V.I. Raiders receiver North Rainey gains yards after a catch during Saturday's playoff game against the Westshore Rebels at Victoria's Westhills Stadium.

Raiders eliminated by Rebels in last-minute loss

The Westshore Rebels scored a game-winning TD with 23 seconds left to defeat the V.I. Raiders 34-29 in the playoffs Saturday in Victoria.

In a fantastic back-and-forth football game, the team that scored last won.

The Westshore Rebels scored a game-winning touchdown with 23 seconds left to defeat the Vancouver Island Raiders 34-29 in the playoffs Saturday night in Victoria. There were six lead changes in the second half.

“Very, very disappointed,” said Jerome Erdman, Raiders coach. “It was in our grasp, and you know what? We just didn’t finish them off. We had the opportunity.”

V.I. could have hoped for a better outcome after scoring a go-ahead touchdown with two and a half minutes left and then recovering an onside kick to maintain possession.

“We got a couple first downs, which we needed. We just needed to gain one more and their defence came up huge with a big stop,” said Jake Laberge, Raiders quarterback. “They made plays, we made plays and they just made it at the right time.”

The Rebels got the ball back with a minute and half and were able to drive down the field for the winning score, completing a couple of long passes down the sideline and finishing with a five-yard TD run by star tailback Jamel Lyles.

“Our defence played awesome all night, but we just couldn’t stop them on that last drive,” Erdman said.

Laberge said his team knew there were going to be ups and downs in the game, and there were, and he said the Raiders battled through it all.

“We didn’t get the win, but we played our best football of the season, I think, offence, defence, special teams,” the QB said. “We gave it our all, we did everything we could and we just came up short today.”

The Raiders came up with numerous big plays on defence and special teams – two fumble recoveries, two successful onside kicks, two interceptions and one blocked field goal. Offensively, V.I.’s passing game was a step out of sync in stretches, but the run game was at its best as the game wore one.

Raiders receiver Dustin Rodriguez made a 33-yard TD reception late in the first half to tie the game 12-12 going into halftime. The Raiders’ other touchdown came on a two-yard TD run by Nate Berg late in the fourth quarter. V.I. kicker James Parker was 4-for-6 on field goal attempts and hit one from 44 yards out.

Laberge finished 20-for-37 passing for 278 yards and Berg gained 139 yards on 27 carries. North Rainey was V.I.’s top receiver with eight catches for 124 yards.

Cole Virtanen had two fumble recoveries, Nathan Mayers and Josh Paisley recovered onside kicks, Dexter Shea and Jérémie Cheng intercepted passes and Gevhahn McNally-Hardisty blocked a field goal. Matthew Cox had six tackles.

For the Rebels, Lyles ran back the game’s opening kickoff for his first of two scores and quarterback Ashton MacKinnon scored twice on one-yard TD plunges.

MacKinnon was 5-for-14 passing for 105 yards and Lyles rushed for 198 yards on 25 carries.

Defensively for the Rebels, Jailen Goodson, Bryce Mosley and Juslain Makambo made five tackles apiece.

QB surprised on sideline

The game included an incident in the second half in which a fan threw a coffee in Laberge’s face. According to the QB, the fan said, “Hey 12, great game, man,” and went for a fist bump, but instead threw coffee. Laberge said it was his understanding that the offending fan was identified and the situation was dealt with and said it wasn’t a negative distraction during the game.

“He got me pumped up, he got us fired up on our offence,” Laberge said.

Erdman called the incident embarrassing and shocking.

“What kind of moron does that? … 99.999 per cent of these fans are absolutely awesome, but all it takes is one idiot to do that,” he said.

As a response to the security concerns, fans were not allowed onto the field after the game.

The Rebels organization made a public apology to the Raiders on Sunday.

“We have a zero tolerance policy on the behaviour shown toward your player. The spectator involved in this incident will be banned from all our future football games at the stadium and is being dealt with by the police,” noted Doug Kobayashi, Rebels president, in a statement.

Team thinking about next year

The Raiders coach said he was proud of his players for their four-quarter effort.

“I love ’em to death,” Erdman said. “I thought they battled hard and the only thing that we can do is use this as a learning experience.”

He told the players to try to use the feeling of losing as motivation to win.

“We are close, but close doesn’t win you anything. Close gets us beat in the end,” said Erdman. “So we know what we’ve got to do and now we’ve got an off-season – too long of an off-season – to work at it and get better for next year.”

Laberge said the playoff loss will push the Raiders and make them a better team in the long run.

“If we can come out here and compete, with a bunch of guys that are first years and they’re going to keep getting better; everyone’s going to get better, I think next year, the year after, we’re going to be a dominating team in this league,” he said.

sports@nanaimobulletin.com

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