The V.I. Raiders rose to the occasion in their final home game.
The Raiders pulled off an upset against the Okanagan Sun, holding on for a 14-8 win in B.C. Football Conference action Saturday at Caledonia Park.
Nanaimo built a 14-1 lead after three quarters and continued to slow down the visitors the rest of the way in a penalty-filled affair.
“We’ve been getting better every week,” said Jerome Erdman, Raiders coach. “This one was important that we played well and we showed that we could finish. They made it tight at the end and it was real gut-check time and our guys answered the call.”
Nathan Berg, V.I. tailback, said the win sends a message to the league.
“All of us in our locker room, we think our record doesn’t really reflect where we are and a lot of people counted us out,” he said.
Dustin Rodriguez, Raiders receiver, said winning the field-position battle was a key factor in Saturday’s win.
“There was never really a time when we put our defence in our end,” he said. “A lot of the time, when we got the ball we were starting at the 50 or more inside, so I think that played a huge part.”
Raiders kicker James Parker kicked field goals of 23 yards and 27 yards to help his team to a 7-1 halftime lead, and then quarterback Jake Laberge found receiver Fabian Jacobson in stride for a 54-yard TD reception.
Sun quarterback Keith Zyla scored on a one-yard run early in the fourth, but Okie couldn’t get to the red zone the rest of the game.
“It seems like we’re always relying on our defence and we don’t want to do that, but when you’ve got a defence like ours…” Berg said.
Although the Raiders couldn’t build on their lead, they were able to come up with some timely first downs in the final moments.
“We couldn’t run the ball as much throughout the game, and then right at the end of the fourth quarter, when we had to ice it, when we needed to run the clock out there, we came together as a group, O line firing out and we got the runs we needed,” Berg said. “It felt really good doing so.”
Laberge finished 13-for-30 passing for 241 yards, Berg had 10 carries for 62 yards and Jacobson finished with 89 receiving yards.
V.I. defensive back Jérémie Cheng had an interception on his own five-yard line late in the third quarter, Josh Paisley had an interception late in the fourth quarter and Dexter Shea also picked off a pass earlier in the game.
Cole Virtanen had nine solo tackles and eight assists, Shea also had nine solo tackles and Nathan Mayers had eight. Kaelan Botel had a sack.
For the Sun, quarterback Foster Martens was 10-for-19 for 133 yards. Receiver Rashaun Simonise had five catches for 85 yards and Brenden Hansen carried the ball 11 times for 63 yards as the Sun totalled 236 rush yards as a team.
Jamie Turek had a fourth-quarter interception, Cory McCoy had four sacks and Jonas Gering had five tackles and a sack.
Okanagan was assessed 32 penalties totalling 231 yards, compared to 17 penalties and 85 yards for Nanaimo.
For Berg, Rodriguez, offensive lineman Terrek Bryant, defensive lineman Nathan Warawa and other graduating Raiders, it was the final home game at Caledonia Park unless the team makes the national championship. So even though the result doesn’t affect the Raiders in the standings, defeating the Sun meant a lot, Rodriguez said.
“We haven’t beat them in three years. My last game at home, I couldn’t be happier for the team,” he said.
GAME ON … The Raiders finish the BCFC regular season next Saturday (Oct. 1) in Chilliwack against the Valley Huskers. The weekend’s results mean that the Raiders will face the Westshore Rebels in Victoria once the playoffs begin.