They snagged five interceptions, held the Guelph Gryphons offence to just 264 yards and stalled a last-minute drive as McMaster won the Ontario University Athletics football championship 20-15 in front of 4,554 at Ron Joyce Stadium on Saturday.
"I think our D played their best football when we needed it most," said McMaster head coach Stef Ptaszek. "I think their young quarterback (Guelph's freshman backup James Roberts) played a great game but he was playing against I think the best defence in the conference. You win championships with defence and that's certainly true today."
Third-ranked McMaster will host the Atlantic champion sixth-ranked Mount Allison Mounties next Saturday in the national semifinal Mitchell Bowl. McMaster has now won the Yates Cup three of the past four years and were Vanier Cup champions in 2011.
McMaster defensive lineman Mike Kashak scored the Marauders only touchdown, intercepting a screen pass in the second quarter and running it 30 yards into the endzone.
"I saw the screen develop," said the third-year player who was hoping to just interrupt the play. "He threw the ball and I was there to make the play."
Once the 245-pounder caught the ball there was only one thought on his mind.
"Don't drop it!" he said.
The Gryphons hadn't lost this season since falling in overtime 34-27 to McMaster in the first game of the regular season. This time they pulled to within a field goal early in the fourth, but McMaster held on.
Guelph starting quarterback Jazz Lindsey, who left last week's OUA semi against Western early after getting banged up, completed one of six pass attempts for 13 yards, zero TDs and three interceptions before being pulled midway through the second quarter and replaced by Roberts. One of Lindsey's interceptions had come in the endzone with Guelph threatening on the McMaster seven-yard line.
Roberts completed 17 of 29 pass attempts for 183 yards, zero touchdowns and two interceptions.
"I think we just couldn't finish our plays, or any execution," he said. "We just didn't finish enough and that's why we lost."
The Gryphons had a chance to win it on their last possession, down 20-15 and the ball on their own 54 with 1:27 left in the game. They drove to the McMaster 35 before stalling with 27 seconds left in the game and McMaster ran out the clock.
"I thought we had enough time," Roberts said. "We just didn't produce, again. We didn't execute the way we usually do."
Running back Robert Farquharson scored Guelph's only touchdown on a 41-yard run in the first quarter.
McMaster kicker Tyler Crapigna was good on all three field-goal attempts, hitting from 32, 34 and 39 yards. Guelph kicker Daniel Ferraro went one-for-two, making a 43-yarder two minutes into the fourth to pull within a field goal— but missing a 44-yarder soon after that would have tied the game.
McMaster quarterback Marshall Ferguson completed 24 of 34 pass attempts for 191 yards, zero TDs and three interceptions.
He gave all the credit to his defence for the win.
"We didn't do anything on offence to help our D for the ninth time out of 10 weeks," he said. "We had our chances to blow the top off I think, but we didn't really take them, so we gutted it out like we have all year."
McMaster's Joey Cupido had two interceptions, Kashak had the one pick-six, and Allan Dicks added another two for the Marauders. Guelph's Michael Carney, Nicholas Parisotto and Colin Mandich each picked off Ferguson.
The Mauraders began the second half up 12-9.
They made it 14-9 midway through the third after Ferraro conceded his second safety of the game— coming after Roberts was sacked on the Guelph three-yard line. Crapigna soon made it 17-9 with a 34-yard field goal, but conceded a safety to end the quarter to make it 17-11 McMaster heading into the fourth.
Ferraro's 43-yard field goal made pulled Guelph to 17-14 with 13 minutes left in the game.
On the very next play Mandich intercepted Ferguson and ran it back to the McMaster 37, which set up a 44-yard field goal attempt for Ferraro's that would have tied the game with about 10 minutes left— but he went wide left.
Crapigna's 39-yarder made it 20-14 with 7:55 left.