Photo courtesy of Geoff Lister

Teams exchanged 23- and 24-point unanswered sequences before finale

VANCOUVER (CUP) —A WILD BACK-AND-FORTH game for the biggest prize in Canadian university football ended with a simple field goal.

A 20-yard field goal in overtime by second-year kicker Tyler Crapigna gave the McMaster Merauders a 41-38 Vanier Cup victory over the Laval Rouge et Or on Friday night.

The victory was McMaster’s first Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) football championship, and it didn’t come easy. After the Marauders roared to a 23-0 halftime lead, Laval responded with 24 unanswered points to set a back-and-forth ending that had the crowd of over 29,000 at BC Place in pandemonium.

Tied at 31, McMaster had a chance to win it on the final play of the fourth quarter, but Crapigna missed a 30-yard field goal wide left, sending the game to overtime.

But he made no mistake on his second chance to win the game.

“Definitely one of the best kicks of my life,” Crapigna said. “I had the same feeling going into both kicks. Obviously the first one didn’t go in, but I knew the second one was going to go in.

“I wasn’t going to miss two in a row.”

“We had total confidence in [Crapigna] to make that second kick even though he missed the first one,” said McMaster third-year wide receiver and Ontario University Athletics MVP Mike DiCroce. “He’s made so many big shots for us in the past.”

“Going down to the wire twice, you know all of our hearts were beating pretty fast,” DiCroce added. “Knowing that we had the confidence and will to bounce back like we did was awesome.”

In the lead-up to the CIS football championship at BC Place, defending champions Laval looked like the favourites. They had won all five Vanier Cups they had contested in the last eight years, including a 29-2 drubbing of Calgary in last year’s game, but after 15 minutes it was McMaster who held a 6-0 lead.

However, it was in the second that McMaster looked its best, with a sequence of 12 consecutive completions from quarterback Kyle Quinlan, who finished with 482 yards passing and was named the game’s Most Valuable Player (MVP). Squarely outside of their comfort zone, Laval was shaken in a quarter where they managed just four first downs. The Marauders landed their first touchdown on a 60-yard drive including a running fake, with a three-yard pass to second-year running back James Hill getting the ball over the line.

Four minutes later, a 38-yard pass to DiCroce set up a 13-yard run by Christopher Pezetta for a second touchdown. Laval gave up sacks on consecutive offensive drives and looked their most hopeless when bouncing a field goal attempt off the uprights, and a field goal put McMaster up 23-0 at the half.

“At the beginning, we were flat and it’s difficult. In offence, it’s us that stopped us. Not them,” said Laval quarterback Bruno Prud’Homme. “At the end, we came back strong with big hits on defensive play.”

After halftime, Laval roared back. Minutes into the third quarter, they were able to puncture the McMaster line with a 62-yard punt return by Guillaume Rioux. A minute later, Frédéric Plesius was able to pick off Quinlan and ran 37 yards to bag the Rouge et Or’s second touchdown.

McMaster had trouble with Laval’s newfound pressure, managing barely to make it out of their end on the following possession. They nearly grabbed momentum back five minutes into the quarter with a stunning 101-yard run from Ontario University Athletics MVP DiCroce that was ruled offside.

Laval pushed strongly, with several nervy moments for McMaster with pass interference and illegal contact calls that pushed the play closer to their goal line, but limited Laval to a field goal that brought the Rouge et Or within six points at the close of the third quarter.

In the fourth quarter, Laval clawed into the lead. An eight-play, 107-yard drive culminated in a 34-yard pass by Prud’Homme finding Sébastien Lévesque, who was able to bring the ball 44 yards and over the line. A successful conversion marked 24 unanswered points for Laval.

But the Marauders were dangerous as well. On a seven-play scoring drive that saw a 18-yard run by the rushing Quinlan, Matt Peressini nabbed a nine-yard run and a five-yard convert to re-establish the lead, 31-24 with six minutes to go.

That touchdown set the stage for an astounding finale. Laval didn’t stop pushing, and drove their way down the field before Prud’Homme found Julian Feoli for a five-yard touchdown to establish a 31-31 tie with two minutes and 13 seconds to go.

As overtime loomed—only the second in Vanier Cup history and first since 1994—McMaster looked dangerous on a drive that started on their own seven-yard line, driving 80 yards in just under three minutes before missing a chance to win the game on Crapigna’s field goal.

In overtime, McMaster had the ball first and made it count, with a 26-yard pass to Bradley Fochesato. The Rouge et Or responded, however, sinking a 33-yard pass to draw level at 38-38. But Laval lost their chance to follow up, with Stephen Ventresca picking off Prud’Homme on a return play that saw several rugby-style lateral passes but no drop goal attempt.

“It was tough. The picks did not help me, you know,” said Prud’Homme. “It didn’t give a chance to the defence.

“With overtime, it’s field goal range for a lot of kickers. Throw a pick, [and] you’re not able to do a three point [conversion].”

With the chance to force McMaster into a long field goal to win the game, Laval were called for their second too-many-men call of the evening, giving the Marauders a first down on their own 20—too easy of a chance for a team that had been dominant on offence all game long, and now, can call themselves Vanier Cup champions.

—Andrew Bates, CUP Features Bureau Chief