(Photo: Michael P. Hall)
It began as a defensive showcase, and morphed into a breathtaking duel in the final quarter, with Montreal coming out finally and barely on top. The Carabins won a dramatic 50th Vanier Cup 20-19, sealing their first title in their first appearance in the national championship.
With the chance to retake the lead with 51 seconds remaining, Marauder kicker Tyler Crapigna's 31-yard field goal attempt was blocked, improbably ending McMaster's last bid to retake the lead.
The Marauders were understandably crushed by the cruel twist of fate that ended their hopes of a second Vanier Cup title.
"Losing this one by a single point, there's not a single player or coach out there who doesn't feel that they could have changed the outcome," said a dejected head coach Ptaszek.
"So this one is definitely hard to take."
The blocked kick put a damper on what had been an exceptional afternoon for the CIS record-holder Crapigna, who had been good on all four of his previous attempts, and would have tied the Vanier Cup record had he hit the crucial fifth.
There was no blame to be found from Ptaszek in the aftermath of the loss.
"(Crapigna) has bailed us out 100 times out of 100 in that situation," he said. "All 45 players and coaches will take responsibility for what happened.
"We did not do enough, and he could have saved it for us and he usually does, but we have to look in the mirror as to why we needed saving."
Early signs were positive for the Marauder defence, as they held the Carabins to a two-and-out on the opening drive of the game, and the offence responded with a Tyler Crapigna field goal to give McMaster a 3-0 lead.
The dominance of that defensive unit in the first half was so pronounced that, even as the offence gave the ball away twice — one a Marshall Ferguson interception to Anthony Coady and another a Wayne Moore fumble — they held Montreal without points on the ensuing drives.
McMaster got a sudden, emphatic jolt of offence when Moore turned an unthreatening position into a major six minutes into the second quarter. Moore made good use of a massive up-field block from Declan Cross, and rumbled 50 yards for the game's first touchdown, giving McMaster a 13-3 lead.
It was the longest play of the day for Moore, and the 10th-longest run in Vanier Cup history. Moore finished the day with 111 yards, and his coach sung his praises.
"Wayne has been a force for us all year, and we know that if we get him touches, he'll make big plays," said Ptaszek. "Today was no exception, and it's no coincidence that we saw his best football on the biggest stage."
The defence held that margin comfortably for the remainder of the half, and McMaster carried the 10-yard advantage into the break.
But disaster struck on the very first play of the second half, as returner Isaiah Mels busted an extended run but coughed up the ball for McMaster's third turnover of the game. Montreal was opportunistic with the field position, and quickly turned the possession into a touchdown when Gabriel Cousineau found Jordan Enchill for a nine-yard major to cut the McMaster lead to three.
The Marauders responded with their most controlled offensive stretch of the game, producing two long, time-consuming drives capped by Crapigna field goals to assume at 19-10 lead after three quarters of play.
Ferguson threw his second interception of the game to open the fourth quarter, as Coady came up with his second steal, but Montreal could do nothing with the drive that followed and were forced to punt away yet again.
They did much better with a short field minutes later, as Cousineau found Regis Cibasu for an incredible 32-yard reception, and Montreal punched the ball over the goal line on the next play as Erlington rushed three yards through the middle to cut McMaster's lead to two at 19-17.
McMaster responded with another clock-chewing drive, but crucially had to punt away after the Carabins chased Ferguson out of the pocket and tackled Cross for a loss of six. Montreal had the ball and 6:51 on the clock.
With momentum on their side, the Carabins offence awoke on the ensuing drive, and both Enchill and Cibasu caught big plays as Montreal marched decisively into Marauder territory. McMaster's defence held Montreal to just a field goal, and the Carabins took a 20-19 lead with 2:45 to play.
Source: McMaster Marauders