The sound of the final whistle at Ron Joyce on Saturday Oct. 20 signified the end of the 2012 OUA regular season. The Marauders, victorious by a margin of 43-0 over the visiting Laurier Golden Hawks, have finished the season without suffering a loss at home, or a loss on the road for that matter. For the first time since 2003, McMaster has gone undefeated. In fact, Mac is the only team in the entire country to have won each game it played this year, holding on to the No. 1 CIS ranking from the first week.
Stepping onto the field this year as defending national champions, the Maroon and Grey carried with them the pressures of a repeat from a school that has fallen in love with the idea of winning and a community that for the first time in its storied 125 year history, knows what it feels like to be at the top.
Once at the pinnacle however, there is very little room for improvement. The Marauders won the Vanier Cup last year after a regular season result of 7-1, a singular loss that separated Mac from perfection. Naturally, there was one thing to fix.
Coming into this season, McMaster suffered only minor losses from their championship-winning roster to graduation. Also, Lineman Jason Medeiros and star Quarterback Kyle Quinlan were invited to CFL camps with a chance to begin their pro careers. Both players made Mac proud by strong showings at the Hamilton Tiger Cats and Montreal Alouettes training camps respectively.
Though, by the time Marauders camp rolled around in August, both players were ready to defend the National Championship for their school. The stars seemed aligned for the team to return the Vanier Cup to 1280 Main St. West.
Unfortunately, nothing in sports is guaranteed. As the first weeks of the season progressed, several Marauders went down to injury. Star receiver Michael DiCroce, widely considered to be amongst the best players in the country, was forced to sit out the regular season due to injury. Furthermore, sophomore running back Christopher Pezzetta, who was outstanding as a rookie, especially in the playoffs, suffered a season-ending knee injury. In turn, Pezzetta’s backup Kasean Davis suffered a season ending injury of his own against the Western Mustangs during week five.
Somehow, the Marauders found a way through adversity, much like they had the year before. And they did it in record-breaking fashion.
The team has not recorded a loss since September 10, 2011, breaking a CIS record for consecutive victories, previously held by Laval (who Mac beat in the Vanier Cup Final). The defense led the entire CIS in interceptions for the third straight season and the offense was the best overall in the country.
Individually, linebacker Ben D’Aguilar set a CIS record for quarterback sacks in a season with 12.5. Perhaps the most notable record however, is one set a little closer to home.
Midway through the second quarter of Saturday’s game against Laurier the game was stopped for a brief moment. McMaster had just scored a touchdown thanks to Kyle Quinlan throwing his 19th touchdown of the season. While that mark put the Mac pivot atop the nation in that category this year, it was something else that had brought the game to a pause.
With a one-yard touchdown pass to first year receiver Josh Vandeweerd, Quinlan had set a new school record for passing touchdowns in a career with 60. Ben Chapdelaine who played for Mac in the late 90’s and early 2000’s held the former mark of 59. Quinlan, who has brought to McMaster its first and only national championship in school history, now has placed his name at the top of statistical categories for his position. To boot, in his final year as a McMaster Marauder, Quinlan has a chance to win another title. No team has won back-to-back Vanier Cups since Laval accomplished the feat in 2003 and 2004.
After an 8-0, first place finish, the Marauders have the week off with an automatic Yates Cup semi-final birth, awaiting the lowest remaining seed of this weekend’s Quarterfinal match-ups.
Though the team is surely going to take this playoff run day to day and game to game, one cannot help but notice that the Maroon and Grey are only three wins away from making an appearance in the Vanier Cup final on Nov. 23 at Toronto’s Rogers Centre. Even more to their advantage, each of the games remaining leading up to the Vanier – should McMaster progress – will be played in very familiar surroundings: Ron Joyce Stadium. The Marauders have won eight straight games at home dating back to last season, winning by no less then two scores in each of those victories.
The Yates Cup Semi-final will kick off at 4 p.m. on Saturday Nov. 3, and just who Mac will be playing is going to be decided by this weekend’s games pitting Windsor against Western and Queen’s against Laurier. Now it gets serious.