Monarchs mark return to Fort McMurray with statement game

Fort McMurray Monarchs running back Melvin Abankwah dives into the end zone to score a touchdown against the Grande Prairie Drillers during Alberta Football League action at Shell Place in Fort McMurray Alta. on Saturday June 18, 2016. The Monarchs defeated the Drillers 79-3 Saturday night in their first game back in Fort McMurray since being displaced due to May's wildfires. Robert Murray/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network

Fort McMurray Monarchs running back Melvin Abankwah dives into the end zone to score a touchdown against the Grande Prairie Drillers during Alberta Football League action at Shell Place in Fort McMurray Alta. on Saturday June 18, 2016. The Monarchs defeated the Drillers 79-3 Saturday night in their first game back in Fort McMurray since being displaced due to May’s wildfires. Robert Murray/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network

Robert Murray – Fort McMurray Today – Sunday, June 19, 2016

In their return to town and season debut to Shell Place, the Fort McMurray Monarchs made a strong statement.

The team followed up a tribute to first responders in the region by beating the Grande Prairie Drillers over every inch of the field Saturday, coming out on the favourable side of a 79-3 shellacking.

“Regardless off the score, we came out here to get some work done today,” said Monarchs head coach Dave Spence. “We needed to do some things offensively, the run game, we ran the ball extremely well today and we wanted to establish that.”

With the Monarchs’ desire to have the Calgary Gators for their main course next weekend on the road, the Drillers were served up as the appetizer, with points piling up for the Monarchs.

Melvin Abankwah kickstarted the Monarchs’ offence, as he’s done since his arrival in Fort McMurray. A big leap into the endzone for the team’s first touchdown came before the game was even three minutes old. Touchdowns 45 seconds apart in the middle of the first quarter were followed by three more scores in the final 5:07 of the quarter to give the Monarchs a healthy 41-0 lead after just the first of what would be four very long quarters for the Drillers.

With the rules dictating running time can’t begin until the second half, the onslaught continued in the second with four more scores. The one ounce of offence from the Drillers came on a late field goal after a touchdown pass was called back due to a penalty; a small glimmer of hope stolen away from a shortened Drillers squad who likely knew what they were walking into before they stepped on the field.

Quarterback Will Arndt, on the field with the Monarchs for the first time, utilized the team’s running game while becoming comfortable with his receivers.

“We have a good cast of receivers around me so they all do things that compliment what we do on our offence,” said Arndt. “I’m excited to work with them.”

The night included a few overthrown balls, but the Western Connecticut State University product didn’t show any glaring concerns for the team going forward.

“I tried my best to just focus on what the guys were doing around me and get acclimated with the game more,” added Arndt. “As the game went on, I felt comfortable and I’m excited for a big game next week against Calgary.”

Improving to 3-1, the Monarchs will now play in Calgary, Lloydminster and in Edmonton before returning home Aug. 7 to host the St. Albert Stars.