Jolicoeur attack

WWC 2013:  Canada defeats valiant Finland squad in semi-final of IFAF Women’s Worlds

Facing a 12-6 deficit at halftime, Canada mounted a comeback against a very ambitious squad from Finland. Of interest, Finnish running back (and three-piece band member) Ana Ruotsalainen sang the national anthem Maamme-laulun.



On their opening drive, Finland scored a touchdown for the early lead. The key play of the drive was a 25-yard pass from Tiina Salo to Kirsti Nirhamo that placed Finland in the red zone. Elina Seppala had a three-yard run in a drive that consumed two minutes and 45 seconds. Seppala tried to rush for the two-point conversion but fumbled on the play.

With 1:36 remaining in the first quarter, quarterback Saadia Ashraf of the Montreal Blitz hooked up with Saskatoon Valkyries receiver Marci Kiselyk for Canada’s first score of the game.  On the drive, she would make three complete passes, as Finland’s pass defense struggled. Stephanie Roy tried to run the ball in for the two-point conversion but was stopped.

As the score was tied 6-6, heading into the second quarter, both sides were looking for an advantage. On the first drive of the quarter, Canada had control of the ball but Ashraf was sacked by Laura Tennberg.

Finland endured their own struggles on their first drive of the quarter. Canadian linebacker Emilie P. Belanger forced a fumble on running back Jenni Linden. Her fumble was symbolic of a second quarter which was a defensive stalemate, as both offenses endured struggles.

Desite the setbacks, Finland would manage to generate some efficiency on offense near the end of the quarter. Salo would complete a 16-yard pass to Sari Kuosmanen as the Finns would make three consecutive first downs.

The most impressive was a 33-yard run by Salo in which she was pushed out of bounds by Canada’s Pauline Olynik. With a balanced rushing attack, Finland was back in the red zone. Having called a timeout, Finland employed great strategy and it paid off with a touchdown.

Kirsti Nirhamo (who wears number one for the Finns) had a two-yard touchdown run with 1:03 remaining.. Like in the first quarter, Seppala attempted to rush for the two-point conversion, but was unable to add to Finland’s lead.

Heading into the third quarter, Canada made a change at the quarterback position. Aimee Kowalski, the starting quarterback for the Regina Riot of the WWCFL was now taking snaps behind centre. Pulling double duty as the punter, Kowalski had the task of giving Canada the chance to mount a comeback.

After a series of punts by both teams, Canada got back onto the scoreboard. Relying on the running game, Canada pulled off four consecutive running plays. With 6:28 left in the third quarter, Kowalski scored a touchdown on the quarterback sneak. The conversion by Lara Guscott was good as Canada jumped out to a 13-12 lead.

Looking to regain the lead, Finland tested Canada’s defense on their next possession. Salo surprised Canada by rushing the ball for 23 yards. Linden would follow with an 11-yard run for the second consecutive first down. Despite their best efforts, Belanger would make a crucial tackle that changed the momentum. With Salo looking to run again, she was tackled by Belanger for a seven-yard loss. Afterwards, Emma Hicks (the only woman to have played in both the MWFL and the WWCFL) tackled Seppala on fourth down as Canada regained the ball.

With the momentum swinging in their favour, Canada was working towards adding to their lead. Facing a crucial third down on their own 25 yard-line, Kowalski showed why she is one of the finest field generals in the WWCFL. Alia Palmer, a receiver with the Montreal Blitz caught a 55-yard pass which not only gave Canada the first down, but placed them in scoring position.

With Canada in the red zone, Lya Jolicoeur made a five-yard run for another touchdown. The drive would prove to be the longest of the game for Canada. On seven plays, Canada marched 75 yards across the field, while consuming three minutes and 20 seconds.

Enjoying a 20-12 advantage, Canada extended the lead in the fourth quarter. Kowalski would complete two passes which earned Canada first downs. The first was a 14-yard completion to Alex Black, which put Canada in Finland’s territory. A 31-yard completion to Roxanna Cox brought Canada back into the red zone.

Two runs by Jolicoeur (whose club team is the Dragons de Beauce-Appalaches) would penetrate through the Finnish defense. She would log her second touchdown of the game as she continued to be the story for Canada. Her second touchdown (and the conversion by Guscott) provided Canada with the 27-12 lead.

Having watched their lead evaporated, Finland was dejected. On their next possession, Finland had a turnover on their first play. Salo was intercepted by Amy Mohr, who ran the ball back 13 yards.

Julie David, who was Canada’s Most Valuable Player in their win against Spain, closed out the scoring for Canada. As there was only 4:34 remaining on the clock, David had a one-yard run for the touchdown.

With a 34-12 deficit, Finland valiantly tried to mount a comeback. Salo had a 15-yard run, followed by a 19-yard completion to Linden. On the next play, Salo was intercepted by two-sport star Julie Paetsch (also an accomplished ice hockey player) and she returned the ball 31 yards before being tackled by Nirhamo and Janina Virtanen.

Having preserved their lead, Canada will return to the gold medal game for the second time in the history of the event. Running back Lya Jolicoeur was named the Most Valuable Player of the Game for Canada. Finnish quarterback Tiina Salo earned the nod for her team. Finland will now face Germany in the match for the bronze medal game. Canada will move to face the United States in the gold medal game. Of note, the US defeated Germany by a 107-7 score in their semi-final match.

Photo Credit:  Sami Ranta

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