Pretty damn proud
Regina Thunder make history with an upset over defending champions Saskatoon Hilltops
Article: Paige Kreutzwieser – Staff Writer
It’s official – the Regina Thunder stopped the four-peat.
In the Prairie Football Conference (PFC) Championship, Regina’s junior football team upset the three-year defending champions Saskatoon Hilltops in a 21-16 win on Oct. 27.
Head coach Scott MacAulay was positive going into the game.
“The last time we played the Hilltops was in Saskatoon and we were able to beat them,” said MacAulay, stating that the only loss the Hilltops had throughout the season was from the Regina squad. “It’s definitely going to give us a little more confidence going into the game, that [Saskatoon] can be beaten.”
In his first year as head coach, MacAulay was confident with the team this season.
“We’ve got 77 great guys in the locker room and they all seem to be backing each other up, on and off the field,” he said.
MacAulay stated it was an easy transition going from special-teams co-ordinator and linebackers coach to the head coaching position, stating the Thunder organization laid down the ground work for him coming in.
“They allowed me to take it from where [previous head coach Erwin Klempner] had left it, and build on past successes and stay the course,” MacAulay added.
However, MacAulay did want to see a couple changes.
“We had to make sure we tidied things up a little bit as well,” he said. “The biggest thing I’ve seen the team improve on this year is that we are a lot more united, talking about accountability both on and off the field and taking ownership and trying to make the team a better team.”
And better they are.
The Thunder’s record was 5-2-1 going into the playoffs, improving from their 4-4 record in 2012.
The junior team also boasted five PFC All Stars this year – all which are current U of R students: defensive back Chris Tunnicliffe, receivers Mitch Thompson and Will Heward, offensive lineman Max Ziegler, and quarterback Asher Hastings.
[pullquote]“The biggest thing I’ve seen the team improve on this year is that we are a lot more united, talking about accountability both on and off the field and taking ownership and trying to make the team a better team.”[/pullquote]
Hastings was also named Most Valuable Player for the PFC, sharing the award with quarterback Ryan Marsch of the Winnipeg Rifles.
“[Hastings] is tall, he’s got a really strong arm and he understands the game of football,” said MacAulay of his starting QB. “But, I think the biggest asset with him is he’s a true leader and the guys look up to him.”
Tunnicliffe was the only defensive player to clinch an all- star spot but “it doesn’t portray our defense the way it really is,” stated MacAulay. “There should easily be two or three other guys that should have been all stars on the defensive side and maybe our guys can use that as a little bit of energy or motivation for the upcoming game.”
The defence proved themselves in the championship game, holding the Hilltops to a total of 15 first downs and 213 passing yards.
Hastings was able to connect with 25 of his 37 passes dominating over the Hilltops 13 for 32.
Heward topped both teams with 167 receiving yards, and Thunder running back Nick Brown went for 108-yards rushing, with Jared Andreychuck of the Hilltops coming in second with 64 yards.
MacAulay joked that the reason many players chose playing junior football over university ball is likely because of the “good coaching.” However, as a Thunder alumni himself, MacAulay knows that the opportunity to play in the PFC is a great place to grow as a player.
“It’s an opportunity to get bigger, faster, stronger and more experience playing at a high level,” he said. “It also gives them an opportunity to figure out what they want to do in life.”
The boys should be happy with the decision to play junior football. They now have Regina’s first PFC title under their belts, and will be heading to the national championship.
They will be taking on the Vancouver Island Raiders in Regina on Nov. 9 for the Canadian Bowl.