Locals big contributors to Vanier Cup win
Cole Majoros caught three passes for 92 yards and a TD in Western’s Vanier Cup victory over Laval. Photo by PETER METHNER.
Niagara athletes were front and centre as the University of Western Ontario Mustangs defeated the defending champion Laval Rouge et Or 39-17 in Saturday’s Vanier Cup In Hamilton.
Saint Paul graduate and Niagara Falls native Harry McMaster caught five passes for 115 yards, including a 52-yard gain. Lakeshore Catholic alumnus and Fort Erie resident Cole Majoros caught three passes for 92 yards, including a 32-yard TD grab.
“That was definitely cool,” McMaster said.
But the 23-year-old said people shouldn’t overlook the contribution made by St. Francis grad and St. Catharines native Antonio Valvano.
“He doesn’t really get the stats for people to see but he plays fullback and he has been amazing all year,” McMaster said. “He has had some huge blocks for us and our running game has been what everyone likes to talk about. He’s a huge part of that as well.”
The six-foot, 230-pound Valvano takes no prisoners on the field.
“After our playoff game versus Guelph when we wore purple helmets, he lost pretty much all the purple paint off his helmet,” McMaster said. “That’s a testament to what he does out there.”
McMaster described his Vanier Cup experience as unreal.
“To do it in my fifth and last year is a perfect way to end it,” the 6-foot-1, 189-pound receiver said.
It was also somewhat emotional for the Ontario University Athletics Second Team All-Star.
“After we got the trophy and I took a bunch of pictures, my family left and that’s when it really started sinking in,” he said. “This could be the last time I took the pads off and walked off the field.
“I definitely had a moment on the field afterwards thinking about that.”
The high point of the game for McMaster was the play of others.
“From my standpoint, the best memories are some of the catches our other receivers made,” he said. “There were four or five catches our receivers had that were huge plays or us and got us to the other side of the field and in scoring position.”
He was mostly happy with his own personal performance as well.
“I did pretty well but there were a couple of plays that I could have made but we came out with the win so you don’t really think about how your performance was,” he said. “The team won and that’s what you wanted to do.”
Majoros, a five-foot-9 receiver who came into the game with 16 catches for 266 yards and three rushes for 43 yards on the season, had his best-ever statistical game at the university level.
“That was the most yards I ever had in a game receiving,” the 22-year-old said. “I guess I kind of lucked out on the timing of it.”
Laval played a lot of man-to-man defence in the secondary and Majoros felt he was lucky enough to be covered by Laval’s weakest defender.
Scoring a Vanier Cup TD was a special moment for Majoros.
“It was a surreal feeling,” he said. “When I crossed the line it was pretty awesome and it was an indescribable feeling and I blacked out, to be honest.”
Even more special was that the person throwing the ball was Chris Merchant, his roommate and best friend.
“For him to hit me in the Vanier for a TD pass was a good feeling.”
Majoros is in his fourth year of school at Western but is only in his second year of football eligibility after failing to crack the roster his first two seasons.
“I am going to stay back for one more year and play,” he said. “Technically, I have three more years but I don’t know if I am going to do it.”
Like McMaster and Valvano, Majoros had to adjust to not playing when he first arrived at Western.
“It was difficult not being in a game for so long and stepping into a game for the first time was really nerve wracking after not playing for two or three years.
“It was also worth it and those two years really helped me develop my game.”
Majoros was helped through that time by Bernie Tessier, his former coach at Lakeshore and a former Mustang, and former Mustang player Zach Bull. Tessier and Majoros posed for a picture after the game.
“He (Tessier) has been with me every step of the way since I have been here,” Majoros said. “Him and Zach Bull have talked to me a lot over the past four years.
Majoros was a starter at boundary slotback for Western this year in most of its offensive packages but would sub out in certain situations.
Valvano described his Vanier Cup experience as amazing.
“I don’t even know where to start,” the 21-year-old said, when asked about his high point. “It was a great group of guys and an incredible experience.
“We played so well, we knew we could take it to those guys and we did.”
When the final whistle blew, Valvano reflected on the season.
“I thought about just how hard we worked for this,” he said. “We started in January and said we were going to do this. To see it all pay off was incredible.”
Valvano is looking forward to continuing to get better as a football player at Western.
“I have a couple more years to go and I am really excited to play with this team going forward,” he said. “I always trying to get better day by day, practice by practice and becoming a more complete football player.”
In the playoffs, unbeaten Western outscored its opposition 261-64 and will go down as one of the greatest Canadian university football teams ever.
“Winning it for Western was our main goal but to be discussed as one of the best team’s in Canadian university football history is amazing,” McMaster said.
Thinking best ever is something Majoros will contemplate down the road.
“You don’t really take that in when you are riding the wave because you are more concerned about winning the game,” he said. “If you look at the stats, they line up with some of the best teams and it’s nice to see your name go down with the rest of them.”
After winning Saturday, the team head to the local Lone Star restaurant for a celebration.
“It’s what we do after every single game and we got after it a bit,” Majoros said.
The Vanier Cup was brought into the restaurant and then to a residence of one of the Mustangs afterwards.
There wasn’t too much celebrating Sunday but Monday the festivities will renew.
“Traditionally after the season ends it has been a Black Monday,” McMaster said. “We’re not sure what it will be called this year. Gold, White or Purple Monday but we have a little more celebrating to do tonight (Monday).”
Other locals on the Western squad winning the school’s first Vanier Cup since 1994 were: Grimsby native and Cardinal Newman product Marshall Cino, a 6-foot-5, 267-pound offensive lineman; Sir Winston Churchill product Eli Sacco, a 5-foot-11, 200-pound linebacker; and, A.N. Myer grad Jake Andrews, a 5-foot-10, 178-pound defensive back from Niagara-on-the-Lake.