mac bench as it ran out of play.
A flurry of late McMaster corners still failed to break the deadlock, while a long range shot from Riccuiti in the extra time forced the Ryerson keeper into a spectacular diving save as extra time loomed.
Both sides looked increasingly stretched as extra time rolled on, with attacks raining down on both goals, and Angelo Cavalluzzo forced to punch clear twice from his panicked penalty box in quick succession on 13 minutes, as Ryerson threatened to bundle the ball over the line.
With both sides shanking late chances, it needed five well-taken McMaster penalties, capped by a rocket of a strike from late substitute Christian Truyen, to see Dino Perri’s team over the line, and into the nationals.
“We worked hard against a rough team. We were forced to deal with a number of late challenges, but we battled through,” said Marauders’ coach Perri.
“It’s excellent that we have qualified for nationals, that was our ultimate goal.”
On goalkeeper Cavalluzzo’s man of the match performance, Perri said, “all year long he has been the best keeper in Canada. He was overlooked by the OUA all stars last year, so I am delighted he has made it this time around.”
McMaster missed out on the OUA gold medal in their second game of the final four, with York establishing themselves as the team to beat at this week’s CIS National Championships with a dominant performance.
McMaster began the game defensively, with a 5-3-2 formation giving York’s number 15 Mark Stinson too much time to dictate the play from midfield, and sustained pressure resulted a deflected shot from York’s Eric Amato squirming past a grasping Cavalluzzo.
Pushing Gennacaro and Riccuiti to the flanks in support of Paterson Farrell in the second half granted McMaster far more attacking impetus, but a 73rd minute close-range miss from Riccuiti proved crucial, and allowed York to cement their win, and a second straight OUA championship, through Jarek Whiteman in injury time.
Nevertheless, the win over Ryerson earned the Marauders their goal of a berth in this season’s nationals, and with their first match kicking off at 11 a.m. this Thursday, Nov. 6, they will be eager to begin a run at the CIS title.