Acadia pulls away late in 27-14 win over Panthers

Acadia pulls away late in 27-14 win over Panthers

By Thomas Becker

For the first time since 2013, the Acadia Axewomen have clinched the league's best record after beating the UPEI Panthers 27-14 Saturday afternoon.

The Axewomen look to finish the season with a perfect 6-0 record when the host the St. FX X-Women next Friday. While the result of the game won't change anything in the standings, a win still means a lot to Acadia as they finally look to dethrone the X-Women as the AUS's best. 

It's also new territory for fourth-year centre Emilie Merilainen, who's relishing the opportunity to host the AUS finals in three weeks time. 

"This is the first time we've experienced a bye week and getting the chance to host the finals," said Merilainen, who scored two trys in the win. "It's a great feeling. We have a lot of older girls and we've been working toward this for so long. To finally put everything on the field and achieve something like this feels amazing." 

After a tough defensive battle to open the game, the Axewomen delivered the first blow in the 13th minute when Keisha Kane bullied her way 10 yards for the match's opening try, as they led 7-0 following Sarah Grant's conversion.

They added another try 12 minutes after a couple offloads to the right side sprung Merilainen free as she sprinted the final 30 yards to the try zone.

In the past, a 14-0 lead would spell disaster for the Panthers, but not this year. UPEI head coach James Voye believes his team's improved defensive play has been the biggest factor in keeping games close.

"They're believing in the work they put in," Voye said. "We put a lot of time in tackling, tracking and team defence. You tend to see that more whenever we're defending in our own half where the players are ball hungry."

After a big defensive stop, UPEI responded with a score of their own just five minutes later on a perfectly executed set play from a scrum, as Mia Fradsham took a pass from Julia Freeburn, bursted through a seam and ran 65 yards, cutting the deficit in half. 

But the title contending Axewomen countered quickly when a long run led to a score by Grace Pinch, pushing the lead back up to 17-7 before halftime.

Just six minutes into the second half, UPEI made it a three-point game when Olivia MacLeod powered her way through the defence for her first career try.

Acadia turned up the intensity after that and in the 56th minute veteran centre Laura Pfleiderer made it a 22-14 game following a 30-yard sprint. 

The Axewomen exploited the right side again just six minutes later as Merilainen dodged a couple tacklers and attacked another hole for a 40-yard run and score to give her team the 27-14 advantage and the eventual win. 

While Acadia pursues a perfect record, the Panthers look to accomplish their own pre-season goal. And with next week's favourable matchup against the Saint Mary's Huskies at home, they have great shot of doing it.

"I can't remember the last time UPEI's been 3-3 to end the season," Voye said. "That was my goal from the start, and this year we were even closer to being something better than 3-3."

Photo Credit: Janessa Hogan