Monarchs silence Wolfpack at ‘home’

Fort McMurray Monarchs quarterback Charles Drinkard stiff arms Bailey Grabmuller of the Calgary Wolfpack on his way up field with the ball during Alberta Football League action at Fuhr Field in Spruce Grove Alta. on Saturday May 28, 2016. The Monarchs defeated the Wolfpack 66-0 to open their 2016 season Saturday night. Robert Murray/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network

Fort McMurray Monarchs quarterback Charles Drinkard stiff arms Bailey Grabmuller of the Calgary Wolfpack on his way up field with the ball during Alberta Football League action at Fuhr Field in Spruce Grove Alta. on Saturday May 28, 2016. The Monarchs defeated the Wolfpack 66-0 to open their 2016 season Saturday night. Robert Murray/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network

Robert Murray – Fort McMurray Today – Friday, May 27, 2016

The rain may have only come down briefly at Fuhr Field Saturday night in Spruce Grove, but the Fort McMurray Monarchs still brought the storm to the Calgary Wolfpack.

Wearing their mismatched uniforms, the Monarchs offence — led by quarterback Charles Drinkard and running back Melvin Abankwah — made a statement in their season-opening game following a 66-0 victory.

“We did better than I expected,” said Monarchs head coach Dave Spence. “For a team that hasn’t had a lot of time to time things up, we still came out here and made some plays.”

The Monarchs may have even threatened triple digits in the game if it wasn’t for penalties. Scoring a rouge on the first play of the game, the Monarchs never looked back; the door of opportunity left wide open by the Wolfpack.

The first kick-off for the Monarchs resulted in a touchdown return for Jourdain Alexis, only to be called back. Just minutes later though, Abankwah gave the Monarchs their first touchdown of the game adding to an already insurmountable lead.

“I’m just grateful that Fort McMurray gets another football season,” said Abankwah when asked if he at all regretted missing out on a few extra touchdowns in the game. “At the end of the day, I don’t really care about the scores. The (offensive) line’s doing everything for me anyway.

“I’m happy with what I did today. Hopefully next week, maybe we’ll get some more.”

Even with a heavy reliance on Abankwah to control the pace of the game with his groundspeed, Spence had no qualms about the team over-using him.

“When you’ve got a back like Melvin, you give him the ball,” added Spence. “He’s one of our playmakers, but we do (have) a lot of other weapons.

“When in doubt, we can go to somebody else and still get it done. Nigel [Thomas], Pascal [Tshilambo], Dylan [Elias] had a big game today. We’ve got a lot of weapons we can go to.”

Tshilambo and Elias each hauled in touchdown passes from Drinkard while born and bred McMurrayites Skylor Letcher and Clay Altares added touchdowns on the defensive and offensive sides of the ball respectively.

Leading by 22 after the first quarter, the offence continued to rev its engines while the team’s defence suffocated the Wolfpack. The major gains for the Wolfpack came mainly through defensive penalties for the Monarchs and besides sparing first downs, the Wolfpack were quickly shut down and surrounded by a throng of Monarchs’ defenders on every play.

Leading by 37 at the half, the Monarchs’ sense of urgency didn’t necessarily translate over to the second half, but with the clock running at normal speed, The home team did their best to impress the fan base that showed up on their adopted turf.

While the scoreboard showed zeros for their opponents, the offence still has lots of work ahead of them to preparefor their June 25 date against the defending AFL champion Calgary Gators.

Heading into their week two matchup at home against the Central Alberta Buccaneers, there remains much for the offence to figure out. Turnovers, fumbles and penalties didn’t add up to any significant losses beyond possession time for the Monarchs. Against the stronger teams with more than 10-15 subs like the Wolfpack had, those actions could cost them.

Abankwah wanted to emphasize a growth of the team’s offence while utilizing him for necessary yards when called upon.

“I’m just going to keep going, keep going, put my heart out there so they can count on me when times are rough,” said Abankwah. “Times are tough? Give it to Melvin.”

rmurray@postmedia.com