By Thomas Becker
The UPEI Panthers put a scare in the Acadia Axewomen, who narrowly came out on top 15-10 Saturday afternoon.
After scoring the tying try, the Panthers gave up possession on the ensuing kick and the Axewomen took full advantage. In the final 30 yards, they put their head down and muscled through some tough gains before Emilie Merilainen found a hole and sprinted the final 13 yards for the winning score.
"It was an intense game," said Merilainen, who was named the Subway Player of the Game. "We came out a bit slow, but in the end, we came in flying."
The cold, wet weather played into UPEI's favour and benefitted their physical style of play, which made the speedy Axewomen uncomfortable throughout the contest.
Acadia wouldn't score until the 12th minute when a series of offloads to the left led to Merilainen's first try of the game.
Amanda Jardine extended the lead 10-0 in the 25th minute as she pushed her way through for a try. UPEI's offence stalled out for most of the opening half, as they struggled to reach the attacking zone, despite splitting possession with their opponent.
However, that would change in the second half. Led by the strength of their dominant scrums, the Panthers consistently pushed Acadia's defence backwards and they eventually broke through in the 48th minute on a Sophie Carragher try to trim the deficit in half.
"I don't know of another scrum that's as good per pound than we are," said Panthers head coach John LaBoyne following the game.
The home team played to their advantage again in the 64th minute when Janel MacKay fought her way to difficult try, which tied the game at 10 aside.
"The talk all week is how we can accentuate what we're good at and today we did that," LaBoyne said. "And the other big thing was belief. Belief that we could do it."
The Axewomen were caught in a situation they weren't used to — tied up with UPEI late in the game. But once they gained possession on the ensuing kickoff, the experienced team knew what they needed to do to pull off the road win.
"We had to mentally switch it back on and each time we touched the ball we were thinking one more metre, one more metre and eventually it paid off in the end," said Merilainen, who sealed the game with the late try.
The Axewomen look forward to returning home where they'll take on this same Panthers squad in semifinal action next weekend.
"We're going to have to practice hard and come out focused," Merilainen said. "We're also going to be on turf and not the slippery mud and that's going to help out a lot."
Photo Credit: Janessa Hogan