V.I. Raiders fullback Justin Cook

V.I. Raiders fullback Justin Cook

Raiders hang on and beat Rebels

Nanaimo's V.I. Raiders edged the Westshore Rebels 23-21 on Saturday night at Langford's Westhills Stadium.

The V.I. Raiders, without their all-star quarterback, had just enough to defeat the Westshore Rebels.

The Raiders edged the Rebels 23-21 on Saturday night at Langford’s Westhills Stadium. The home team tried for a short field goal with less than two minutes to go in the game, but V.I.’s Nigel Henry blocked the kick and the Raiders hung on.

“We knew they’d bring it tough for us because it’s been a rivalry ever since we started in the league,” said Henry. “We knew they’d play us harder than anyone else and they did and it made it an exciting game, I guess.”

Jerome Erdman, Raiders coach, clutched his chest afterward and joked about needing to check himself into a walk-in clinic.

“We did what we had to do to win. It was an ugly win,” Erdman said. “I think you’ve got to give credit to Westshore … when you get these rivalry games, you throw out what happened the week before. They came to play.”

The Raiders were missing pivot Liam O’Brien, out with an undisclosed injury. Brody Taylor got the start and led the offence to touchdowns on the first two drives of the first quarter, but neither he nor backup QB Dustin Rodriguez completed many passes the rest of the night. The Raiders leaned on running back Nathan Berg, who responded with 198 rush yards.

V.I.’s defence surrendered 365 passing yards, but held when it needed to.

“It’s good that they don’t panic,” Erdman said. “They move on and then we change the football coverages a bit and change the defence a bit and it was bend but don’t break.”

Taylor opened the scoring on a one-yard TD plunge and Berg had touchdowns of five yards and three yards in the first half as the Raiders built a 23-12 halftime lead.

The Rebels scored midway through the fourth quarter to get within two points, but missed a 45-yard field goal attempt, then had a 16-yard attempt blocked.

“It was just the middle push…” Erdman said. “We’ll just pin our ears back and rush hard through the gaps and hopefully something opened up, and something did.”

Taylor finished the game 6-for-16 for 93 yards and Rodriguez was 2-for-6 for 18 yards. Victoria’s Ashton MacKinnon was 21-for 43 for 365 yards and three touchdowns and rushed for 45 yards. Victoria’s Hunter Lake had 136 receiving yards and two TD catches and Eric Williams had 114 receiving yards and a TD.

The Raiders rushed for 286 yards as a team, while the Rebels did not attempt a single handoff all game.

Defensively, Alex Eberling and Josh Paisley had five tackles each, Tristan Muir had three tackles and two knockdowns and Max Baldam had a 40-yard interception return. James Smith had two sacks, Quinton Bowles had one and a half and Dexter Shea had one.

Quarterback rotation part of the plan

The Raiders knew on Tuesday that O’Brien wouldn’t be available and tabbed the sophomore Taylor as starting QB.

“It was really exciting to be in my first CJFL start and show what I can do,” he said. “The game plan going in, though, was to run the ball and I think we did a good job of that.”

He said quick passes, an “unreal” run game and “exceptional” O-line play led to success early, but said after that, there were too many mistakes.

“There was passes that I didn’t complete that I should have, to keep the chains moving,” Taylor said. “It’s the little things we need to work on.”

Erdman said the Raiders intended all along for both Taylor and Rodriguez to take snaps.

“They’re so totally different. DRod’s a great athlete and can get around the corner, Brody’s going to stand in the pocket and throw it like that, and we were going to try and mix it up,” the coach said. “And to tell you the truth, if one guy got the hot hand, we’d go with that.”

GAME ON … The V.I. Raiders play the Okanagan Sun on Saturday (Aug. 8) at 4 p.m. at Caledonia Park.