It’s a program that’s won four Grey Cup championships, two Vanier Cup titles and 25 Yates Cup crowns and is steeped in tradition over its 130-year existence.But now, the University of Toronto Blues own one of the most dubious of Canadian university football records.
Randy McAuley scored two touchdowns as the Western Mustangs throttled Toronto 44-1 on Saturday before 5,350 spectators at TD Waterhouse Stadium, handing the Blues their CIS-record 48th consecutive loss.
“I’m disappointed with the outcome of the game, the record isn’t an issue,” said Blues coach Steve Howlett. “I don’t like the score, I don’t like how we performed and most importantly I don’t like the fact that we really came unglued.”
The Blues were penalized 18 times for 191 yards — one which forced a Kris Newman touchdown to be called back in the first half — and committed four turnovers in eclipsing the mark for futility previously held by the York Lions (1988-’95).
“We had some big plays on both sides of the ball that came back because of penalties,” Howlett said. “Without the penalties it’s a competitive game.
“They [penalties] take away your heart.”
Toronto’s last victory was a come-from-behind 13-11 decision over the Windsor Lancers during the 2001 season that halted a 18-game losing streak.
U of T (0-7) last had a winning record in 1995 when it posted a 4-3-1 mark. As bad as the Blues’ losing streak is, it pales in comparison to the NCAA record for consecutive defeats, which is 80 set by Prairie View A&M (1989-’98).
“We’re not proud, obviously, of our record,” said Liz Hoffman, the school’s director of athletics and recreation. “But we’re proud of our team.”
Michael Faulds and Nick Kordic had Western’s other touchdowns. Derek Schiavone booted the converts and four field goals. The other points came on two safeties.
Mark Stinson’s single accounted for Toronto’s scoring.
Western (3-4) took control of the game, surging to an 18-0 half-time lead.
McAuley scored on a five-yard run at 6:58 of the first and had a one-yard TD run on the last play of the half, but it was nullified by a penalty. That forced the Mustangs to settle for Schiavone’s 15-yard field goal.
Toronto was its own worst enemy in the first half with 10 penalties for 89 yards. One of those resulted in a Kris Newman touchdown being called back.
Toronto’s offensive woes continued to start the second half as Faulds scored on a eight-yard run just 1:40 into the third after Western recovered a fumble. The Mustangs intercepted David Hamilton on the Blues’ next possession, returning it to the Toronto six-yard line.
Two plays later, McAuley ran in from the five-yard line to give the Mustangs a 32-0 advantage before Kordic returned an interception 88 yards for the TD at 9:49.
Stinson broke Western’s shutout bid with a 65-yard single at 6:10 of the fourth.
Toronto will finish its season next weekend against Queen’s. Western takes on Waterloo with the winner capturing the sixth and final OUA playoff spot.
Howlett, in his fifth season at his alma mater, is still searching for his first victory as a CIS head coach. That’s hardly a ringing endorsement for a coach in the final year of his contract, however Howlett’s not about to dwell on things, be it his club’s losing streak or his precarious future.
“I don’t like dealing with a loss and I didn’t like it last week either,” he said. “But I’m tough and by [Sunday] morning once we watch the film and correct it, I’ll be ready to move on and prepare for Queen’s.
“I’m not the only guy who is tough. These guys [Blues players] are tough, too, and will do the same as me. We will come together and start working on the next week.”
Toronto’s struggles, though, date back before Howlett’s arrival as the Blues are just 4-83 since 1997.
However, Western coach Greg Marshall said he sees definite improvement in the Blues program. Back in 2003 when Marshall was coaching at McMaster, the Marauders earned an 80-0 victory over Toronto.
“In my last year at McMaster [in 2003], they weren’t competitive but they’re competing now,” said Marshall, who spent three years coaching the CFL’s Hamilton Tiger-Cats before returning to Western last season. “They’re making progress.
“It’s not as fast as everyone would like but they have a new stadium, a very good coach and an athletic director who believes in the football team. The thing right now is they have to overcome that losing, and I’ve been there where you’re competitive in every game and yet you’re not getting any wins, you’re finding ways to lose.
“Once you get over that, things will happen. They just have to put together another good recruiting class this year and that’s how you win.”
Newman (who ran for 64 yards on 15 carries) and backup quarterback Andrew Gillis, who showed very good athleticism in the second half, seem to back up Marshall’s statement. Both are first-year students at U of T and have definite future promise.
There’s little doubt the Blues’ new home — the impressive 5,000-seat Varsity Centre with its new artificial turf that can be domed for winter use — will help the school in its quest to attract better players. However, many recruits will immediately look at the program’s penchant for losing, a challenge Howlett readily acknowledges.
“We’ve got some great, young kids this year and they’re going to be the building blocks of the next part of our future,” Howlett said. “It’s not about the past, it’s about the future.
“I know some kids will look at that [record] somewhat and it’s up to us to try and convince them otherwise.”
– The Canadian Press