Ottawa, ON – At its simplest 2021 was a lost season for the Carleton Ravens.
A season-ending ankle injury to veteran quarterback Tanner DeJong in a week 2 win over York forced rookie QB Reid VanKoughnett into the lineup. Despite his best efforts, he couldn’t carry the Ravens, and they bowed out 41-14 to Queen’s in the Yates Cup quarterfinal after a 2-4 season.
That loss also spelled the end of Steve Sumarah’s time with the club. The Raven’s head coach since 2012 was let go after nine seasons and headed out to the AUS to take back the reigns of the St Mary’s Huskies, who he led for five years between 2006 and 2011.
For a new voice to lead the team, Carleton turned to a two-time grey cup champion and the former offensive coordinator for the McMaster Marauders in Corey Grant to take over on the sideline.
On Saturday afternoon, in front of a strong crowd at the newly christened TAAG Park in Carleton, those same Marauders squared off against the Ravens as they looked to start their next chapter with a win. With the score reading 24-18 for Carleton as it hit triple zeros, DeJong probably put it best.
“It felt like we got what we deserved.”
Under the sunny afternoon sky, Carleton and McMaster were clearly shaking off the rust in the first quarter as they combined for 59 total yards and one safety between the teams before a last-second punt return touchdown for Jacob Patten gave the Marauders the 7-2 lead after the first quarter.
It was a slow start in the return to the field for Tanner DeJong. The 5th year quarterback picked up just a single passing yard in the first quarter but came alive in the second quarter with 113 passing yards. Most of that came off a seven-play 75-yard drive that ended with a 12-yard pass to Kaseem Ferdinand that he took into the endzone to cut the Marauder lead to 10-8.
“He’s [Ferdinand] incredibly special,” DeJong said. “I met him the summer before he came to Carleton, and ever since I met him, I’ve been like dude, there’s something different about you, like the way you move when you have the ball in your hands no one can touch him.”
A pair of field goals on either side of the Ferdinand touchdown gave the Marauders a 13-8 lead into halftime, but new coach Grant was not phased.
“I didn’t really have to say much at halftime; we understand it’s four quarters of football, the first half is one part of the game, we have to play the second half, and they came out and did what they had to do,” Grant said.
Midway through the third, the Ravens found themselves on the McMaster goalline and backup quarterback Tristan Rinaldis came in to sneak through for the touchdown to make it 15-13. After another safety for McMaster, it was 17-13 for the Ravens, heading into the 4th quarter.
McMaster looked threatening to start the fourth as Andreas Dueck hit Jacob Patten for a 45-yard pass on the drive’s second play, but they were stuffed at the 24-yard line and settled for a field goal to cut it to 17-16.
Midway through the quarter, though, after another 75-yard drive, DeJong handed it off to Joshua Ferguson who punched in the 7-yard run to get the TD and move the lead to 24-16. Ferguson’s touchdown capped off an afternoon that saw him pick up 150 yards on the day, running for 118 yards and grabbing a catch for 32.
“Fergy, he’s just a hard worker,” DeJong said. “Every time he’s been on the field, he earns his yards; they’re not easy.”
With 90 seconds to go, the Ravens found themselves trapped in their endzone and saw their lead shrink to six after giving up the safety. With 22 seconds to go though on 3rd and 14 at the McMaster 31 after they fumbled their second down snap, Dueck tossed his first interception of the game right into the hands of Denny Ferdinand, and that was the ballgame.
To get Corey Grant his first win against his former team might not have been the main goal for the Ravens on the afternoon, but it was something they were thinking about.
“He honestly never really said it to us, which was surprising because I know that where he just coached, but I think we all kinda knew how serious he was taking it, and how serious he has been taking it that this one maybe meant a little something extra to him,” DeJong said.
The Ravens continue their season on September 4th, heading down to Toronto to take on the Varsity Blues, while the Marauders head back to Hamilton for their homeowner against the York Lions on September 3rd.
Ultimately Carleton’s season won’t be decided in an August win in week one; it will be decided in October and November when the question will be if the modern Ravens can finally get over the hump and reach the Yates Cup. For at least one afternoon, and especially for Tanner DeJong, who has seen a lot of Ravens football, they don’t want to be too overconfident but know what they can accomplish.
“If you ask anyone on any football team if you think it’s their year, I think they’ll say yeah, but like, you’ve gotta be confident, right? I believe in our guys against anyone.”