The Marauders' offence started slowly once again, being held off the scoreboard through its first four drives on Saturday.
But if the hosts were slow out of the blocks, the visitors never truly left them. Calgary mustered only one first down in the first quarter as they salvaged a field goal from a drive that began on McMaster's 41-yard line.
The signs were always ominous for Calgary, as an offence that relies on a consistent running game found nothing along the ground. I suggested on the podcast last week that for the Dinos to succeed, Steven Lumbala would have to make constant contributions on first down. To say that he didn't would be an understatement.
Here's a look at Lumbala's touches in the first quarter:
- 1ST DRIVE: 1st and 10 - CAL 34: rush for no gain
- 3RD DRIVE: 1st and 10 - CAL 34: rush for 2 yards
- 4TH DRIVE: 1st and 10 - MAC 41: rush for 2 yards
- 5TH DRIVE: 1st and 10 - MAC 52: rush for 2 yards
So, over the course of Calgary's five offensive possessions in the quarter, Lumbala—who averaged 8.1 yards per carry during the regular season—rushed four times for a grand total of... six yards. Notice as well the placement of these touches, first down runs with no success that forced Eric Dzwilewski into long-yardage situations on second down.
The trend continued long past the first—Lumbala finished the game with only 39 yards on 14 carries—and Dzwilewski never proved able to overcome it. Too often, he checked down and banked on yards after the catch, yards that McMaster's alert secondary rarely gave.
On the other side, the Marauders completed their first scoring drive of the game at the end of the first quarter and were generously assisted by Calgary lineman Jordan Verdone, who was hardly alone in his knuckleheaded approach on Saturday. The Dinos amassed 127 penalty yards on 17 infractions, four of which were called for unnecessary roughness.
Calgary's defence held on for much of the first half, but were hobbled by the aforementioned penalties and the absolute absence of movement from their offensive partners.
And then, Kyle Quinlan decided to flash his Hec Crighton credentials.
Leading 17-4 with just over two minutes remaining in the half, Quinlan unleashed a perfect pass—and I mean perfect—to find Brad Fochesato for a 61-yard touchdown that essentially iced the game. (See 0:31 of the TSN highlight video for the pass.)
McMaster has frequently taken its collective foot off of the gas pedal this season when spotted a large lead, but would not do the same at the national semifinal stage. If anything, Quinlan looked more comfortable in the pocket in the second half, easing his offence to three more touchdowns before Saturday's contest was said and done.
Most notably, Quinlan engineered his offence largely from within the confines of the pocket. Calgary succeeded in taking his legs out of the equation—he rushed for only 50 yards—but the quarterback proved composed and precise in the pocket. His 412 yards and three touchdowns through the air came without an interception.
But this win must rest on the shoulders of McMaster's defence, which gave up only 200 total yards to the Dinos, half their previous season low of 394, and chased a man once considered strong competition for the Hec Crighton from the football game in the third quarter.
In the absence of the Dinos' running game, the Marauders produced a team-wide effort to stymie and batter Dzwilewski, who could do nothing to lift himself and his offence out of the hole dug for them in the first half. A battle billed as a classic size-versus-speed encounter fell entirely in the favour of the speedy, as the Marauders' front seven out-manoeuvred the Dinos' much-hyped offensive line led by Carson Rockhill and Kirby Fabian, resulting in five sacks and a bevy of quarterback hurries.
McMaster's secondary operated with typical efficiency behind that front, and was particularly successful in robbing Dzwilewski of gains on the field side, where Mike Daly and Steven Ventresca were constant thorns in the Dinos' side. Even Joey Cupido—who was rarely tested on the boundary—got into the action late, grabbing a fourth-quarter interception.
It was the most complete effort that McMaster could have hoped for, and a signal of grand intent heading into Friday's Vanier Cup rematch against Laval.
For the Dinos and their coach Blake Nill, the comprehensive beating will bring a lengthy look in the mirror. Where exactly this Calgary team is lacking—carefully crafted as it was to beat the nation's best—is a question that will haunt Nill throughout the long offseason.