The Regina Riot is hoping to start an uprising.
By virtue of a 25-7 semifinal win over the Winnipeg Nomads Wolf Pack on Sunday at Mosaic Stadium, Regina earned another shot at the Saskatoon Valkyries in the Prairie Conference final of the Western Women’s Canadian Football League (slated for July 8 in Saskatoon).
The Valkyries, who beat the Riot in last year’s conference final, are the defending league champions and haven’t lost a game in their two-year history. The latest win came in Sunday’s other WWCFL semifinal — a 56-0 blowout versus the Manitoba Fearless.
However, Regina isn’t intimidated.
“We’re hitting our stride at the right time,” Riot head coach Jon Baxter said after Sunday’s convincing win over Winnipeg. “The girls responded really well. It was really hard to make sure they didn’t look past this game to that one (against Saskatoon) but now that it’s done it’s their only focus. They’re ready for it. We’re going to do everything we can to give them a run for their money and spoil the party in their house.”
Saskatoon has dominated the WWCFL over the past two seasons, including a 5-0 record against Regina, outscoring their provincial rival 205-36. However, members of the Riot believe they have improved each game, including a 35-16 loss to Saskatoon in last weekend’s regular-season finale.
“We were able to dominate the last 24 minutes of the last game we played them,” said Baxter. “We scored twice to their once, we moved the ball at will, we shut down their offence pretty much completely in the middle of the third and all of the fourth quarter. If we can do that right from the start it’ll be a much different game.”
Regina was missing a handful of players due to injuries on Sunday but — with two weeks between games because of the July long weekend — the Riot could have a healthy lineup for the Prairie Conference final. No. 1 running back Carmen Agar missed Sunday’s contest due to a concussion, but Mallory Starkey filled in admirably, rushing 15 times for 114 yards and a 57-yard touchdown. Quarterback Aimee Kowalski completed nine of 19 passes for 134 yards and one touchdown (a 45-yarder to Alisha Beler) while also rushing for 87 yards and two majors. Wanda Uhren and Teisha Bray recorded interceptions.
“It was definitely a playoff game; you could tell,” said Starkey. “This is sudden death now. You lose a game and you’re done and nobody wants to be done in the first round of the playoffs. Everybody was out there playing their best. (Winnipeg) played so well today. Everybody on our team was pushing through injuries, just doing the best they could.”
Their perseverance paid off despite a short-handed lineup.
“A lot of the backups are just as good as the starters,” said Baxter, noting that Starkey was among the key players to step up. “She isn’t the fastest on the team but she is super hard to tackle. She was dragging two or three or four (tacklers at a time). She has incredible tenacity and just keeps those legs going.”
With momentum on its side, the Riot is looking to carry that into the next few practices as the team prepares for the Valkyries. The winner of that game advances to the league final on July 14 in Saskatoon.
“Every game we get better,” added Starkey. “Every practice you get a little bit better, you learn a little bit more. Every single play you learn something new about your opponent. We played them twice so we’ve learned quite a bit about them. We know what works and what doesn’t.
“We’re pretty confident we can beat them when we’re playing our best.”