Regina's Mosaic Stadium set the background for the epic 2013 Western Women’s Canadian Football League title game on Saturday night. Both teams were looking to make history, as the Saskatoon Valkyries were aiming to become the first franchise to win three straight league titles.
Led by quarterback Becky Heninger, the Lethbridge Steel were looking to emerge as the first Alberta-based franchise to capture the title. With only 26 players on their roster (compared to 50 for Saskatoon), the Steel are a hard working team. During the 2013 WWCFL regular season, they enjoyed an undefeated record, outscoring opponents by an astounding 195-6 margin.
As this was the first time that two franchises played each other in the title game for the second consecutive year (Saskatoon beat Lethbridge in 2012 by a 64-21 score), the familiarity resulted in a defensive stalemate early on. Compared to the 2013 Prairie Conference title game (where Saskatoon logged 41 points in the first half), the Valkyries were not going to dominate their opponents from Lethbridge.
With 6:28 remaining in the first period, the Valkyries drew first blood as Julene Friesen rushed for a touchdown. Rienna Rueve got the conversion for the 7-0 lead. Undeterred, Lethbridge fought back. Heninger (the 2012 Team MVP for the Steel) picked apart the Valkyries defense, marching the ball into Saskatoon territory. Despite their best efforts, Lethbridge had a failed fourth down conversion at Saskatoon’s 15-yard line and turned the ball over.
The fourth-down stoppage built great momentum for Saskatoon. Marci Kiselyk (who is also competing for the 2013 Canadian National Women’s Football Team) extended the Valkyries' lead. She caught a four yard pass from Valkyries quarterback Candace Bloomquist as the first quarter ended with Lethbridge facing a 14-0 deficit. During the regular season, Kiselyk led all Valkyries players with four touchdown receptions.
Despite the lead, Lethbridge quickly found the momentum going in their favor. The Valkyries fumbled the kickoff, and the Steel recovered the ball. Despite Lethbridge's best efforts, Saskatoon’s defense was determined to protect its lead. The Steel were unable to record points, as the score remained 14-0.
Eventually, Lethbridge would get on the scoreboard, as Saskatoon conceded a safety due to poor field position. Saskatoon’s defense would remain the story in the first half, as Lethbridge found itself frustrated on offense.
On their next possession, the Steel were stymied on a third and goal situation. The result was a punt through the end zone would result in Lethbridge earning its third point of the game. Missed opportunities on offense added pressure to a stingy Steel defense.
After halftime, Lethbridge tried to turn the tide in its favor. With the wind at their backs, Steel kicker Carly Dyck scored a field goal with 12:06 remaining on the clock. As Saskatoon’s lead shrunk to a 14-6 margin, the Steel defense continued to play tough. Unable to score a touchdown on its offensive possessions in the third quarter, Rueve kicked a field goal to add to the lead.
Facing a 17-6 setback at the beginning of the fourth quarter, the Steel still had an opportunity to win the game. Unfortunately, the skies opened, and the elements foiled their plans. Competing in rain-soaked conditions; the Steel continued to endure struggles on offense.
Another Valkyries field goal started to put the game out of reach for a dejected Steel squad. While the Steel defense played valiantly throughout the game, the Valkyries offense started to solve their opponent’s defense. With 3:23 remaining in the fourth quarter, a touchdown made the score 27-6.
As the minutes faded from the clock, Lethbridge began to mount an assault on offense. Becky Heninger (who would be named the Player of the Game for the Steel) registered the first touchdown of the game for the Steel. On a 23-yard run, Heninger reduced Saskatoon’s lead, but it was simply too late to come back and win. Having scored with 16 seconds remaining, the Steel did not have enough time to erase the 14-point deficit.
With the 27-13 victory, the Saskatoon Valkyries have established themselves as the first dynasty in WWCFL history by virtue of winning three straight championships. Friesen would log 27 carries and 204 rushing yards as ball control was the key to victory. Julie Paetsch, playing in only her second game of the season, was named Saskatoon’s Defensive Player of the Game.
Saskatoon’s Offensive Player of the Game, Candace Bloomquist became the first WWCFL quarterback to win three consecutive league titles, establishing herself as the finest field general in the league’s nascent history. In the game, she completed nine of 13 passes for 110 yards and a touchdown pass.
As the focus now changes to the 2013 IFAF Women’s World Championship, the nine Valkyries named to Team Canada are eager to add a gold medal to their WWCFL championship. There is no question that Kiselyk, Julie David, Beth Thompson (offensive line), Jessie Buydens, Kendra Wilson, Darla Lee-Walde, Carisa Polischuk, Beth Thomson (linebacker) and Jamie Lammerding will bring great momentum with them on the Canadian contingent.