Charlottetown, PEI - The STFX X-Women have reclaimed their throne and sit atop the Atlantic University Sport (AUS) conference once more.
In a thrilling match that had fans on the edge of their seats, the X-Women pulled ahead in the second half on a Camryn Kleynhans try and emerged victorious, defeating the UPEI Panthers 26-22 to claim the AUS championship and the Birks Trophy.
The stage was set on an overcast and cold day, with a biting wind adding to the intensity of the match. The atmosphere was electric as fans braved the chilly weather to support their teams. From the first whistle, it was clear that this would be a championship clash for the ages that featured stellar defensive play on both sides.
The first half saw both teams exchange blows, neither willing to yield an inch. The defence was on full display in the opening minutes as UPEI fought hard for every yard gained. In the fourth minute, Emily Duffy was held up in the in-goal, forcing the play to restart. But Duffy would not be denied again, as the fourth-year prop powered her across the goal line for the converted try in the 14th minute to give her team a 7-0 advantage.
However, that lead was short-lived. Less than three minutes later, Katherine Culligan picked off a Sarah Bain pass and sprinted about 35 yards the other way for an uncontested try to even the score at seven apiece.
Defence factored into the Panthers' next scoring play, which came in the 20th minute. STFX was deep in their own zone and tried to create space with a kick, but Abbey Morice burst through the line and blocked the kick before pouncing on the loose ball for the try and the 12-7 lead.
The back-and-forth affair continued well into the half, where STFX tied it again. In the 39th minute, the X-Women attacked the left side where a couple quick offloads led to a Jill Griffith run from about 15 yards for the tying try.
On the ensuing possession, UPEI's Charlotte Branchflower connected on a penalty goal to give her team a 15-12 lead at halftime.
The second half was much more of the same, with both teams giving everything they had. STFX would take their first lead of the game in the 64th minute on Kleynhans' try that was executed on a maul.
They would add to their lead in the 78th minute on a powerful try from AUS Rookie of the Year Akwaima Akpan near the goal line to make it 26-15.
Mia Fradsham earned a penalty try in injury time to pull the Panthers within four, 26-22, but time wasn't on their side. Moments later, the final whistle blew, and the STFX bench rushed to the field to celebrate their championship win.
The victory marked the 23rd occasion in X-Women team history that they have won the AUS championship banner. Akwaima Akpan was named the STFX player of the game and AUS playoff most valuable player for her efforts on the afternoon. Tessa Roche was the UPEI player of the game.
Both teams will head to Quebec City to compete in the U SPORTS Women's Rugby Championship beginning on November 1. The tournament will be hosted by the University of Laval.
Recap courtesy Thomas Becker, UPEI Athletics
STFX X-Women AUS all-stars were honoured before the game - Emma MacDougall, Akwaima Akpan, Sophie Beck, Skye Koyote & Katie Murphy
AUS Community Service Award
AUS Rookie of the Year