Marauders clear favourites for OUA title
McMaster Marauders' players pose with the Vanier Cup trophy after they defeated Laval Rouge et Or in overtime in their Vanier Cup college football game at BC Place in Vancouver, British Columbia November 25, 2011. (REUTERS)
Things can turn around quickly in Ontario university football.
Two games into the 2011 season, the McMaster Marauders were dealing with a 27-point loss to their rival, the Western Mustangs, at home and reeling from a suspension to star quarterback Kyle Quinlan.
They never lost again.
And while the defending Vanier Cup champs are clear favourites to get out of the conference again this fall, who knows what will happen this time?
The Mustangs shed some big talent, but they never go away. Windsor is on the upswing, Queen's is back with a vengeance and it's folly to count out Laurier and veteran coach Gary Jeffries. Someone else can catch fire and make a run.
And if you think you've seen it all before, think again.
Long-lost Carleton is poised to resurrect its program for 2013, Guelph will play on turf and Ottawa is heading to a temporary home outside city limits.
So if there's any time where everything can happen, this is it.
OUA FOOTBALL CAPSULES
7-1, 2nd in conference. 4-0 in the playoffs. Defending Vanier Cup champs.
Head coach: Stefan Ptaszek.
Quick snaps: Veteran quarterback Kyle Quinlan, who delivered Mac's first national title with a win over Laval in Vancouver, is back for a fifth year and a shot at one more ring. The last team to go back-to-back was the Rouge et Or (2003-04) . . . There has been surprisingly little turnover. Receiver Michael DiCroce, who led the OUA with 904 yards and was the league's player of the year in 2011, will be a favoured target again . . . Sophomore running back Chris Pezzetta is out for the season with a training camp knee injury. He had 151 yards in the Yates Cup win at Western and 147 more in the Uteck Bowl victory over Acadia . . . Veteran defensive lineman Benjamin D'Aguilar had six solo tackles in the East-West Bowl in May . . . Huge all-star guard Jason Medeiros will keep paving the way for the offence . . . Returning linebacker Aram Eisho was the Vanier Cup defensive MVP with 11.5 tackles and a forced fumble . . . Graduated linebacker Ryan Chmielewski was the league's standout defensive player of the year after moving from middle to outside linebacker and leading the team with 38 tackles and four sacks . . . Good-bye to good-hands Matt Peressini, who had eight touchdowns last year.
Numbers game: No. 1. They'll be wearing a maroon-coloured bulls-eye on their backs all fall as the reigning kings.
Must-win: Week 5 at Western, Sept. 29. OUA final rematch is Marauders' third road game in four weeks and might be their biggest obstacle to 8-0.
Exhibition: Lost 28-22 at Laval in Vanier Cup rematch.
Preseason rank: No. 1 in the country.
Prediction: Should win the conference again with Yates Cup game at familiar Ron Joyce Stadium.
7-1, first place in conference. 1-1 playoffs. Lost Yates Cup 41-19 to Mac.
Head coach: Greg Marshall.
Quick snaps: Rookie of the year Tyler Varga (Yale) and veteran Nathan Riva (Winnipeg) combined to score 25 touchdowns last season. Now, they're gone. It'll be awfully tough to replace their production. Garret Sanvido, a 6-foot, 201-pounder from Vancouver, will give it a go . . . It's the last chance for Donnie Marshall to run the offence -- and play catch with younger brother Brian, a receiver. Another Marshall, Tommy, is in the system . . . Top recruit Will Finch is waiting to start slinging passes and he'll be a factor at some point . . . All-star defensive tackle Mike Van Praet will move to the offensive line, which lost Matt Norman (B.C. Lions) and Brendan Dunn (Winnipeg) . . . Former Waterloo boss Dennis McPhee, Marshall's former Tiger-Cats assistant, is running the defence . . . All-Canadian defensive back Beau Landry, who led team with 38.5 tackles in 2011, will shuttle between a linebacker/DB hybrid position . . . Incoming 6-foot-4, 284-pound OL Kadeem Adams played for Canada at the world under-19 championships.
Numbers game: Four schools currently in the OUA (McMaster, Queen's, Laurier, Ottawa) have won the Vanier Cup since Western's last national title in 1994. The purple crew have been close a few times, but as of yet, no more championship cigars.
Must-win: Week 3, Sept. 15 at Queen's. Richardson Stadium has been, simply put, a tough place to win for Western in the past decade. This is a great chance to see what this offence is made of against a stout defence on the road.
Preseason rank: No. 5.
Prediction: If Donnie Marshall finishes with MVP-type season, they could go the distance.
6-2, 3rd in conference. 1-1 in playoffs. 40-13 loss to Mac in semi.
Head coach: Pat Sheahan.
Quick snaps: Won seven straight games before Mac knocked them out . . . Scoring on the Gaels' isn't so easy. Ask Western, who they shut out. Queen's gave up just 103 points in conference play last year and return 10 of 12 defensive starters . . . All-star laden defence includes linebacker Sam Sabourin, DB Andrew Lue and TJ Chase-Dunawa (four interceptions), plus linemen John Miniaci and Derek Wiggan . . . Burlington native Billy McPhee returns for second full season as starting quarterback. He threw for 1,660 yards and always has the option of handing it off to the nation's leading rusher, Ryan Granberg, who finished with 1,068 yards on 161 carries last year . . . Third-year receiver Giovanni Aprile, a Winnipeg draft pick, had 594 rushing yards on 31 catches and four touchdowns . . . Veteran centre Mike Sullivan anchors an experienced offensive line that surrendered just 13 sacks in 2011 and there are more big guys on the waym including Sudbury native Eric Lessard, the 6-foot-7, 315-pounder who played for Team Canada this summer . . .
Numbers game: 67.2. Those are the rush yards per game averaged against the Tricolour last year. Only Laval's 53.7 was better.
Must-win: Week 4, Sept. 22 at McMaster. Their championship mettle will be tested in Hamilton in the aftermath of an emotional tilt with Western.
Exhibition: Beat McGill 23-9 at home with rookie Dillon Wamsley (London) booting a 47-yard field goal. He's vying to take over for outgoing all-time Gaels' leading scorer Dan Village.
Preseason rank: No. 6.
Prediction: Anything less than a Yates Cup trip would be a disappointment.
5-3, 5th in conference. 1-1 in playoffs. Lost 33-27 to Western in OUA semi.
Head coach: Joe D'Amore.
Quick snaps: Once again, the Lancers try to build on some success and momentum . . . Hard-to-stop third-year QB Austin Kennedy fired 20 touchdowns and led the league with a 65% completion rate. He also rushed for 432 yards and is one of the most exciting players in university football . . . First-team All-Canadian receiver Jordan Brescacin caught 50 balls last year for 773 yards and seven touchdowns, then spent time on the Hamilton Tiger-Cats practice roster. Ball-catcher Evan Pszczonak and Dylan Whitfield are back to boost the offence with Jared Olsen, Samir Mouawad, Jacob Myall and Nick Corrado, the fifth-year centre, up front . . . Plenty of returning players on defence, but the big hole is left by All-Canadian defensive lineman DL Seamus Postuma . . . Look for defensive back Shea Pierre (22 tackles) and all-star Matt McGarva, who returned an interception against Guelph 109 yards for a touchdown last year, to play a big role in the defence from the backfield . . . They locked up some promising talent in their neck of the woods, including Leamington lineman Daniel Benson and Randy Beardy of Sarnia, plus Belle River running back Nick Vincent.
Must-win: Week 4, Sept. 22 at Western. Get to the halfway point with at least three wins, the Lancers are in great shape the rest of the way.
Preseason rank: No. 10.
Prediction: There's nothing stopping them from a 5-3 mark again. One more win, they're holding a playoff game at home.
LAURIER GOLDEN HAWKS
4-4, 6th in conference. 0-1 playoffs. Lost 14-10 to Queen's in first round.
Head coach: Gary Jeffries.
Quick snaps: Brampton-bred QB Travis Eman, a transfer from Furman in South Carolina who won a compassionate appeal to play closer to home and his ailing mother, will guide the Hawks' offence . . . Graduated QB Shane Kelly threw for conference-best 279.5 yards per game with 20 touchdowns and 12 interceptions . . . All-star receivers Shamawd Chambers and Dillon Heap (all-time punt return yards king) pass the baton to Victoria, B.C., native Alex Anthony and Russ Jirgens . . . Linebacker Mitchell Bosch is back, but fellow standouts Sam Aird and George Kourtesiotis, a defensive lineman, are done . . . Running backs Anton Bennett and Dillon Campbell will lug the ball . . . Rookie RB Eric Guiltinan not only led London Lucas to a Western Bowl high school title, he was the leading goal-scorer for the London Blue Devils junior B lacrosse team as a defender . . . Don't blink on Felix Odum, who had 11 kick returns for 318 yards and a touchdown and 13 punt returns for 151 yards . . . Topsy-turvy .500 season in 2011 saw the Birds lose three of their first four games, then rally for three wins in their final four. They scored 96 more points than they allowed.
Numbers game: 1. The Hawks only won once -- 51-16 over Ottawa -- at home last year. That has to change or a top-four finish is out the window.
Must-win: Week 2, Sept. 8 vs. Queen's. Start right in their own nest. If they win it, they can be 5-1 or even 6-0 out of the gate.
Prediction: They finish the schedule with Western and McMaster, so these Birds will be playoff ready.
2-6, 8th in conference.
Head coach: Stu Lang.
Quick snaps: Agricultural superpower school playing on brand-new artificial turf? Sacrilege, it seems. One of the best game-day settings in Canadian university football is in the midst of a $4.8-million Alumni Stadium facelift. There's an anonymously-donated video scoreboard on its way, but, because of some on-going construction, access to the grassy hill on the east side won't be available for seating the first two home games. Hurry up, hardhats . . . Mobile quarterback Jazz Lindsey took over the starring role in the middle of last season and will hook up with his older brother Saxon and veteran Dillon Dimitroff, who need to help ease the loss of playmaker Jedd Gardner . . . Niagara Falls RB Robert Farquharson has a year carrying the rock under his belt, rushing 76 times for 322 yards and four majors last season . . .Linebacker John Rush had 32 tackles last year and was a big factor in helping Canada beat the United States in the gold medal game of this summer's world under-19 football championships. He was named to the all-tournament team . . . The Gryphs had a good recruiting year, bringing in London defensive lineman Zack Mallough and big Hamilton offensive linemen Jamie Lalonde and Steve Mburanumwe . . . Former CFL star Neil Lumsden will coach the running backs.
Numbers game: In one of those weird statistical scenerios they scored 12 more points than they allowed in 2011, but only won twice.
Must-win: Week 4, Sept. 22 vs. Toronto. The Gryphs lost to the Varsity Blues 21-12 last season so time to save face at Homecoming.
Exhibition: Beat Saskatchewan 26-21 in Saskatoon with Luke Nangle getting the majority of the work at pivot, finishing 10-for-14 with 142 yards.
Prediction: They're still a little young and .500 may be pushing it, but they've got talent.
5-3, 4th in conference. 0-1 in playoffs. Lost 50-33 to Windsor in first round.
Head coach: Veteran sideline boss Gary Etcheverry looks to inject some stability in a program that has turned over coaches too quickly.
Quick snaps: They're heading out of town to play their home games at a three-year-old synthetic field in Beckwith Township, near Carleton Place west of the city limits, because of a delay in the construction of their new, on-campus stadium. Their first game at their home-away-from-home is Sept. 15 against McMaster . . . Second-year starter Aaron Colbon threw for 2,052 yards and 18 touchdowns in 2011. Receiver Simon Le Marquand finished second in the country with 867 yards . . . Graduated receiver Bogdan Raic, with 25 catches for 497 yards and five majors, is a weapon that needs to be replaced . . . These guys on D can get after the ball. The Gee-Gees had 14 interceptions, 12 fumble recoveries and 23 sacks last year. Sophomore pass rusher Ettore Lattanzio led the way with five sacks while veteran linebacker Tyler Sawyer was tops with 37 tackles.
Numbers game: 3. Fifth-year kicker Matt Falvo needs to split the uprights thrice more to become the school's all-time leader in three-pointers. He's currently at 55 field goals in his career.
Must-win: The season opener on Sept. 3 in Windsor. Beating the team on the road that knocked them out last season would be a big confidence boost.
Prediction: Lots of travel, but it'll be worth it if they prove the doubters wrong. They're the X-factor.
TORONTO VARSITY BLUES
3-5, 7th in conference.
Head coach: Greg Gary.
Quick snaps: Andrew Gillis, the sixth Toronto QB to throw for 4,000-plus career passing yards, was a prolific Blue for five years. Sophomore Richard Quittenton, who spent some time studying Ricky Ray at Toronto Argonauts camp, is the heir apparent, although Canisius (N.Y.) high school recruit Chris Jugovic took most of the preseason game snaps. Third-year receiver Alex Pierzchalski, who caught eight balls for 90 yards in the exhibition, and Paul de Pass are the prime targets. de Pass, from Ajax, led the OUA with 21.2 yards per catch last year . . . The Donnavan Carter-led Blues D only allowed 190 passing yards a game in 2011, but all-star linebacker Wilkerson DeSouza (drafted by the Calgary Stampeders), standout defensive back Dorian Munroe and backfield mate Willie Sharpe are done . . . Veteran lineman Mario Tedesco, who has started every game the last three years, has switched to centre this season . . . There's some incoming talent. Running back Lukas Gavac of Mississauga was third in Ontario Varsity Football League rushing this summer, O-lineman Kyle Draga (Brampton) is a mobile 6-foot-3, 320-pounds and promising Londoner Jimmy Ro is versatile -- he played defensive back, wide receiver and punted and kicked for the Western Bowl-champion Lucas Vikings.
Numbers game: 1. Pierzchalski's touchdown total last year. He's capable of breaking open games. If he scores more, the Blues are in business.
Must-win: Week 7, Oct. 12 vs. York. Don't want the season fumbled away because of a loss in the Red and Blue Bowl.
Exhibition: Lost 31-24 at Concordia.
Prediction: They don't have Mac on the sked, which is a break, but 4-4 is still asking a lot.
1-7, 9th in conference.
Head coach: Warren Craney.
Quick snaps: It ain't as historic as Wrigley Field, but the Lions will hold atheir first-ever night game at York Stadium (with rented lights) Oct. 4 against McMaster . . . Burlington's Myles Gibbon transferred to York after three years at University of South Alabama, where he was the new NCAA outfit's first quarterback. He'll learn from offensive co-ordinator Michael Faulds, the former Western great, and try to improve CIS-worst 11.2 points per game . . . Freshman QB Tyler Pritty, formerly with Concordia, is the only passer to win three Metro Bowl titles and he'll get to play with linebacker brother Connor, too . . . Sophomore linebacker Hussein Hazime was the Frank Cosentino team MVP in 2011 after chalking up 50 tackles in eight games, second in the league . . . O-linemen Max Sullivan (Sault Ste. Marie) and Jordyn Moore (Whitby) started every game up front last year . . . DB Jordan Nugent (Brampton, Ont.) made conference-best four picks and ran back kicks and punts as a rookie . . . The Lions had more coaches (four) than players (one) taking part in the East-West Bowl in May. One of these days, that's going to change. The guy who played -- St. Catharines receiver William Austin -- led Team West with 46 yards on five catches. He had 403 yards and three touchdowns last season.
Numbers game: 18. The number of rookies the Lions had in their starting lineup in 2011. They're still young cats.
Must-win: Week 4, Sept. 22 vs. Waterloo. Best chance for second victory since 2007. Everything else is gravy.
Exhibition: Lost 35-2 to Bishop's in Lennoxville, Que.
Prediction: They nearly beat Toronto and barely beat Waterloo last year. 2-6 isn't a pipe dream.
0-8, 10th in conference.
Interim head coach: Joe Paopao.
Quick snaps: Looking for first win since university's senior administration cancelled 2010 season in wake of a steroid scandal . . . They surrendered CIS-worst 421 points last year but still outscored York and were shut out only once -- by Queen's, who also shut out Western a week later . . . Veteran lineman Matt Vonk, a Burlington native who transferred to Laurier when Waterloo shut down its program, returned to the fold last year but the CIS deemed him ineligible and forced him to sit out 2011. The 6-foot-4, 285-pounder finally gets his chance to play again . . . Taz Martin, a rookie offensive lineman, is 6-foot-4 and 305 pounds . . . Quarterback Bryan Chris, formerly of Guelph (fellow pivot Jamie Cook has followed from the Gryphons, too), has Nick Anapolsky back to target . . . Versatile Lucas Balch, who could throw the ball, run it or catch it if need be, has finished his eligibility. So has first-team all-star Dustin Zender, now helping the Warriors as a coach . . . A recent Hamilton Tiger-Cats practice drew 1,000 fans to Warrior Field and hopefully, the primary tenants give fans something to cheer in north Waterloo.
Numbers game: 341 (pass attempts). No one in Ontario chucked it up more than these guys -- a stark contrast to the Tuffy Knight-era option when the Warriors were winning Yates Cups in the late '90s.
Must-win: Week 4, Sept. 22 at York's Homecoming. After an overtime loss last year, this one has to be circled on their calendar.
Prediction: A win this season will become national news. The Warriors hope to get back to the point when it isn't.