Sunday, 11 June 2017

Kuster steps into spotlight in Riot’s WWCFL title win

Payton Kuster (#22) celebrates her second punt return touchdown.
    Payton Kuster had her finest hour to help bring a second Western Women’s Canadian Football League championship to the Regina Riot.
    The sophomore kick returner/defensive back ran back two punts for touchdowns and hauled in two interceptions on defence to help the Riot blank the Calgary Rage 53-0 in the WWCFL championship game on Saturday night at Saskatoon Minor Football Field in Saskatoon. 
    She was also named the game’s MVP for the Riot in the runaway win, which marked the second time Regina claimed the league title in three years.
    Kuster wasn’t part of the Riot’s first championship back in 2015, so she was pretty perky happy about playing in Saturday’s championship victory.
Payton Kuster returns a punt for a score.
    “Our whole team each and every one of us we’ve worked so hard,” said Kuster. “This is what we talked about since the beginning of the season of achieving.
    “It is what we have been putting in all our hours on the field and training for. It is just so wonderful to have it pay off.”
    Being the game MVP added a nice little bonus to the whole night.
    “I’m speechless. I’m at a loss for words,” said Kuster. “I’m so thankful for this team and all the girls that have worked hard.
    “We did it. It is incredible.”
    Kuster had her big day on a night when the Riot won feasting off Rage errors. The Riot only put up 106 yards of net offence in the romp.
    Kuster actually outgained her offensive team returning three punts for 133 yards. That included her 67 yard punt return for a touchdown and her 54 yard return for a score.
    The Rage turned the ball over 10 times, while the Riot gave the ball away twice. That ultimately played a huge part producing the final outcome of the contest.
    Regina got its first touchdown to go up 7-0 just 1:40 into the first quarter on a one-play drive, where veteran star quarterback Aimee Kowalski hit rookie receiver Jennilea Coppola with a four-yard TD strike. That possession was set up by a bad Rage snap on a punt, which allowed the Riot to get the ball on the Calgary four.
Aimee Kowalski (#12) throws one of her four TD passes for the Riot.
    A short time later, Riot running back Carmen Agar ran the ball in from 10 yards out to put Regina up 14-0. That drive was set up, when the Rage fumbled away a punt return allowing the Riot to take the ball on the Calgary 10.
    The Rage fumbled the ball away on their next offensive possession allowing the Riot to start a dive on the Calgary 20. Kowalski hit rookie receiver Jenna Koller for a 20-yard touchdown strike to put Regina up 21-0.
    Things kept snowballing from there.
    On the next Rage possession, they had another bad snap on a punt to allow the Riot to take possession on the Calgary eight. Kowalski connected with veteran receiver Rachelle Smith for an eight-yard touchdown throw.
Jennilea Coppola had two TD catches in the Riot’s win.
    Regina made a two-point convert on a fake extra point, where running back Mallory Starkey connected with offensive lineman Angie Douville on a five-yard toss to make the score 29-0 in the Riot’s favour.
    Regina scored again before the first quarter ended. After the Rage failed to convert a third down gamble, the Riot put together a short 32-yard touchdown drive, where Kowalski hit Coppola on a 12-yard strike to allow Regina to lead 36-0.
    Kuster was surprised to see how that first quarter transpired.
    “It is crazy how it happened so high paced,” said Kuster. “At the end of the day, we’ve prepared for those situations, and we capitalized on them.
    “Everyone played their fullest. Everyone did their job perfectly. It was amazing.”
    When the second quarter started, she ran home her two punt return scores down the right sideline to put the Riot up 50-0.
    “I had 11 girls blocking for me,” said Kuster. “They opened up huge holes.
    “It was perfect. It feels unreal.”
    Kowalski was pulled from the game with the 8:23 to play in the second quarter and the Riot holding a 50-0 lead. She completed 6-of-7 passes for 53 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions.
Riot DB Emilie Belanger (#27) helps sack Rage QB Becky Heninger.
    The Rage conceded a safety touch before the first half ended to give the Riot a 52-0 lead. Regina’s final score came from a 35 yard punt single from kicker Morgan Turner late in the fourth quarter to make the final outcome 53-0.
    The Riot finished the campaign with a 6-1 overall record, and Saturday’s game marked the fourth shutout victory of the season for the team. The Rage, who finish with a 4-1 overall mark, were only able to put up 18 yards of net offence.
    Linebacker Courtney Dawson was named the game MVP for the Rage.
    Riot defensive lineman Chantal Vogel had five solo tackles and two sacks in her team’s victory.
    Star Riot linebacker Adrienne Zuck had five total solo tackles, a fumble recovery and shared a sack with defensive back Emilie Belanger in the win. Zuck said her team had a season on defence where everything came together.
    “I think that we have a good coaching staff,” said Zuck. “We have a lot of veteran players as well.
Riot defensive end Aly Bell takes down a Rage ball carrier.
    “A lot of our new players are just good athletes, quick learners and smart people. We really try to push hard work and playing to the end even at practice. It pays off obviously.”
    After being part of the Riot’s 2015 WWCFL championship team, Zuck returned to the Riot after taking 2016 off. She enjoyed being part of the second championship win.
    “It feels good to come back and just see the team continue to grow and get better and being a part of it and watching these new people to get a chance to play as well,” said Zuck. “It is great.”
    As far as the Riot’s overall success was concerned in 2017, Zuck credited first-year head coach Olivier Eddie, who had been the team’s offensive coordinator previously, for focusing on bringing everyone together as a team.
The Riot are all smiles after their WWCFL championship win.
    “I think everybody bought into it and everybody believed that and that is what I think made us such a good unit as a whole team,” said Zuck. “We are family.
    “We believe in family. We believe in what our message is. Our success has shown that.”
    In the WWCFL consolation final that was played right before the Riot’s win, the Saskatoon Valkyries downed the Edmonton Storm 44-20.

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