TORONTO - Kyle Quinlan wasn't talking, but his McMaster teammates were happy to speak up for their star quarterback in the wake of a decisive 37-14 loss to Laval in the Vanier Cup on Friday.
"Quinlan's a phenomenal athlete," said defensive back Joey Cupido. "No question he's the best quarterback in CIS history. If he doesn't make it to the next level, I'm going to give up hope on that. Because he is a special athlete.
"He had a rough go today. They really got to him a few times but he is a hell of a football player and I'm honoured to play with him for the last three years."
"I love the kid. I freaking love the guy," said offensive lineman Jason Medeiros. "He's a competitor. It doesn't matter what's going to hold him down, he's going to bounce back.
"I hope teams around the Canadian Football League understand that he's here to play and they give him a shot because he deserves it."
Quinlan, 23, signed a two-year deal with the Montreal Alouettes in May, spending time in their camp before returning to McMaster for his final year. He previously spent time in the Ticats' camp.
Quinlan, winner of the Hec Crighton Award as CIS football player of the year, did his best to try to carry his team to the promised land in his final university game. He scored on a one-yard run and then threw a 59-yard TD strike to Dahlin Brooks as the top-ranked Marauders rallied to lead 14-12 at the half.
But the second-ranked Rouge et Or took control in the third, running the ball down McMaster's throat on offence to score 25 unanswered points in the second half. Laval's defence, meanwhile, targeted Quinlan.
The fifth-year quarterback from South Woodlee, Ont., was sacked seven times and many were of the brutal variety. Laval got to him five times in the second half.
The six-foot-three 210-pound Quinlan could have been sacked more, but he made some magical escapes.
Still, he completed 25-of-40 passes for 335 yards, with two interceptions. He also led McMaster in rushing with 55 yards on seven runs. He never shied away from contact, looking to grind out every yard he could whatever the cost.
Quinlan averaged 334 yards passing per game in the playoffs going into Friday and 307 yards during the regular season.
"Kyle's one of the best players in Canada," said head coach Stefan Ptaszek. "Nothing he did tonight would make me think anything less of him. He played a whale of a game. He had no time and he was doing the best he could with what was in front of him."
"He's a winner," said linebacker Aram Eisho. "The guy's going to be successful in life. I wish him the best. He played a hell of a game, gave it all he's got."
Quinlan's back was often against the wall Friday. Thanks to Laval's special teams, McMaster's field position was ugly all night.
The loss snapped a CIS-record 21-game win streak dating back to Week 3 of the 2011 schedule. It also denied the Marauders a chance to become just the fifth team to repeat as Vanier Cup champions and the 14th CIS team to go unbeaten through a season.
"I don't think we're going to point fingers at anything other than ourselves and try to get better," said Ptaszek. "There's still a great nucleus that's coming back next years and we're not going to rationalize this with anything other than a better team beat us. We've got to get better."
McMaster is now 1-2 in Vanier Cups. And 1-1 in championship games against Laval, whom the Marauders beat 41-38 in overtime last year.