Rarely are the stakes this high in the Island rivalry.
The V.I. Raiders and the Westshore Rebels meet this Saturday (Oct. 15) in the B.C. Football Conference playoffs. The Raiders will have to head over the Malahat to face the Rebels, who finished first in the conference to earn home-field advantage.
“To use the old cliché, this is why you play football, for games like this,” said Jerome Erdman, Raiders coach. “I think everybody’s going to be excited.”
In head-to-head play this season, the Rebels won the first meeting in Victoria by a lopsided margin, but the more recent matchup in Nanaimo ended in a 25-25 tie.
Westshore is led by its rushing attack, as its feature back Jamel Lyles had a record-setting season and the Rebels boasted three of the league’s top six rushers. Erdman said his team will need to be disciplined with its defensive assignments.
“[A] key to the game is to be able to, I don’t think you can actually stop it, but limit their running game,” Erdman said.
Nathan Warawa, V.I. defensive lineman, said the Raiders can match up in that phase of the game.
“They’re a strong rushing team, but our front seven is, I think, one of the best in the league,” he said.
Slowing down the Rebels will be harder on Westshore’s artificial turf, and the home team knows that.
“That grass field [in Nanaimo] was difficult to play on…” said J.C. Boice, Rebels coach. “We’re very good on turf.”
As for the Raiders’ offence, Erdman said it will need to be balanced. He added that first-down production is a must.
“You’re much, much better off when you’re second and medium to short, then you still have your whole playbook,” he said. “Second and long, you limit yourself and you let them get after you.”
Nanaimo’s passing game was effective last month against Westshore, but the Rebels believe they’ve improved that area.
“It has been a concern all year, but I’ve really seen our defensive backs mature,” Boice said. “Our back seven are getting better.”
Erdman said a focus with the passing game will be limiting the opposing defence’s big plays – sacks and interceptions.
“You can’t make nearly as many mistakes, because everyone’s playing their best football and too many mistakes can cost you the game,” said Jake Laberge, Raiders quarterback.
A variety of intangibles could also factor into the outcome. Even after last month’s tie, V.I. goes into the playoffs as the underdog. Warawa said the Raiders don’t mind the doubters.
“It’s a little bit more motivation,” he said. “The person at the top of the hill isn’t always as motivated as the person climbing the hill.”
And then there’s the Victoria crowd, though the Raiders anticipate their share of supporters will help add to the atmosphere.
“It should be a great game…” Erdman said. “This is what it’s all about. Two teams with a great rivalry and it’s going to be a knock-down, drag-out fight.”
GAME ON … The Raiders and Rebels kick off Saturday at 7 p.m. at Westhills Stadium in Victoria. For ticket information, please visit www.westshorerebels.ca/game-tickets/.
-with files from Joel Tansey/Black Press