The V.I. Raiders made big plays, and were able to come back and beat the Kamloops Broncos.
Nanaimo’s B.C. Football Conference team was a 35-26 winner on Saturday at Caledonia Park. The home team gained huge chunks of yardage on offence, defence and special teams in the second half to recover from a first half in which it was outplayed and outscored 20-7.
“To come back from something like that really showed our intestinal fortitude. We believe in each other…” said Jerome Erdman, Raiders coach. “Every facet of the game stepped it up in the second half.”
The play that turned the tide was a 95-yard interception return touchdown from Raiders safety Cole Virtanen.
“I was eyeing it down, I could see where the quarterback was looking from the start, so I was just able to make a good jump on the ball and then it was just instincts,” said the rookie from Nanaimo.
The major tied the score, and the convert gave the team the lead. There was endgame drama with a minute and a half left as the Broncos missed a potential game-tying two-point convert and then were also unsuccessful on the ensuing onside kick.
“We’ve already been in tough games throughout the season, so it’s easy to keep our head,” Virtanen said. “We knew that we had the fight and the conditioning … and once we got into the second half, we really came into our own.”
Erdman said his coaching staff made adjustments that worked, but said the players also brought the right attitude into the second half.
“It almost seemed we were tentative there in the first half; we weren’t playing Raider football,” the coach said. “And I challenged them, and I’ll tell you what, they accepted the challenge and they came through.”
The Raiders didn’t get on the scoreboard until two minutes left before halftime, when Nigel Henry’s punt block set up a four-yard touchdown run by Nathan Berg.
V.I. returned the opening kickoff of the second half to midfield, and the offence took advantage with a drive that finished with a two-yard TD catch by Arthur Fabbro.
In the fourth quarter, Raiders QB Liam O’Brien connected on two long-bomb touchdowns over the middle, a 76-yard TD strike to Dustin Rodriguez and then a 65-yard TD throw to Fabbro.
O’Brien finished 9-for-17 for 217 yards, three TDs and one INT. Rodriguez had 131 yards on four catches and Berg rushed for 89 yards.
For the Broncos, QB Stephen Schuweiler set a B.C. record with 35 completions, finishing 35-for-46 for 358 yards.
Defensively for the Raiders, Virtanen led the way with two interceptions and five tackles, Quinton Bowles had two sacks and five tackles and Kaelan Botel, Parker Smith and Tyler Harvey had a sack each. Dexter Shea made seven tackles.
GRID BITS … The Raiders and Broncos play a rematch next Saturday (Aug. 22) at Hillside Stadium in Kamloops.