Three Portage la Prairie football players have been crowned Canadian Bowl Champions. The Okanagan Sun defeated the Regina Thunder 21-19 in the Canadian Junior Football League finals to become the national champions.
Kaiden Banfield, Kyler Banfield, and Jayden Shindle are all Portage Collegiate Trojans' alumni and were thrilled to be able to get this far together. Shindle is an offensive lineman and says it was an extremely competitive contest.
"It was an incredibly close game, and we haven't had a lot of those, so it was definitely nerve-wracking. They were a really good team but we just kept grinding away. When we eventually got that lead, I knew our defence was good enough to hold it," Shindle explains. "When the game was finally over, and we won, it was an insane sense of relief and then also disbelief that we actually managed to do it. It was a pretty spectacular moment."
The Sun fell behind 15-0 in the second quarter. They held the Thunder to just four points the rest of the way, got their offence rolling, and came away with one of their biggest win in franchise history.
All three Portagers are in their second season with the club, and Shindle says he learned so much from the veteran offensive linemen, which really helped him be ready for these big moments.
The sophomore was thrown into the fire when it mattered most this year, as Shindle had been a backup all season. He was promoted to a starting role in the middle of their conference championship game after a starting lineman separated his shoulder.
"I was super nervous going into (the semi-final game against the St. Clair Saints). I've always been nervous going into games but one of that magnitude definitely added a little extra. I felt a sense of relief that we were able to get it done, and being in a starting role for that game just added to it."
Shindle says the entire group of offensive linemen helped give him the confidence he needed to start in the two biggest games of the year.
"They all really helped me ease into it. I don't want to say they reassured me but that's basically what they did. They said I belonged and was playing well enough," Shindle continues. "It was all of them and that was a testament to how tight the group was all year. We were all each other's favourite people to hang out with on the team. That definitely showed in the last few games."
Okanagan made it to their conference championship game last year as well but couldn't come out on top. Shindle notes while that was a heart-breaker, it might've been exactly what they needed.
"Last year, we had a crazy end to the season. We lost to a team that we had managed to beat, and that team went on to win the national championship. So, a lot of the guys coming back had that fire under them and wanted to finish what we started last year, especially since we had such a good team and everyone expected us to do it," Shindle shares. "So, being able to come in this year and win it all was a great feeling."
This was the Sun's first Canadian Bowl win since 2000, and they were able to come from behind against a Regina team who got to play on their home field. Shindle adds doing this with a pair of familiar faces in the Banfield brothers, made the feeling even sweeter.
"It was awesome. It definitely helped me look back and realize how far we've come, from playing when we were ten years old in Portage, to playing in a game of this magnitude and getting this huge win. Being able to do it with guys I've played football with for literally the entire time I've played football was awesome."
The quarterback protector describes the most important thing he learned while playing for the PCI Trojans.
"They taught me how to be a winner. I always had a good team with the Trojans and they taught me how to win with class but also how to keep fighting in close games. We didn't have a ton of close games in my last year that I played in high school but we ended up losing in my last one. I think losing that game was a huge part of the reason I just kept battling in this game even though we were down 15-0."
Shindle plans to return to the Sun for his third season in 2023.