The Guelph Gryphons’ last appearance in the Yates Cup championship game was in 2007.
Guelph native Justin Dunk, a John F. Ross CVI graduate, was the team’s quarterback that year.
On Saturday, the Gryphons visit McMaster in the finals (1 p.m., televised live on The Score, channel 53).
Heading into the game, Dunk reflected on that 2007 championship game and looked ahead to what Guelph might need to do to beat the nation’s No. 1-ranked team and hoist the Yates Cup trophy.
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Every time I think about our 2007 run to the Yates Cup, I start to feel a tingle throughout my body. A feeling unlike any other I have ever felt in my life.
To punch our ticket to the Yates that year, we came back from 24 points down early in the second quarter at Laurier.
I can remember standing beside our head coach, Kyle Walters, looking at the scoreboard and multiplying 24 by four, thinking at the pace the Golden Hawks were scoring we would lose 96-0.
In the other OUA semifinals, Western upset Ottawa which meant the Yates Cup game would be played on our home field at Alumni Stadium.
I have so many memories, so vivid in my head about the Yates Cup and the week leading up to the game, but at the same time it felt like the week leading up to the game on Nov. 10, 2007 went by in the blink of an eye.
The vibe on campus all week was electric and tickets sold out well in advance.
Around the entire city of Guelph, there was a buzz about the Gryphons, which just felt right.
As a kid growing up in Guelph, I watched many Guelph games at Alumni Stadium and remember the team winning two Yates Cups in 1992 and 1996.
It was my dream to put on a Gryphon jersey and help bring the program back to a championship level.
So, it almost goes without saying that my dream was on the verge of becoming reality that fall week in 2007.
Our team couldn’t wait for kickoff on that fall day. I couldn’t sleep much on the Friday night before the game.
Adrenaline was flowing through me all week long and ratcheted up on Saturday morning when I woke up.
The first thing I did was look out my bedroom window and check the weather, we quarterbacks always hope for Mother Nature to cooperate with us.
It was about as good a November day as you could ask for, not much wind and no snow was falling.
I couldn’t tell you what our pre-game meal was that day, but I do remember walking into the stadium and seeing a table in the middle of the locker room with tape stuck down forming a square in the middle of it, that was where the Cup was supposed to sit a few hours later that day.
After dropping my stuff in the locker room, I headed out to the field to survey the scene as most players do on game day. Walk around, headphones in, thoughts flying a mile a minute through my head, like others I’m sure. We all knew this game day had a different feel.
We had played in front of some decent crowds before, but trying to picture what the estimated 10,000 fans would look like packed into Alumni Stadium and on the hill was difficult.
Shortly before 1 p.m. we re-emerged from the locker room, suited, and ready to kickoff the 100th Yates Cup.
I will never forget the roar of the crowd while running out of the tunnel, standing at centre and seeing a stadium overflowing with fans. It was a sight now permanently engraved on my mind. A sea of red, black and gold, mixed with some Western purple made for an atmosphere unlike any other experienced in my time playing university football.
Gryphon fans exploded on every big play we made, it felt like the grass field beneath my feet was shaking at times.
Unfortunately, we didn’t make enough plays to win that day. But in reflection, just having the chance to play in front of 10,000 fans, and in an atmosphere as tingling as that felt, is a memory that will last a lifetime for me and my teammates.
In all honesty, I haven’t yet watched the video from the 2007 Yates Cup game.
I might one day, but I don’t need to look at it to bring back the fond memories.
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In at least one way this year’s Guelph squad reminds me of the 2007 team – a group of young men looking to bring the program back to a championship level and national prominence.
A 7-1 regular season will certainly accomplish both, but as we learned the hard way in 2007, it doesn’t matter how many games you win or lose, it’s about a championship.
Guelph will travel to McMaster on Saturday and make their eighth Yates Cup appearance and first since five years ago, exactly to the day, on Nov. 10, 2007.
For the Gryphons to hoist the Yates Cup, they must embrace the day and shot at an Ontario championship, instead of being in awe of the proceedings.
Yes, it’s the most important game of the season, but it will be just that, a game. Sixty minutes with normal ups and downs.
Guelph will face the task of trying to slow down the best quarterback in the nation. Kyle Quinlan is on a level of his own in the CIS and he has a plethora of receivers, including 2011 OUA MVP Mike DiCroce, at his disposal.
The Gryphons defence must pressure Quinlan and avoid any coverage busts in the back end.
The offence needs to put together some drives – Guelph must produce more than the 338 yards it put up against the Gaels – to help keep McMaster’s fifth-year pivot on the sideline and keep pace with the maroon men on the scoreboard.
Guelph can’t expect the Marauders to turn the ball over seven times, like Queen’s did in Guelph’s epic come-from-behind OUA semifinal victory.
So, plain and simple, the offence needs to be better for the Gryphons to have a chance against the high-powered McMaster offensive unit.
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Justin Dunk currently works at The Score Television Network in Toronto.
“I’m around sports every workday and couldn’t ask for much more in a job that challenges me each day,” he says.
Dunk also writes about Canadian football, both CIS and the CFL, for CFL.ca.
On twitter, he can be found at the handle: @JDunk12 or by searching “Justin Dunk.”