Valkyries' third title win tougher
By Don Rice, The StarPhoenix
The Saskatoon Valkries won their third straight Western Women's Canadian Football League championship with a hard-fought 27-13 victory over the Lethbridge Steel on Saturday.
The Valkyries are the only team to win the title since the league began play in 2011.
"It feels really good (to three-peat)," said Valkyries' head coach Jeff Yausie, reached by phone following the game. "It was a great football game and I'm just really excited - a relief almost."
The weather proved to be a major factor with winds gusting to 50 km/h. Intermittent rain turned into a downpour in the fourth quarter at the game played at Mosaic Stadium in Regina.
The teams combined to score 33 of the 40 points while playing with the wind.
"The wind and the rain together made it tough," Valkyries quarterback Candace Bloomquist said. "But that's when you've got to really buckle down and execute and focus in on what you have to do - every person playing for each other."
Benefiting from the wind in the first quarter, the Valkyries took a 14-0 lead on a four-yard Julene Friesen rushing major, and a four-yard Marci Kiselyk TD catch on a Bloomquist pass. Rienna Rueve converted both scores.
Two defensive stands deep in their own territory in the first half ensured the Valkyries held the lead. The Valkyries stopped a third-down gamble on their own 15-yard line and later snuffed a Steel third-and-goal gamble from the one-yard line.
"They get that score and it would have been a tighter game at the half and they get more confidence" Yausie said. "That was a really important (stop) in the first half."
Saskatoon led 14-3 at halftime after giving up a safety and a punt single.
"It was a pretty tight game at the half," Yausie said. "(After halftime) we came out offensively and really drove the ball. We controlled the ball a lot - probably for almost 10 of those 15 minutes of that third quarter against the wind."
The Valkyries held the Steel to a 25-yard field goal by U of S student Carly Dyck in the third and kept a 14-6 lead headed to the fourth.
Two Rueve field goals put the Valkyries up by 14 midway through the final quarter. Kiselyk sealed the win with a 20-yard TD reception from Bloomquist with 3: 15 to play.
Lethbridge quarterback Becky Heninger, who was named her team's offensive player of the game, added a touchdown on a 23-yard run with 16 seconds left.
The championship was a rematch of last year's title game when the Valkyries laid a 64-21 pummelling on the Steel. The much tighter game this year showed just how far the Steel have come.
"I think anybody that watched our game here today would probably feel (that we've closed the gap with Saskatoon)," Lethbridge head coach Jamie Fisher said. "Saskatoon's a fantastic football team, but we feel we belong in that same conversation."
Julie Paetsch, playing just her second game of the season after rehabbing a knee injury, was named the Valkyrie defensive player of the game. Friesen led the Valkyries running game with 204 yards on 27 carries but Bloomquist took the offensive player of the game award going nine for 13 passing for 110 yards.
"It always feels good (to win) at the end of a tough season like this season was," said Bloomquist, who has led the Valkyries to an overall 18-1 record and the three WWCFL championships.