Regina Riot add to Saskatchewan gridiron legacy with second WWCFL championship

Capturing their second Western Women’s Canadian Football League championship in team history, the Regina Riot are part of a shared dynasty with the Saskatoon Valkyries. As these clubs hold a vice-like grip on the first seven championships in league history, their place in league lore is secure.

The road to the championship involved the Riot making history twice. During the regular season, the Riot shutout the Valkyries in their first match-up of the season. Although the Riot were the only team prior to this season to have ever beaten the Valkyries, no team had ever done so via shutout.

With the Prairie Conference championship game taking place at Mosaic Stadium, home of the iconic Saskatchewan Roughriders, the 34-24 victory by the Riot was only part of a bigger story. Of note, the Riot and visiting Saskatoon Valkyries were participating in the final football game ever to be played at Mosaic. Considering that the venue has served as the backdrop for the Grey Cup and the home field for some of the most loyal fans in CFL history, the fact that a female football contest would serve as the final chapter truly signified how far the game has come, reaching cultural relevance in the province.

Taking on the Calgary Rage in the championship game, each team was ambitiously ready to stake its claim, with the football hotbed of Saskatoon serving as host city. Victory for the Riot would result in becoming only the second team in league history to capture the title twice. Meanwhile, the Rage, who entered the game with their first-ever Western Conference crown, were hoping to become the first team from Alberta to reach championship status.

On this day, it was the Riot who made a stunning statement. In spite of cold and damp weather conditions, this remarkable group prevailed against Calgary in a convincing 53-0 final, shutting out every team that they played this season at least once. With their second championship in three seasons (the first came in 2015), the Riot held a commanding 36-0 lead after the first quarter, placing the game out of reach rather quickly.

From the opening kickoff this season, head coach Olivier Eddie set the tone with the mantra, “Hard Work Wins.” With each succeeding week, the coach would distribute a Hard Work Wins Helmet to a deserving player. Considering that the Helmet was also signed by a handful of the team’s longest serving members, it only helped to positively reinforce a message that would serve as its defining theme in such a memorable season, one that each player proudly bought into with a positive attitude.

Etching her name in championship game history is second-year player Payton Kuster, who provided two punt-returns for touchdowns, along with a pair of interceptions, decimating the Rage’s title hopes. Even before the opening kick-off, there was a sense that the day belonged to Kuster. With Claire Dore announcing her retirement prior to the game, she led the team out onto the field for introductions. Behind her, Kuster and Hope Jordens carried the team’s two flags, signifying an emotional transition towards a new era of Riot football heroes.

With the number 22 adorning her jersey, Kuster, whose athletic background involves the rugby pitch, reinvented herself for the 2017 season. Having played on offense for Regina as a rookie in 2016, Kuster made the transition to defense in 2017, shining the brightest when it mattered most. Recognized as the Riot’s Most Valuable Player in the Final, it was a fitting end to a breakthrough season.

Among the Riot’s younger players, Kuster was not the only notable competitor on the field. Jennilea Coppola, a rookie wide receiver who is one of the team’s tallest players, was noticed by quarterback Aimee Kowalski, recording two touchdown receptions, including the first of the game.

Kowalksi, a charter member of the Riot, will likely be Canada’s starting signal caller at the 2017 IFAF Women’s World Championships later this summer. Fellow Team Canada selection Carmen Agar ran for daylight twice, while Kowalski assembled another fantastic performance in her growing legend. Finishing her day with four touchdown passes, also finding Jenna Koller and Rachelle Smith, it only adds to her legacy as one of the greatest field generals in WWCFL history.

Defensively, there was also a significant Team Canada influence for the Riot. Adrienne Zuck, one of four players from the Riot’s defensive unit suiting up for Team Canada, recorded a quarterback sack, while Emilie Belanger, a veteran of the Montreal Blitz, enjoyed her first WWCFL championship, also managing a sack on a day of dominance.

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