A resilient Victoria Vikes team kept their hopes alive for a repeat as Canada West Champions, outlasting a pesky Alberta Pandas squad 22-17.
The win puts the Vikes into their second consecutive Canada West final where they will face the undefeated Calgary Dinos Sunday afternoon. Last season, the Vikes beat the Lethbridge Pronghorns 50-17 to win their first ever Canada West title.
After leading for majority the game, the Vikes found themselves down four points with just over six minutes remaining, until Gabrielle Senft scored her second try of the game to propel the Vikes into the Championship game.
The play from there went back and forth with both teams defending well and forcing the other into turnovers.
Off a quick tap penalty, it looked like the Pandas would answer back but the Pandas knocked on the ball just short of the touch line to bring a halt to the attack.
The excellent defending continued through the half, but the Pandas were finally rewarded off a long series of sustained pressure. A sequence of passes took the Pandas across the field to the right and after that was stymied by the Vikes, the Pandas reversed the course back across left and Sarah Farley received the ball inside the 10-yard line to score the Pandas first try. The try went unconverted and the Vikes held a slim 7-5 lead at the break.
Only two minutes into the second half, it looked as if the Vikes would expand their lead but the Pandas were able to hold the ball up in the end zone to keep the Vikes out.
Off the scrum from the five metre line, the Vikes pushed forward again but a misplayed ball turned things over to the Pandas.
The Vikes would return the favor, stealing a Panda line out and marching the ball back toward the Pandas touch line. Jennifer Appleby took a pass in the middle of the field and broke through the Pandas defense for the Vikes second try of the day. Neilson hit her second convert to put the Vikes up 14-5.
Looking to answer right back, the Pandas put the pressure on the Vikes and Savannah Dubien scored a try for the Pandas on pure determination. Taking contact just outside the end zone, Dubien was able to stay on her feet and shake free to fall into end zone and touch the ball down. With a failed convert, the Pandas cut the score to 14-10.
Panda Emily Bielech found a little bit of space along the sideline, broke away from the Vikes defenders and was able to put the Pandas up for the first time in the match. Bielech made the convert as well to put the Pandas up 17-14 with 22 minutes remaining.
The Vikes did push back following the Panda score, hemming the Pandas in their own end but mistakes by the Vikes and solid tackling by the Pandas held the Vikes at bay until Senft was able to push through for her second try of the game with just over six minutes remaining. The try went unconverted and Vikes regained the lead 19-17.
Nielson kicked a penalty goal in the dying minutes to seal the victory.
The loss puts the Pandas in the third place game versus the host Lethbridge Pronghorns at 11am on Sunday morning, while the Vikes and Dinos will square off in the championship final at 1:00pm. Both games will be streamed live on www.canadawest.tv.
Vikes Try – Jennifer Appleby (Convert good – Jess Neilson) 14-5 Vikes
Pandas try – Savannah Dubien (convert missed) 14-10 Vikes
Pandas try – Emily Bielech (convert good – Emily Bielech) 17-14 Pandas
Vikes Try – Gabrielle Senft (convert missed) -19-17 Vikes
Vikes Penalty Goal – Jess Neilson – 22-17 Vikes