Originally published on Women Talk Sports
With Canada’s sesquicentennial celebrations approaching soon, the national women’s football team engaged in a strong sense of national pride. Seeded number two at the tournament, Canada becomes the first country outside of Europe to host the IFAF Women’s World Football Championships.
Kicking off against fifth-seeded Australia at McLeod Stadium in Langley, British Columbia, the host country was looking to start on a strong note. Ambitiously aiming for its first-ever gold medal, Canada was taking on an Australian squad making their IFAF debut.
John Konecki, a two-time gold medalist (2010, 2013) with Team USA at the IFAF Women’s Worlds, was part of the training camp for Australia late last year. Taking on the role of head coach with Australia for the IFAF Worlds is Dr. Jen Welter, who played for Konecki on those two gold medal teams. Having also made history as a female coach with the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals, Welter adds to her legacy as a coach at the IFAF Worlds.
Such presence can only be matched by Canada’s Saadia Ashraf. Having served as Canada’s quarterback in 2010 and 2013, she is not in a head coaching capacity, but is part of Canada’s coaching staff, the first former player to achieve this.
The first quarter resulted in Australia assembling a solid defensive performance while struggling on offense. With Carly Dyck, a kicker/wide receiver from the Saskatoon Valkyries making her debut for Canada, scoring a 34-yard field goal with 8:35 remaining in the first, it represented the only points of the quarter.
As Australia continued to struggle offensively in the second quarter, Canada’s offense began to click. Olivia DeMerchant, who also plays for the national rugby women’s team, scored Canada’s first touchdown of the game, and the IFAF Women’s Worlds.
With 5:48 remaining in the second, quarterback Aimee Kowalski, who also won a Western Women’s Canadian Football League championship in 2017 with the Regina Riot, connected with Laurence Pontbriand on a 30-yard reception. With Dyck successfully making the conversion on both touchdowns, Canada enjoyed a 17-0 halftime lead at halftime.
The first half would see Australia gain only first down. Although the squad managed 13 rushing yards, its passing game was non-existent, not accumulating one yard as Casey Cubis made three passing attempts. Compounding such woes was the fact that Australia fumbled twice while Emily Malone punted five times. On the opposite end, Canada enjoyed 16 first downs, complemented by 83 rushing yards and 40 passing yards, although they fumbled once.
Looking to chip away at Canada’s lead, Australia replied with Kristy Moran. A star player with the Logan City Jets who has captured the Summerbowl championship, she would right the offensive path, breaking through Canada’s defense for a 10-yard score. Emily Malone was unable to convert the extra point attempt as Australia faced an 11-point deficit.
Less than four minutes following Moran’s touchdown, Canada replied as Julene Friesen managed a 13-yard scoring gain, quickly putting the game out of reach. As Dyck made her third conversion of the game, the third quarter ended with Canada enjoying an 18-point advantage, as the scoreboard reflected a 24-6 score.
With Maude Lacasse, the starting quarterback for the Montreal Blitz, at the helm of Canada’s offense in the fourth quarter, she was a perfect 3-for-3, although she did not record a touchdown pass. Instead, Canada added more points via a fumble recovery, with Virginie Roussel recording a touchdown with 9:34 remaining in the game.
A successfully extra point attempt by Dyck resulted in a 31-6 score, which would also stand as the final. With seven points on the day, Dyck was the leading scorer of the game. She would also record 289 yards on six kickoffs, the longest being 50 yards, while Alex Black, in her third stint with Team Canada, recorded 124 yards on four punts.
Gaining Canada’s Player of the Game recognition was running back Cassey Brick, who averaged 4.8 yards on 10 carries. Of her 48 rushing yards on the day, her longest was a 22-yard gain. Fellow Canadians Julene Friesen and Laurence Thivierge also enjoyed strong days, recording 58 and 33 rushing yards each. Friesen also recorded 15 receiving yards, leading all players in total yards from scrimmage with 73.
Kristy Moran was the rushing leader for Australia, with a respectable 41 yards, pacing all members of her team. Laurence Pontbriand emerged as the game’s leading receiver, managing 49 yards on just four receptions for Canada. Teammate Samantha Matheson had a game-high 42-yard punt return.
Statistically, Australia managed five first downs in the second half, while amassing 62 rushing yards, a significant improvement on their first yard showing. Although replacement quarterback Lauren Evans managed two pass completions, she only managed two passing yards.
With three more fumbles in the second half, the Australians must improve drastically on offense in the hopes of gaining a spot in the medal round. One key point of concern for Canada is the fact that the second half saw six penalties. For a club hoping to return to its third consecutive gold medal game, it will require more disciplined play, as potential errors can prove to be costly.
The other matches on the tournament’s Opening Day saw two-time defending champion United States blank sixth-seeded Mexico by a score of 29-0. Great Britain, seeded fourth and making their tournament debut, pulled off the biggest upset, defeating Finland, the defending bronze medalists, in a 27-21 final.