Stefan Ptaszek admitted he was feeling a bit “surly” at a coaches and players news conference to kick off Vanier Cup week.
The McMaster coach apologized for that.
Yes, this year’s Vanier Cup — a home team involved, the event celebrating its 50th anniversary — promises to be a great event, but the Marauders coach wasn’t in a mood for extended pleasantries.
And yes, the Vanier Cup is special and unique, and the city of Montreal is beautiful, Ptaszek said — but then quickly turned to more pressing matters: football.
Having seen what the Université de Montréal Carabins have done to the opposition this season, Ptaszek admitted that if his team isn’t prepared, the Marauders may be in for “a butt-kicking.”
The championship game, which will be played at 1 p.m. on Saturday at Percival Molson Memorial Stadium (1 p.m., Sportsnet), matches two teams that earned their way there in similar fashion.
“Defence is at the forefront of both programs,” said Ptaszek, who is a nominee as Canadian coach of the year along with Mount Allison’s Kelly Jeffrey.
The Marauders got to the Vanier Cup by knocking off the Mount Allison Mounties 24-12 last week in the Mitchell Bowl in Hamilton, while the Carabins held off the Manitoba Bisons 29-26 in the Uteck Bowl in Montreal.
Ptaszek uttered a note of alarm in that “no one is scoring touchdowns against (the Carabins),” who had a final ranking of No. 2 in the country, behind perennial powerhouse Université Laval.
These are the types of scores that has Ptaszek worried: During the season, the Carabins shut out St. Francis Xavier 47-0, whipped Concordia 36-3 and allowed Laval only nine points in each of their final two games.
Montreal’s only loss came to Laval, 40-13, in the season opener.
Each team brings a 10-1 overall record into the national college football championship game.
The No. 3-ranked Marauders are facing a team that presents a variety of blitz packages that could keep McMaster quarterback Marshall Ferguson running for his life on Saturday.
“Defences,” Ptaszek said, “will define the day.”
Nationally the Marauders were fifth in points allowed and fourth in yards allowed, while the Carabins have the top-ranked defence against the pass, and were third in number of points allowed and No. 2 in number of yards allowed.
The biggest advantage for the Marauders is their experience.
From 2000 to 2003, the Marauders won four straight Yates Cup — the Ontario university championship — games, but didn’t get back to the Vanier Cup party until 2011. They captured their first-ever title beating Laval and returned the following year with Laval taking the rematch.
The Marauders have 12 players who were on the 2011 championship team, led by Ferguson.
The Carabins have never been to a Vanier Cup. The team once played in the Ontario league in the mid-1960s. Following the 1971 season, the football program died, but was reborn in 2002.
In the first season, the Carabins sputtered to an 0-8 conference record, but from then on Montreal emerged as an elite team in the Quebec conference.
Their rise, however, was always cut short when they faced Laval, who reeled off 11 straight conference titles.
This year, the Carabins beat Laval in two of three head-to-head battles, the last one coming in a stunning 12-9 overtime victory in the Dunsmore Cup in Quebec City.
Defensively, both teams have strong linebackers. Montreal’s Byron Archambault and Nicholas Shortill are contending for the Presidents’ Trophy, which will be awarded to the nation’s top defensive player on Thursday.
The Marauders can respond with defensive back Joey Cupido, who has 14 interceptions in 15 career playoff games, and defensive lineman Mark Mackie, who was the MVP of the Mitchell Bowl with three sacks.
The Carabins are coached by Danny Maciocia, who won a couple of Grey Cup rings with the Edmonton Eskimos, including one as offensive co-ordinator in 2003 and another in 2005 as head coach.
The Carabins’ leader on offence is quarterback Gabriel Cousineau, who is establishing himself as one of the best quarterbacks in the country. Against the Bisons last week, Cousineau was named game MVP after he set a school record with 421 yards in passing.