The V.I. Raiders, clad in brand-new jerseys, looked sharp, and by the end of the game, they were playing sharp, too.
The Raiders overcame a slow start to blow out the Valley Huskers 55-24 on Saturday at Caledonia Park. Nanaimo trailed 17-0 after the first quarter, but outscored Chilliwack by such a wide margin in the second half, 45-7, that the final 45 seconds of the game went to mercy-rule run time.
Kaelan Botel, Raiders defensive lineman, said his team’s energy was low to start the game, but the second half was a different story.
“We came out flying [after halftime],” he said. “We came out putting putting points up, two and out, two and out. When we got our energy up, it was a lot better. We started to play as the team we’re supposed to be.”
Valley completed a couple of long passing plays early and forced V.I. to switch some things around defensively.
“We shifted to more of a zone…” said Jerome Erdman, Raiders coach. “Kept them in front of us and make them make the plays and not give them anything and as a result we ended up making a couple of big plays on defence.”
Nanaimo’s D didn’t allow anything on the ground all game, and then only got better, increasing its pressure in the second half.
“Once we get our gears grinding we can really do some damage,” said Doyle Sosnowski, V.I. defensive lineman.
V.I. tailback Nate Berg had a big game with three rushing touchdowns as the Raiders attempted very few passes after the first quarter.
“I definitely always know we’re going to run the ball,” Berg said. “It’s our play style, we’re going to chip away at them, chip away at them and either we’re going to break or you’re going to break, right? … We definitely wore them out there in the second half.”
One of the turning points in the game came early in the second quarter. The Huskers, up 17-0, forced the Raiders to punt, but roughed the kicker. Two plays later, V.I. quarterback Jake Laberge found Dustin Rodriguez for a 73-yard TD.
Laberge had a three-yard TD run early in the third quarter and Berg had TDs of one yard and then three yards in the third quarter.
Early in the fourth quarter, Josh Paisley had a 102-yard interception return for a touchdown. Berg added his hat-trick TD with two minutes left and then Rhett Williams scored a one-yard rushing TD to close out the scoring. Bryce Couture kicked a 27-yard field goal and James Parker kicked a 17-yard field goal.
Berg carried the ball 29 times for 166 yards. Laberge finished 9-for-12 passing for 146 yards and had 74 rushing yards.
Defensively, Paisley and Ryan Porteous had picks, Eskindrias Tegegne had a punt block and Dexter Shea had a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. Doyle Sosnowski also forced a fumble. Doug Thornton had a sack and a fumble recovery, Matt Cox and Cory Lewis also recovered fumbles and Diego Pineda had a sack. Alex Eberling made five solo tackles.
Valley’s Mike West had two touchdown catches of 102 yards and then six yards and Keenan Godden had a 41-yard TD catch. QB Noah Falconer was 24-for-37 for 367 yards.
Defensively for the Huskers, Tyler McStravick had an interception, Brendan Kohls had two sacks and James Sturgeon and Mason Paleck also had sacks. West forced a fumble and Josh Wice recovered a fumble. Travis Dietrich made eight tackles.
Erdman was disappointed to see his team come out flat after a promising week of practice, but said his guys showed character to come back.
“We challenged them at half and they responded to the challenge so we’re happy with that,” he said.
The Raiders debuted new home jerseys, the first time the club has gone with a new look since entering the Canadian Junior Football League in 2005. V.I. anticipates adding new away jerseys next season.
GAME ON … The Raiders play the Okanagan Sun on Saturday (Aug. 13) at 7 p.m. at Kelowna’s Apple Bowl stadium. Next home action for Nanaimo is Aug. 20, when the team hosts the Langley Rams in a 2 p.m. start at Caledonia Park.
— Greg Sakaki (@BulletinSports) August 7, 2016