Three years ago, football players Jesse Maddox and David Bosch, both known for their defensive abilities, went on the offensive.
Working to create a senior men’s football team in Fort McMurray, the duo didn’t just want to be good, they wanted to be the best.
Saturday, the Fort McMurray Monarchs reached that pinnacle of excellence, capturing the Canadian Major Football League national championship with a 59-45 victory over the defending champion Greater Toronto Area All Stars.
“This one’s not just about us, this one’s a community thing and I think this is a great storybook ending,“ said Maddox.
Saturday’s success was a testament to the bumps along the way in the three years it took to reach that moment. In year one, the team found its legs in a competitive Alberta Football League. A year later, the Monarchs added head coach Dave Spence and a wealth of offensive talents, improving their game by leaps and bounds.
In 2016, when it seemed as though everything was about to fall apart, it all came together. Forced from their home in May, just weeks before they were to play full-time at Shell Place, the Monarchs rebounded by making Spruce Grove their temporary home.
When the Central Alberta Buccaneers exposed the Monarchs in the second week of the season, Fort McMurray once again fought back, eventually topping the Bucs in the AFL Championship game.
For Maddox, it was the players cohesiveness that kept the team from fraying.
“At the end of the day, the camaraderie, the manhood, the family is there this year,” he added. “It’s deep this year and I think that’s why we’re able to overcome some things that we wouldn’t have last year.”
In Saturday’s championship game, it was one of those adjustments, the addition of quarterback Will Arndt, that made the biggest difference. His four rushing touchdowns led the way offensively, starting the scoring in the game on the Monarchs’ second drive and sealing the victory in the fourth quarter.
When it wasn’t Will Arndt rushing through a heavy All Stars defence, Jourdain Alexis came up with an interception on defence or a big return on special teams. Further up the field, Maddox and Bosch haunted All Stars quarterback Tommy Denison all night.
“There were a couple drives where we needed to get a score, they got some momentum and we found ways to grind out the drives,” said Arndt. “I think guys were getting a little complacent, but ultimately a really great, resilient effort by our guys.”
The win was a special one for Spence, who added his third national championship in three years and Maddox, who earned his second. With a shower of water for the second time in as many games, Spence could only help but reflect on what his team had gone through this season and where they were now.
“To do it with this group after the adversity that we’ve had to overcome, it’s really special.”
It wasn’t the shutdown or cakewalk as the All Stars provided a significant challenge to the Monarchs. Trailing by 18 at the half, the visitors came out with a different intensity in the third quarter, bringing the game to as close as nine points in the third quarter, but never any closer.
“We fought with everything we had there,” said All Stars quarterback Tommy Denison. “They kept scoring, they put more points on us.
“Our defence was a little banged up; they kept doing everything we couldn’t. I’m proud of our guys, how hard they fought.”
As good as this Monarchs team was, it won’t be the same squad suiting up to defend their AFL title next year. For now though, the moment of being a national champion is one for the team savoured as they drank from bottles of champagne moments after entering their locker room after the win.
“To be a champion in anything, it’s not easy to do in life,” said Arndt. “I’ve got a bond with these guys forever as national champions.”