By Fraser Caldwell
First quarter disaster gave way to second quarter elation for the Marauders Saturday, and a staunch defensive effort helped McMaster roll to its eighth Yates Cup title in London.
The no. 3-ranked Marauders scored 22 points in the second, and held the high-octane, no. 1-ranked Mustangs to just 229 yards of total offence, en route to a 29-15 victory in the 112th Yates Cup.
Mac battled back into Saturday’s title game after falling behind 10-0 and turning the ball over three times in the first quarter.
McMaster dealt Western its first loss to an OUA opponent since the 2016 Yates Cup, and improved to 8-3 in Yates Cup appearances. The Marauders are now 2-0 against the Mustangs in the conference title game, having similarly defeated the higher-ranked Western in London in 2011.
The last time the Marauders accomplished that feat, they went on to win the first Vanier Cup title in team history.
If they want to add a second national title to their trophy case, the Marauders will have to do something that no Ontario team has done since 1968: win a bowl game in Western Canada. Canada West teams have won 13 straight in that matchup since Queen’s defeated Manitoba 29-6 in the 1968 Western Bowl.
McMaster will travel to Calgary for the Mitchell Bowl on Saturday, November 16, after the no. 8-ranked Dinos knocked off the no. 7 Saskatchewan Huskies 29-4 in the Hardy Cup. The two teams’ only previous meeting came in the 2012 Mitchell Bowl at Ron Joyce Stadium, where the Marauders prevailed 45-6.
Quarterback Andreas Dueck shook off a fumble and interception in the first quarter to complete 17 of 24 passes for 238 yards in the win. All three of McMaster’s touchdowns came along the ground, however, with backup quarterback Matt Krason taking two of them in from short range and Justice Allin scoring the other from four yards out.
Allin finished the afternoon with 44 yards on 14 carries, and similarly shook off a fumble in the first quarter to score his touchdown in the second.
Allowing just one touchdown against one of the top offences in the country, the Marauders defence shone Saturday and forced eight turnovers, while holding the Mustangs to just two of seven on third-down attempts.
The Marauders sacked Mustangs quarterbacks six times, with veteran linebacker Nate Edwards notching two of those, and picked off Western’s backup quarterback Kevin John twice.
Edwards had 3.5 tackles for a loss on the afternoon, and 5.5 total tackles, while second-year middle linebacker Eryk Bujalski led all Marauders with seven total tackles, including a sack, in the win.
Noah Hallett and Josh Cumber each had interceptions in the fourth quarter, with the rookie field corner Cumber responding well to repeated targeting by Western and ending the game with two pass breakups and 2.5 tackles.
The afternoon began in nightmarish fashion for the Marauders, with Allin fumbling on the first offensive play of the game to set the Mustangs up inside McMaster territory. Western responded strongly, running on four consecutive downs and scoring the game’s first touchdown on a one-yard plunge from Jonathan Femi-Cole.
Things worsened for McMaster when a miscommunication between Dueck and Lyons resulted in another fumble two possessions later, and gave Western the ball at Mac’s 37-yard line. Strong pass defence denied the Mustangs the end zone, but Marc Liegghio made good on a 44-yard field goal to stretch the home side’s lead to 10-0.
A third turnover saw the Marauders next drive snuffed out when Dueck was picked off by Mackenzie Ferguson, but McMaster’s defence again stepped up to limit the damage, and set the table for the wild momentum swing that followed in the second quarter.
Benefitting from a pass interference call to open the second, the Marauders took full advantage and busted inside the red zone when Dueck found Michael Bazzo for an 18-yard reception over the middle to advance to the Western eight-yard line.
Three plays later, Krason joined the jumbo package and plunged in from a yard out to reduce the Marauders deficit to just three at 10-7.
After a Mustangs two-and-out brought possession back to the visitors at midfield, the Marauders were opportunistic yet again and broke into the red zone on a pair of long completions to Hayden Amis.
A connection between Dueck and Tyson Middlemost brought the Marauders to the Mustangs three-yard line, and Allin got some redemption by rushing the rest of the way on the next play, and vaulted Mac into a 14-10 lead in the process.
With their offence having awoken, the McMaster defence turned in a pair of masterful drives to yield four points from a pair of Western safeties, as the Marauders lead swelled to 18-10 with 2:49 to play in the half.
Putting a fitting cap on a dominant quarter, Mac added three more points when Joe O’Brien managed to block a Liegghio punt and the Marauders recovered the ball with just enough time remaining to allow kicker Adam Preocanin to drill a 40-yard field goal and lead the teams into the locker room at 22-10.
With Western’s OUA MVP quarterback Chris Merchant hobbled by injury, the Marauders defence allowed just nine yards of offence in the second quarter, and hinted at its dominant second half to come.
John entered at quarterback when play resumed, but was held to just 73 yards by McMaster and was picked off twice in the late stages.
His most successful drive came when a botched Preocanin punt gave Western possession at the Mac 45-yard line, and a 14-yard completion to Brett Ellerman brought the Mustangs within field goal range. Liegghio made good on the resulting kick from 37 yards to cut the deficit to nine points with four minutes to play in the third quarter.
That was as close as Western would come, however, with McMaster forcing a turnover on downs with 1:31 to play in the quarter and embarking on a six-play, 38-yard drive to restore a two-possession lead.
A 20-yard completion from Dueck to Bazzo brought the Marauders to the goal line, and Krason joined the jumbo package yet again to scamper across for his second touchdown of the day as Mac moved ahead 29-13 with 13:29 remaining.
Unable to move the ball in the face of the McMaster defence, Western was held to just two points in the final quarter, and saw its last opportunity to engineer a comeback fall by the wayside when Hallett picked off John with just a minute to play.