Monday, 1 August 2016

Saskatchewan hammers home gold medal win

Matheson turns the tide in Canadian women’s football final

Samantha Matheson charges up field for Team Saskatchewan.
    REGINA - Just when it appeared Team Saskatchewan was in a rocky place, running back Samantha Matheson restored order.
    During the gold medal game of Football Canada’s inaugural Senior Women’s National Championship tournament on Sunday at Mosaic Stadium, Saskatchewan stormed out to 24-0 lead over Team Quebec late in the second quarter, but Quebec pulled to within 24-15 as the third quarter expired. As Quebec rallied, players on the Saskatchewan side started to show visible nerves.
    Early in the fourth quarter, Saskatchewan was pinned at its own 10-yardline for a second-and-six play, and Quebec was looking to get the ball back to drive a short field.
    Matheson stepped up and ripped off a 55-yard run off the right tackle and down the right sideline to turn the momentum back in Saskatchewan’s favour. That turned out to be the key play in a 104-yard scoring drive that was capped with a 17-yard touchdown run by Saskatchewan running back Carmen Agar, who put the host side up 31-15 with 9:59 to play. Saskatchewan captured gold holding on for a 34-22 victory.
    “It felt absolutely amazing,” said Matheson, “Quebec was really, really good.
    “We watched their first game, and they have some really great players. We were just so amazed at how we played and how we did against them.”
Team Saskatchewan celebrates a Samantha Matheson TD.
    Matheson was named Saskatchewan’s game MVP after piling up 197 yards rushing and one touchdown on 16 carries. She also scored another touchdown on a one-yard catch. The 21-year-old Saskatoon product, who plays for the Saskatoon Valkyries, was also named the event’s offensive MVP.
    Still, the highlight for Matheson was her long game-changing run in the gold medal contest, where she was eventually run down by Quebec defender Laurence Pontbriand.
    “That was fun,” said Matheson. “I don’t know what else to say to that.
    “It felt good to get out there. That girl, I could feel her coming from behind me.  I knew that she was going to catch me, so I just dropped the shoulder and hoped that I could hurt her a little bit as much as she would hurt me.”
    Sunday’s gold medal game provided an intriguing contest. Saskatchewan’s 36-player roster contained 18 members from the Valkyries, who won the Western Women’s Canadian Football League championship game in late June, and 18 members of the Regina Riot, who took last year’s WWCFL title. Both the Valkyries and Riot typically steamroll the rest of the opposition in the WWCFL. The only games where they experience big momentum swings are when they play each other.
    In a semifinal game on Thursday, Saskatchewan crushed New Brunswick 58-0.
    Quebec’s team was made up entirely of members from the powerhouse Montreal Blitz club team that plays out of the Independent Women’s Football League based out of the United States. They came into nationals after posting a 6-2 regular season record in the IWFL. In the other semifinal on Thursday, Quebec downed Alberta 54-31.
Samantha Matheson twists her way out of trouble.
    Matheson said the Saskatchewan side was really looking to see how they stacked up against Quebec. The only other meeting between two sides on a national level came back at the 2012 Challenge Cup in Laval, Que., when Quebec posted a 17-10 victory in a mini game.
    “It is always great to see new opponents, like get some new competition out there,” said Matheson. “Everyone on Team (Saskatchewan) is either from Saskatoon or Regina, so we are used to playing against each other, and we are each other’s toughest competition.
    “It is definitely nice to play another team that is just as good as both our teams.”
    The gritty power back was pleased to see her side responded when Quebec made its rally and things got tight.
    “It was a little bit stressful,” said Matheson. “We definitely had a few moments where we let our guard down, and that kind of hurt us a little bit.
    “We are a strong team, and we held our own, and we came back and it was great.”
    Despite a spectacular performance in the gold medal game, Matheson did have one big rough moment. On Saskatchewan’s ensuing series after going up 31-15, she got her legs twisted up in a multiplayer collision on a short run, and the gritty back gave out a big scream. She suffered a right knee injury and had to be helped off the field.
    Matheson overcame a serious injury to her left knee in the past, so initially, she was optimistic the injury to her right knee wouldn’t be that bad. As nationals were used to start the identification process to select Canada’s women’s team for next year’s International Federation of American Football Women’s World Championship, Matheson just hopes her injury won’t keep her out of any tryouts for the Canadian team. The dates and host for the 2017 Women’s World Championship has yet to be announced.
Samantha Matheson powers her way out of a tackle for Team Saskatchewan.
    “I don’t really know what is up with my knee right now,” said Matheson. “We still have to look at it.
    “Right now, it is just a bit swollen and tender, so I think it will be OK hopefully in time for Team Canada tryouts, and for next season for sure it will be great I am sure of it.”
    Matheson sparked Saskatchewan out to 15-0 first quarter lead scoring a major on a 35-yard run and catching one-yard pass from quarterback Aimee Kowalski. Between those two scores, Saskatchewan kicker Carly Dyck recorded a rouge off a kickoff.
    Early in the second quarter, Kowalski hit Dyck down the right sideline on a deep throw for 79-yard touchdown strike. Dyck outjumped a defender for a high juggling grab and promptly sprinted for a score after securing the catch.
    Quebec conceded a safety to put Saskatchewan up 24-0, but the host side ended up conceding a safety of its own right before halftime to make the score 24-2.
    Quebec’s 21-year-old quarterback Maude Lacasse came out with a hot hand in the second half firing three touchdown passes. She hit Annabelle Chevrier on a 19-yard strike, Rose-Amelie Brunet on a 12-yard toss and Virginie Roussel on a 35-yard scoring strike.
    Lacasse finished the contest completing 25-of-40 passes for 359 yards, while only throwing one interception. She also picked up a rouge from a 62-yard punt single.
Samantha Matheson shakes hands post-game with the Quebec players.
    Chevrier led all Quebec receivers with six catches for 107 yards. Quebec was limited to 46 yards rushing as a team.
    Agar, who is a five-year veteran with the Riot, complimented Matheson as the other half of a dynamic duo in the Saskatchewan backfield. Agar piled up 137 yards rushing on 20 carries. Kowalski was limited to 88 yards passing completing 3-of-11 throws, while being intercepted twice. Dyck booted a 15-yard field goal for Saskatchewan.
    Matheson relished the chance to play alongside players from the Riot.
    “I love every single one of them,” said Matheson. “There is the rivalry of course when we are playing against each other in the WWCFL. When we all get together as a team, we just come together and mesh so well. It is awesome.
    “Carmen (Agar) my other running back partner, I love her. It was great me and her together.”
    Roussel was named the event’s defensive MVP. Alberta downed New Brunswick in Sunday’s bronze medal game 30-12.

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