Photo by Kayle Neis/Leader-Post
Rylan Sokul’s final walk through the Regina Thunder’s locker room wasn’t an easy one.
The fifth-year receiver navigated his way through the Thunder’s Mosaic Stadium locker room after the junior football team was beaten 21-19 by the Okanagan Sun in Saturday’s Canadian Bowl.
“That was a tough walk, for sure,” Sokul said. “There was lots of emotion in there and it’s always tough to lose like that. I’m so proud of my boys and my brothers. They played their hearts out and left everything on the field.”
It’s been the type of season where the Thunder needed to leave everything on the field. The Thunder posted an 8-0 regular-season record for the second consecutive season. In 2021, the Thunder season came to untimely end when their archrival Saskatoon Hilltops defeated the Thunder 29-9 in the PFC final.
This year, the Thunder atoned for the loss with a 39-21 victory over the visiting Hilltops in the PFC final to earn a berth in the Canadian Bowl. They took an extra step by reaching the Canadian junior football final, but still came up short.
“This is the worst feeling in the world,” said Thunder quarterback Carter Shewchuk. “You work so hard and you spend so much time and sacrifice on so many things and then you come two points short. I’ve been doing this for six years and six years with this group of guys. This is the most special group of guys we’ve had. The culture of this team is unmatched and I will be forever grateful that I’ve been part of the Regina Thunder.”
That win appeared within the Thunder’s grasp when it opened up a 15-0 lead at 13:34 of the second quarter. The Thunder picked up touchdowns from running back Ryland Leichert and a seven-yard run by quarterback Shewchuk. Eric Maximuik converted both touchdowns and added a 44-yard single.
The Sun then started its comeback when quarterback Dominic Britton connected with Colby Milleto on a six-yard touchdown pass at the 15:00 minute mark of the second quarter. Liam Attwood converted the touchdown and the Sun went into the intermission trailing the Thunder 15-7.
The Sun conceded a safety at 9:13 of the third quarter, increasing the Thunder’s lead to 17-7.
However, the Sun responded with a dominant effort for the remainder of the third quarter. Running back Jevan Garwood scored on a 53-yard run and Attwood’s convert reduced the Thunder’s lead to 15-14.
The Sun grabbed a 20-14 lead when Mike O’Shea Jr. scored on a 24-yard pass from Britton. Attwood’s convert staked the Sun to a 21-17 third-quarter lead.
The Thunder had opportunities to rally in the fourth quarter, but had to settle for another safety conceded by the Sun.The Thunder was vying to win its second national title and first since 2013 when it defeated the Vancouver Island Raiders 55-26 in the Canadian Bowl. Scott MacAulay was in his first season as the Thunder’s head coach in 2013, but was left with different feelings after Saturday’s game.
“It’s something that you don’t ever get over,” MacAulay said about Saturday’s result. “There will be some ups and downs over the next little bit, especially with those guys who are graduating.
“I go back to starting in January with guys working out four times a week at Level 10 and our spring camps and indoor camps … we spent a lot of time and effort to get here. It’s going to hurt for a while and when they are older, they will definitely have some regrets.”
There weren’t any room for regrets among the Sun, especially O’Shea. He led the Sun with five receptions for 69 yards and the aforementioned touchdown. The oldest son of Winnipeg Blue Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea, was named the special-teams player of the game by returning five punts for 38 yards and two kickoffs for 70 yards.
“Honestly, it’s an honour to be mentioned alongside my dad,” Mike O’Shea Jr. said. “He’s a legend in the CFL world so it’s very special.”
Shewchuk completed 18 of 36 passes for 188 yards with one interception. Isaac Foord led the Thunder receivers with 68 yards on four receptions. Leichert had 22 carries for 77 yards.
Linebacker Stephen Smith paced the Thunder defenders with five defensive tackles.
Britton completed 16 of 31 passes for 130 yards and two touchdowns. Garwood had 128 rushing yards on 21 carries en route to being named the offensive player of the game.
Peyton Ryder had a team-high five defensive tackles for the Sun. Keion Thomas had ½ sacks.
Dawson Puk, who had two defensive tackles and an interception with the Sun, was named the defensive player of the game.