Regina Thunder become National Champions
Article: Paige Kreutzwieser – Staff Writer
The Thunder rolled on Nov. 9, when Regina’s Junior Football Club clinched their first ever Canadian Junior Football League national championship.
With a score of 55-26, the Regina Thunder were able to defeat the Vancouver Island Raiders in some of the coldest weather thus far experienced.
“Just really happy, proud and happy, for our guys and going through all the highs and lows to get where we want to be it is a big deal,” said head coach Scott MacAulay after the big victory at the Prairie Football Conference Championships over the Saskatoon Hilltops. “I’m just proud of them for doing what they said they wanted to do.”
Going into the Canadian Bowl, MacAulay said that they had to not worry about the Raiders and just focus on their own team.
Even though they had never played the West Coast team before, MacAulay said he was curious about how they would match up.
He knows exactly how they match up now.
Asher Hasting, fourth-year quarterback for the Thunder and third-year Justice Studies student at the University of Regina, said that watching film made him a little anxious.
“After watching them dominate on film and totally beat the crap out of every BCFC team by the time game-time came along I was a little nervous thinking ‘these guys are pretty good’,” he said.
Teammate Brady Keller, fourth-year receiver and a second-year history major at the U of R, said that film made him a little nervous as well but that “it became a more so ‘let’s do this’ kind of thing.”
One player on the Thunder roster was actually fairly familiar with the V.I. team. Mitch Thompson, third-year receiver and current physics major at the U of R, moved away from his hometown of Regina and out to the West Coast, where he played his first year of Junior football for the Raiders.
But, it’s all in the family for Thompson, because his brother, Alex, is on the current Raiders’ roster. His parents were able to live the dream by watching both their boys play against each other in a championship game in their hometown.
Playing in front of family and friends was a huge advantage to the team. A crowd of around 5,000 strong came out and braved the cold weather to support the team. Even U of R quarterback Cayman Shutter bore the cold to watch his cousins (the Thompson boys) play.
“It was pretty cold sitting in the stands,” admitted Shutter, but Thompson said playing in it wasn’t that bad at all.
At half time, Keller joked that he remembered his hands were really cold, but agreed with Thompson that when you were out there running, you weren’t really thinking about it.
But cold was definitely to the advantage of the Thunder. Keller said one of the Raiders actually went up to a Thunder player before the game and asked, “How do you play in this stuff?” So, while the West Coast boys were trying to figure out how to keep warm, the Thunder already had two weeks of cold practices under their belts.
During the game, Hastings said there was lots of high energy throughout the team.
“Lots of guys on defence were yelling in the locker room all those cliché things to make sure we kept the pedal down,” said the quarterback.
Thompson said MacAulay had them prepared well for the V.I. opponents, warning them to not let their confidence get the Thunder off their game.
“At half, we weren’t up too much and if we let up, they could come back,” Thompson said. “Because they do have a good team, even though we beat them pretty bad.”
Keller scored the first touchdown of the game. His opponent had been trash talking him for the first two drives and so Keller responded with a couple words.
“But, after I scored on him, he didn’t say anything else,” he said. “So, that was nice.”
The touchdown itself was the kind of thing Keller said he had been working on in practice.
“All week, I was really trying to attack the ball, because I knew at some point [in the game] I would have to,” he said. “But after you score in a game you think ‘Ok, we have to score another one.’”
Hastings felt the same.
“We were up [at half time] and things were going pretty well, but we’ve played pretty crappy in third quarters this season so far,” he admitted.
In the end, the Thunder came out on top. For Thompson, he said it was a bittersweet victory as his brother, unfortunately, wasn’t able to get many touches on the ball, “but I was still happy.”
Both Keller and Hastings agree that even though the national championship was an incredible victory, especially for the organization, beating the Hilltops was the highlight of the season.
“That was the turning point for the program,” Hastings said. “[The Hilltops] have been the bullies of the whole league for years now, and they are a benchmark of the CJFL.”
He called the PFC win a “monkey off his back”, due to the way his previous Hilltops encounters had been. A broken collarbone in 2012 hindered his record against Saskatoon, and then he dealt with broken ribs during this season.
“Going into the Hilltops things hadn’t turned out so well,” he said. “I had probably thrown more incompletions against them so to finally be able to beat them was a very happy moment for me.”
The future for these three boys isn’t something they are focusing on right now. Shutter was casually trying to recruit Thompson to play for the Rams, and even though Thompson thinks it would be pretty neat to have his cousin throw to him in games, the Roughrider practice team player doesn’t have any certain plans yet.
Hastings believes MacAulay and the Thunder have a lot of momentum going and sees great things for their future. But, when asked about offers, he wouldn’t give any details. All he did was laugh and say “Go Thunder.” Fair enough.
For Keller, he knew he always wanted to play football after high school and just hopes he can open some doors to new opportunities at possibly a university or even coaching level.
When asked when they get their rings, Keller responded with “not soon enough.”
The Thunder boasts their national championship in their hometown the same year as the Riders play in the 101 Grey Cup in Regina. Thompson said he isn’t sure yet if he is able to be on the sidelines or not for the game, but what a ride it would be this year for him if he could.