Mac attack: No. 1 Western comes unglued as McMaster pulls upset for Yates Cup

Photo courtesy: McMaster Athletics

After going undefeated against Ontario University Athletics competition since the 2016 Yates Cup, Western’s winning ways have come to an end at the hands of the McMaster Marauders.

The No. 3 rated team in the country went into TD Stadium to go head-to-head with the top-ranked Mustangs, who were trying for their third straight Yates Cup, but in the 112th edition, it ended up maroon en route to a streak-snapping 29-13 McMaster victory.

Despite the win, it wasn’t the smoothest start for Mac. Within their first four possessions, the Marauders would turn the ball over three times. The first came on the team’s opening play, a run that the Mustangs promptly halted with a forced fumble. With a short field to work with, the home side did not disappoint, as Jonathan Femi-Cole capped off their opening drive with a one-yard touchdown.

The trend would continue just a few minutes later, with the Mustangs pouncing on another loose ball in the opening seven minutes to once again set them up in prime scoring position. While the team couldn’t find the end zone in take two, they did turn to the ever-reliable Marc Liegghio to extend their early lead to 10-0 after a successful make from 44-yards out.

In what turned out to be a defensively dominant opening quarter for Western, they would secure their third turnover with a Mackenzie Ferguson interception. But after a pristine first frame for the purple and white, the script proved to be just the opposite once the page turned.

A strong run by Jordan Lyons to end the first sparked the first bit of life from McMaster’s offence, with the team marching into enemy territory to start what proved to be a decisive quarter. It wouldn’t take long for the Hamilton squad to quickly erase that shaky start from their memory. Just three minutes into the second, the Marauders cut the lead to 10-7 courtesy of a quarterback sneak from Matt Krason on third-and-one.

After shutting down the Mustangs in their following position, the McMaster offence got right back to work, led by a couple hefty gains in the air from Hayden Amis and a touchdown-scoring run from Justice Allin. With the major, the Marauders not only kept the momentum on their side, but also earned their first lead of the game, going up 14-10.

With both defences limiting the opposition the rest of the quarter, some favourable field position helped the Marauders add a pair of safeties to their first half totals, while a miscue in the return game gave Mac a chance to add another trifecta to their cushion. Heading into the break, McMaster had quieted the hometown crowd thanks to 22-10 lead for the visitors.

If things weren’t already going against the Mustangs, an injury to OUA MVP Chris Merchant, that saw him miss a series in the opening half, kept him on the sidelines to open the second, passing the pivot privileges, therefore, to Kevin John.

With John under centre, backed by a few key plays on defence, Western was able to earn the field position advantage for much of the quarter. The team would turn this into another Liegghio field goal, this one from 37 yards out, to cut the deficit to nine.

With their eyes on trimming that deficit further, the Mustangs rolled the dice on converting another third down. The Marauders defence, however, was up to the task to take over in Western territory late in the quarter. They would go on to finish that drive early in the fourth, thanks to another Krason one-yard run, extending their lead up to 16 with just 12 minutes to play.

With an expanded lead in tow, the third-ranked Marauders withstood a flurry of turnovers – the ball switched possession three times on just four plays halfway through the frame – and checked the boxes that needed to be checked to shut down the high-octane Mustang offence down the stretch. An interception from OUA first team all-star Noah Hallett sealed the deal on the win, giving McMaster their first Yates Cup victory since 2014, clinching the 29-15 win.

Hallett was one of many McMaster defenders leaving their mark on the game, as the league’s second-ranked point preventers shone time and time again to overcome the OUA’s top offence. Eryk Bujalski paced the pack with seven tackles, Nate Edwards picked up two of his team’s five sacks on the day, and Josh Cumber reeled in Mac’s additional interception of the game.

While the defence as a whole stood tall, however, a key figure on the other side of the ball claims Player of the Game honours. After completing over 70 percent of his passes (17-for-24) for 238 yards and establishing a steady presence under centre after a frantic start, McMaster QB Andreas Dueck was awarded the Dalt White Trophy as the game’s Most Valuable Player.

McMaster will now head west to face the University of Calgary, conference champion from Canada West, in the Mitchell Bowl next Saturday, with a chance to play for the Vanier Cup. The Marauders haven’t played in the national title game since 2014; a year in which they also beat the Mustangs in the OUA final in London.