It’s Canadian Bowl week. It’s the climax of the Canadian Junior Football League season.
And now that Nanaimo’s V.I. Raiders have made it this far, there’s nothing to do but try for a win, a trophy and a perfect ending to 2013.
The Raiders will take the field Saturday (Nov. 9) at Regina’s Mosaic Stadium to play the host Thunder for a national championship.
“This is what we’ve worked for,” said Jordan Kuziek, Raiders lineman. “If you’re not excited for this, then there’s no reason why you should be playing football.”
This Nanaimo-Regina matchup was anything but a foregone conclusion this season. The Raiders can never really be considered underdogs, but they’ve felt like their backs were against the wall ever since their 1-2 start in the B.C. Football Conference. They reeled off 10 straight wins, though, to put themselves back in the big bowl game.
As for the Thunder, they had to move a mountain and defeat the nearly unbeatable Saskatoon Hilltops in the Prairie Football Conference final.
“They just work hard, and in big games, that’s all you really need, to execute and have a little effort,” Kuziek said. “I think this game’s going to be pretty good.”
The finalists have a lot of similarities, boasting balance on offence and speed and physicality on defence.
“You’re going to play a really good opponent for 60 minutes – that’s the biggest thing that we’ve realized in film,” said Matthew (Snoop) Blokker, Raiders coach.
The Thunder offence is led by quarterback Asher Hastings and his stable of talented, fast receivers.
“We have to mix it up and challenge them with different coverages and challenge them with different blitzes and hopefully knock them off their game,” Blokker said. “And be consistent and relentless.”
V.I. linebacker Cole Samson said it starts with shutting down Regina’s run game.
“Once we do that they’re going to pass and all we’ve got to do is get our hands on the receivers because they’re not used to being touched,” he said. “So we’ll re-route them and stop the pass.”
The Raiders centre their offence around all-star receiver Whitman Tomusiak, but they intend to open up the pass with the run. Kuziek said the Thunder defence will give up holes and if the Raiders’ O-line times things right, it can take advantage.
“Our running backs are so smart and so fast,” he said. “One step and they’re gone. That’s all we need to give them.”
Blokker said earlier this week that Jaeden Marwick will be the starting quarterback against Regina.
“I think we match up very well,” said Marwick. “I think in the trenches, we have a little size on them. But around the board, the Thunder’s a very talented team, a very well-coached team and they’re going to be one of the toughest challenges of the year.”
The Raiders feel as though they haven’t yet played a perfect football game, and they may have one more gear for one last game day.
“Hopefully this one we can turn up to the next level,” Kuziek said. “Who knows? It all comes down to how we travel, show up. We have to be mentally ready.”
Marwick said the Raiders try not to over-hype the Canadian Bowl or think about what’s on the line at the end of four more quarters of football.
“We try to act like it’s another game and keep our minds right and stay focused on the goal ahead,” he said.
Samson said if the Raiders stay on track with with their preparations and do all the right things on game day, they’ll beat the Thunder.
“They’re going to come out and play, but I don’t think they’re at the level we’re at,” he said. “We’re ready to lay it all out there.”
The Raiders have reached this game. Now they can try to reach their goal.
“If you win this game,” said Blokker, “then every memory you’ve had throughout the year will stay alive for the rest of your life.”
GAME ON … The V.I. Raiders and the Regina Thunder play in the Canadian Bowl this Saturday (Nov. 9) at Regina’s Mosaic Stadium. Kickoff is at noon Pacific Time and the game will be available on pay-per-view webcast; for more information, click here … This is Part 1 of the News Bulletin’s Canadian Bowl preview. To read Part 2, please click here.