It’s an awkward in-between, Marshall Ferguson says.
“It’s a weird spot to be in, to want to celebrate your career at the moment of your most crushing loss,” said Ferguson, the McMaster Marauders quarterback, a day after his team was defeated 20-19 by the Montreal Carabins in the Vanier Cup football game in Montreal.
Pausing at his family’s Kingston home, and getting ready to watch the Grey Cup game on television with former Frontenac Secondary School teammate Trent Winton, Ferguson said he had, indeed, spent some time reflecting on the final game of his five-year intercollegiate career.
“I’ve had some moments,” he said, “thought about a lot of things.
“I have replayed it a little bit, thought about things I would have done differently, things I wish we did differently as a team.”
McMaster led the national championship game 13-3 at halftime, and 19-10 after Tyler Crapigna kicked his fourth field goal of the game late in the third quarter. A touchdown in the fifth minute of the fourth quarter brought Montreal to within two points of the lead and a 13-yard field goal by L.P. Simoneau with a little less than three minutes to play put the Carabins in front for the first time in the game.
McMaster began the ensuing drive at its own 35-yard line and at the most important point in the game Ferguson took the Marauders 51 yards in six plays. The Marauders faced third down at the Montreal 24. Crapigna came into the game but the man who won the 2011 Vanier Cup with a field goal in overtime had his kick blocked, and the Carabins were able to run the final 51 seconds off the clock.
In defeat it’s sometimes difficult to think of positive things. Ferguson spoke of specific throws “I wish I had back,” and the odd play call where “I wish I would have reminded all of us to just keep things simple.”
“In no way were there bad calls,” Ferguson said. “I think Jon and Coach P (offensive co-oridnator Jon Behie and coach Stefan Ptaszek) called an incredible game. They really tailored the entire game plan around my strengths, which, as a quarterback, is all you can ask for—to be put in spots where you feel comfortable. I’m pretty thankful for that (but) I’m a perfectionist when it comes to accuracy and ball location and trying to read guys.”
It was on the latter point that Ferguson expressed regret. He threw two interceptions and though they were ultimately of no consequence—Montreal was two-and-out on each subsequent possession—it’s the kind of thing that gnaws at a quarterback.
“Both were on the same play and the safety baited me in the same way,” Ferguson said. “He showed me that he was 40 yards away from where I wanted to go with the ball, pre-snap, and as soon as the ball was snapped, he sprinted dead across the field to exactly where he knew I wanted to go with it. I got outsmarted by the safety, by their film guys, their coaches and their schemes, so that stings a little bit.
“There’s a corner throw to Danny Vandervoort in the third quarter that, as soon as I missed it, became a huge turning point because we punted the ball, they drove the length of the field and scored, then we got the ball back and went two and out … things like that I’ve definitely played over in my head.”
It is from such hardship, however, that people ultimately benefit, Ferguson believes.
“I guess that’s why we have knowledge and experience and why you grow from those moments and you become better,” he said. “Unfortunately, some of us run out of time, like myself and Ben (O’Connor, the former Frontenac teammate who also played with the Marauders), but the guys that are a part of that group, I genuinely believe they will be much better off and mentally stronger for having gone through that kind of environment.
“In Canadian university sport there is no more hostile environment than playing in front of 20-odd thousand angry French people. It will be difficult for them to ever have a mental breakdown when they’re playing at Waterloo in front of 50 people.”
Undoubtedly there are highlights in a career that included being a part of three teams to reach the national final of which Ferguson surely can be proud. In the Vanier Cup season of 2011, he was thrust into the breach early in the season when starting quarterback Kyle Quinlan was suspended for three games—and the unknown Ferguson won them all, to keep his team undefeated. He appeared in the East-West Bowl showcase in 2013 and later that year he set a school record for touchdown passes in a season, no small feat at a school that has had two Hec Crighton award-winning quarterbacks in the past 15 years—Quinlan and Ben Chapdelaine.
At the time of the national championship game when it most counted—late in the fourth quarter—Ferguson completed his last six passes in a row.
One day Ferguson will be better able to reflect on a career with a more balanced perspective. For now, he’ll be heading back to Hamilton to finish the communication studies he began after completing his political science degree, looking to pursue a broadcasting career.
The story has been well told about the aftermath of the Yates Cup game, where he had no time to celebrate with his teammates because he had to get to the gym to broadcast the McMaster basketball doubleheader, and by all accounts he does a fine job as both a play-by-play man and interviewer.
“I’m not sure what I want to do,” he said. “All of that will get sorted out in the very near future but for right now it’s get back to Hamilton, and start working on paying back the student debt, which is the fun part of finishing your football career.
“I’ll be tying to find my way into an internship, or maybe going back to school to get a diploma or degree in broadcasting. Meanwhile, working away in broadcasting and trying to enjoy the little things.”