TORONTO - The McMaster Marauders and Laval Rouge et Or have one tough act to follow.
Friday's 48th Vanier Cup is a rematch of last year's classic — a 41-38 double overtime win for McMaster, dubbed by many as one of the greatest games in Canadian university football history.
The Marauders and Rouge et Or will meet before a Rogers Centre gathering expected to exceed 30,000 spectators. Although Laval is downplaying the revenge factor, the bitter taste of last year's loss still lingers.
"The only place we could (get) revenge was back here," Laval head coach Glen Constantin said. "Obviously that was our motivation for the year (but) right now it's not about revenge, it's about execution and playing a real good game of football.
"You can lose this game emotionally because you're thinking about revenge."
The Marauders jumped out to a stunning 23-0 lead on Laval last year in Vancouver. The Rouge et Or rallied to take a one-point lead in the fourth quarter only to watch McMaster kicker Tyler Crapigna boot the game-winning field goal in the second extra period.
Laval defensive lineman Arnaud Gascon-Nadon, a 2012 third-round pick of the CFL's Hamilton Tiger-Cats who returned to school for a fifth year, says the Rouge et Or weren't thinking about revenge in the second half of the 2011 game and have the same mentality heading into this one.
"We said let's just come back in the second half, play like we know we can play, be the program we know we are and play like the players we are. That's what we did and that's what we're going to try to do Friday," Gascon-Nadon said. "We just want to be the team that we are — an explosive football team with good defence and see what happens."
McMaster's potent offence is led by quarterback Kyle Quinlan. He was the OUA's most valuable player and set a conference record by completing 69 per cent of his passes for 2,457 yards while leading Canadian university football with 19 touchdowns against just two interceptions.
"To be here two years in a row is not something that's lost on this team. We're really excited to be battling Laval," Quinlan said. "They've elevated CIS football Canada-wide. They forced the level of play up and we're excited to have the chance to go toe-to-toe with them again and have another great game."
While McMaster (11-0) has relied heavily on its passing attack, the reigning 10-time Quebec champions from Laval got back to the big game with a punishing defence and a grinding rushing attack that has averaged 297 yards a game in the playoffs.
Rouge et Or quarterback Tristan Grenon is part of a new-look offence that lost five starters, while the defence is led by Gascon-Nadon and standout linebacker Frederic Plesius, another 2012 Hamilton draft pick.
Marauders head coach Stefan Ptaszek says although McMaster-Laval is a rematch that many expected, it's not fate that brought the teams back to this point.
"It's two hard-working programs. It's not blind luck that we're back here again. It's been a lot of elbow grease," said Ptaszek, who was named CIS coach of the year Wednesday. "No. 1 in the nation is more of a burden than a gift so we're happy to be this far."
The Marauders' win last season earned the school its first Vanier Cup, while the Rouge et Or (11-1) are gunning for a record-breaking seventh title in their eighth appearance.
McMaster comes in riding a Canadian university record 21-game win streak. A 22nd victory would make the Marauders just the fifth team in history to win back-to-back Vanier Cups.
Laval had the previous record for the longest win streak at 19 straight games between 2004 and 2005.
"Our goal is to win the national championship. If it stops their streak, they obviously come together," Constantin said. "We feel it's two things they've taken away from us, the record and the championship."
The Marauders thumped the Calgary Dinos 45-7 in the Mitchell Bowl last weekend while the Rouge et Or were equally impressive with a 42-7 thrashing of the Acadia Axemen in the Uteck Bowl.
"I think you saw in our national semifinals that both teams played their best football when they needed it the most," Ptaszek said. "We're here and we need our best football again."
Ptaszek credits his fifth-year players with giving McMaster the chance to repeat.
"A national champion should have been arrogant, should have been a little complacent, should have been a little bit lazy and our seniors would not have it," he said. "They approached everything from winter workouts to spring ball to summer runs with more diligence than they have in previous years."
Friday's game will mark the final university game for a number of players on both sides.
"The goal is to go out as a champion," said Quinlan, who threw for 412 yards and three touchdowns while rushing for three TDs in the Mitchell Bowl. "You talk to any fifth-year guy, that's what they want to do. So it's a pretty unique opportunity to be here."
Added Ptaszek: "The best gift you can give fifth-year kid is to win his last football game and I think you're going to have a locker-room of coaches and teammates that want these guys to go out with a win."
Notes: The only four programs to repeat as Vanier Cup champions are Manitoba (1969-1970), Western (1976-1977), Saint Mary's (2001-2002) and Laval (2003-2004). ... The Rouge et Or will become just the third team to play in three straight national finals, joining Saint Mary's (2001-2003) and Saskatchewan (2004-2006). ... Laval is currently tied with Western for total Vanier Cups at six. The Mustangs needed 12 tries to claim their championships. ... Laval and McMaster have seen a lot of each other in the last two seasons. Apart from the 2011 Vanier Cup, the Rouge et Or have hosted the Marauders for a pre-season game the last two years, with Laval winning both times.