Tanner Forsyth wrapped two meaty hands on the football and secured it tightly to his chest after taking the hand-off from quarterback Kyle Quinlan in the first quarter of Saturday’s Yates Cup game for the McMaster Marauders.
The offensive line created a huge opening up the middle and the 24-year-old tailback steamrolled for 17 yards before he was gang-tackled at the Guelph Gryphons’ 39-yard line.
It was another satisfying moment in Forsyth’s odd and rather convoluted university football career that has seen him battle through a serious concussion, eligibility issues, not to mention getting caught up in the biggest doping scandal in the history of Canadian university sports.
“It’s been a long road,” the 24-year-old Forsyth remarked in the aftermath of McMaster’s 30-13 victory over a gritty Guelph outfit that secured the country’s top-ranked team its second consecutive Ontario University Athletics title.
The victory will now advance the defending Vanier Cup champion into Saturday’s Mitchell Bowl national semi-final in Hamilton against the third-ranked Calgary Dinos.
History was made on Saturday when McMaster and Calgary, along with Laval and Acadia, all repeated as conference champions, the first time the same four teams have all advanced to national bowl semi-final games in back-to-back seasons.
The Dinos advanced after a convincing 38-7 victory over Regina in the Canada West final in Calgary where conference most-valuable-player Eric Dzwilewski completed 33 of 46 passes for 381 yards.
In the Quebec conference, No. 2 Laval Rouge et Or won their 10th straight title with a 40-17 win over No. 10 Sherbrooke in Quebec City.
Laval will go on to play the ninth-ranked Acadia Axemen in the Hardy Bowl in Quebec City after Acadia triumphed in the Atlantic conference final with a 17-9 win over Saint Mary’s.
In the Yates final, perhaps nobody was savouring the moment more than Forsyth, whose intercollegiate athletic career has been filled with twists and turns.
McMaster is the third university Forsyth has been enrolled at since graduating from high school in Mount Alberta, Ont., in 2004, attending the University of Ottawa for one year before spending two years at Waterloo where he played on the Warriors football team.
After that, Forsyth took a year off where he became a member of the Canadian national bobsleigh team but, missing football, decided to return to Waterloo to resume his gridiron career for the 2010 season.
That was at the time when the Waterloo football program was rocked with the steroid scandal after a dozen players tested positive for the use of performance-enhancing drugs, and the school suspended the program for one year.
“People are going to make their own decisions in life,” Forsyth said. “I just had to move forward.”
Canadian Interuniversity Sport ruled that those Waterloo players who weren’t involved in the drug controversy would be allowed to transfer to another school without having to forfeit a year of eligibility and Forsyth made his way to McMaster in the fall of 2010.
Midway through his first season, Forsyth suffered a concussion that sidelined him for the rest of that season and all of 2011 when the Marauders won the Vanier Cup.
It was only in August of this year that he received medical clearance to play.
And even then there was another hurdle as Forsyth’s seven-year window after graduating high school to complete five years of intercollegiate eligibility had run out.
McMaster coach Stefan Ptaszek had to petition Canadian Interuniversity Sport to get clearance to allow Forsyth another year of eligibility, arguing successfully that last season shouldn’t count against the athlete because he was injured.
“We’ve always known he can help and make plays and he’s a CIS-calibre running back,” Ptaszek said. “You wouldn’t imagine how many coaches and teammates are so happy to see him doing it on the field. But we’ve known for a long time that he could.”
Forsyth rambled eight times for 45 yards in Saturday’s win after he rushed the ball 17 times for 97 yards and two TDs a week earlier in the OUA semi-final victory over the Western Mustangs.
With the victory over Guelph, McMaster (10-0 on the season) won for the 20th consecutive time to establish a CIS record for most wins in a row.