With a sleek new look, a revamped board of directors and a renewed plan, the next thing the Winnipeg Rifles were hunting for this season was their first win.
On Sunday they found it, seizing a 42-21 win against a frustrated Calgary Colts team at Investors Group Field.
'It really puts the icing on the cake today... we cleaned it up a bit and made some plays'
-- Kurt Goodrich
One week after falling in their Prairie Football Conference opener to the Edmonton Huskies in a penalty-marred tilt, the Rifles tightened things up. They drew a few pints of early blood, saw a thrilling debut from backup pivot Jonathan Remple and held the Colts off the scoreboard long enough to regroup after faltering in the second half.
"It really puts the icing on the cake today," said Rifles star receiver Kurt Goodrich, who finished with five snags for 148 yards and two touchdowns. "We got a lot of confidence last week, but we just shot ourselves in the foot. This week, we cleaned it up a bit and made some plays."
Indeed, the Rifles leaped out to a commanding early lead, striking for three unanswered touchdowns in the first quarter. There was an interception return by defensive back Jordan Gauthier just two minutes in, a touchdown strike to Goodrich from starting pivot Tyler Vieira, and a flash-dash run from Victor St. Pierre-Lavoilette to earn a major on the ground.
Finally, the Rifles added a fourth score early in the second quarter, when a Colts penalty on a Rifles field-goal attempt handed the home team a second chance to score. The Rifles capitalized, as Colton Smith ran the ball in to give the Rifles a 28-0 lead.
But their victory march didn't stay so easy. Yes, the Colts struggled to move the chains early, bogged down by misfires and stifled by the Rifles defence. The Calgary squad didn't manage a single first down until almost halfway through the second quarter. They couldn't crack the scoreboard until there was just 2:15 left in the first half, when running back Cam Fox found the end zone on a nifty running play.
Still, the Rifles helped the Colts get back into the game, getting dinged for three unnecessary roughness calls on that Calgary scoring drive alone. For coach Ryan Karhut, that drive felt like a rerun of last week, when the Rifles gave up more than 215 yards in penalties. He called his team to the sidelines to settle them down. In the second half, they seemed to respond.
"It's something that I feel like we're probably going to fight all year," he said. "We're just such a young team, they're going to play with a lot of emotion. We want to push them so they're playing on that edge, but sometimes they fall over, so we have to rein them back. I thought they did a much better job today staying controlled, other than that one drive."
Meanwhile, the Rifles were struggling to restart their own engine. It had been dealt a blow after Vieira, who was perfect through five throws, went down with an apparent wrist injury. Backup pivot Julian Wytnick came in, and went four-for-eight with two interceptions; so in the fourth quarter, Karhut decided to give first-year Rifle Remple a shot in the saddle.
There, just as Calgary looked as if they might scrape back into the game, Remple cut their comeback short. In his short time on the field, the Morden product glowed. He was fleet on his feet and launched two huge TD throws: first, he fired one off to Goodrich, who hauled the ball down and blasted it straight into the house for an electrifying 68-yard touchdown catch. Two minutes later, Remple aired the ball out even more, finding Niclas Bembenek for a 75-yard TD bomb.
After the game, Remple was pumped, having spent this season taking third-team reps. His coach was also pleased. "To see all that work starting to pay off, and his hard work in practice," Karhut said. "He has been dedicating himself enough to the playbook, we can drop him in there and he still knows his reads and is able to make his throws on time... it's awesome."
Well, maybe Remple will get another chance to impress this Sunday, when the Rifles look ahead to a rematch against the Colts. This time they'll be in Alberta, and it's not yet known if Vieira will be healthy to play. Either way, Karhut will be looking for his team to take the next step.
"We've got to secure some things in the run game," he said. "They're a big, strong, physical team. We just gotta make sure we're more prepared for it next week."