Regina ThunderToday at Mosaic Stadium at 1 p.m. the Regina Thunder begin defence of their 2013 Canadian Junior Football League title with a game against their arch rivals the Saskatoon Hilltops.

Last season, you’ll perhaps recall, the Thunder thwarted the Toppers in their quest for a fourth straight CJFC crown when they defeated them on their home turf in the Prairie Football Conference final 21-16 on Oct. 27. Then on Nov. 9 the Thunder captured their first CJFC championship with a 55-26 thrashing of the Vancouver Island Raiders at Mosaic Stadium.

Against Saskatoon, Thunder QB Asher Hastings had a huge game, completing 25 of 37 passes for 316 yards and one TD. In the off-season, though, Hastings elected to switch to university football and play with the Hamilton-based McMaster Marauders. That leaves the Thunder with a massive hole to fill on offence, and as of a few days ago head coach Scott MacAulay still hadn’t named a starter to replace Hastings.

Spencer Mack and Jaeden Marwick are the two candidates for the job. Both might end up being capable QBs, but the odds of either being able to replicate the success Hastings enjoyed last season are probably pretty long. And it doesn’t help that the team’s first test in 2014 comes against the perennially tough Hilltops, who will doubtlessly be looking to exact revenge for last year’s modest upset in the PFC final.

Still, the Thunder were by no means a one-player team last year. And while they have also lost several other key contributors on offence at the receiver and running back positions, they have decent depth, an experienced coaching staff, and a championship run under their belts that could serve as a springboard for future gridiron success.

Following this game, the Thunder have a second home date against the Edmonton Wildcats on Sunday, Aug. 24 (Mosaic Stadium, 1 p.m.) Then they get a bye before playing their first road game of 2014 — a rematch against the Hilltops in Saskatoon on Sept. 6.

For more information visit the Regina Thunder website.