Hamilton, ON- Heading into their regular season finale against the University of Toronto Varsity Blues, the McMaster Marauders football team controlled their playoff fate. If other results were to go as expected, it was essentially a win-and-get-in game against Toronto.
All season long, the Marauders played on the brink. After forfeiting a game against York and losing against Ottawa, they found themselves fighting for their playoff lives. The Marauders rallied with wins against Waterloo and Guelph before losing a close one to Queen’s. Then came the game against Toronto – a battle for the seventh and final playoff spot. When the clock hit zeros though, it was the Blues holding the 13-10 win, the final OUA playoff spot and sending the Marauders home early for the second consecutive season.
The game started well for McMaster as they moved the ball down the field efficiently in their first drive. Quarterback Andreas Dueck hit receiver Nick Adair with a back shoulder throw into the end zone.
“We were able to run the ball. We had some good runs on that drive,” Dueck said. “We switched it up. Everything was working.”
The Varsity Blues were also able to move the ball as they hit three field goals. The Marauders drove it inside the five-yard line late in the first half but weren’t able to find the end zone.
Michael Horvath kicked a field goal instead to give them a 10-9 lead at halftime. That would be the final points they scored.
Both Dueck and McMaster head coach Stefan Ptaszek pointed out how Toronto switched their defensive formation in the second half – putting an extra player back in their zone coverage.
“We got stumped a little bit,” Dueck noted. “That was one of the bigger things we couldn’t run the ball against, which wasn’t great. And then they did a better job in the pass game too.”
Toronto scored four points off two safeties in a defensive second half. The Marauders had their opportunities to equalize or take the lead but were unable to move the ball.
Dueck threw two interceptions – including one late in the game – and the Varsity Blues gained a first down to seal the 13-10 win and the playoff berth.
“We just never got anything going,” Ptaszek noted. McMaster had 67 yards rushing to Toronto’s 158. The Varsity Blues gained 337 yards of total offence to the Marauders’ 244.
Toronto’s players and coaches poured onto the field in celebration afterwards. It was their second straight year making the playoffs. For McMaster, it was their second straight year missing it. It was their first loss to Toronto since 1996 and first time missing the playoffs in an eight-game season since 1997.
The game marked another game of missed opportunities and another game where the offence couldn’t score enough.
“Each week it’s a little something different. We take turns” Ptaszek said. “That offensive line is capable of great things. That receiving core is capable of great things. My quarterback I think is one of the best players in the country. It was just very rare that all of them were working at the same time.”
Ptaszek said he and the coaching staff take responsibility for that and will look in the mirror. Adair said a recurring theme was not making plays.
“Everybody makes mistakes. I think we were unfortunate at the fact that we made mistakes the times we couldn’t make mistakes and some of the teams we were playing against just made the big play and stepped up when they needed to step up,” he added. “And unfortunately, one or all of us didn’t step up when we needed to step up.”
The Kingston native said it stings watching the mistakes and plays on tape. He saw the adjustments that they could have made. That they should have made.
“You just see stuff here and there that’s should’ve, could’ve, would’ve,” he said. “That was our theme all year is good football teams don’t live in that should’ve, could’ve, would’ve. They just make those plays when they make those plays. The reoccurring theme is we just didn’t.”
Adair said he has tremendous confidence in him and his teammates and their work ethic to improve their performances next season. However, the departing seniors – including Dueck – won’t have that opportunity.
Dueck finished his six-year McMaster career with many highs. He won a Yates Cup championship in 2019 and played in the East West Bowl in McMaster this past year. He’s also experienced the lows of missing the playoffs his final two seasons.
“That’s kind of the beauty of football right,” Dueck said. “You’ll get some of the highest of highs and lowest of lows but makes you a better person for it.”
As he sat in the media room for his post-game press conference, Dueck said the realization that it’s his last game hasn’t totally said it yet “but it sucks.”
“I’ve loved every second of it,” he said. “It’s a great school, great program but yeah, it’s tough. Got to move onto real life now.”
Featured Image: Marisa Settimi/McMaster Athletics