To see a slideshow of photos from Saturday's game, please click here.
The V.I. Raiders didn’t win, but they came a long way as a team over four quarters of football.
The Raiders twice trailed the Langley Rams by two touchdowns late, and twice they answered back, before they eventually came up short by a 36-28 score Saturday at Caledonia Park.
"At the end of the day we fought and gave ourselves a chance on that final drive," said Matthew (Snoop) Blokker, Raiders coach. "We still had a chance to tie this game and unfortunately we didn't make it happen."
The home team took some time to find the endzone, as it trailed 15-6 at halftime and 22-6 after three quarters. But veteran receiver Whitman Tomusiak got in synch with rookie quarterback Jamie Ybarra and willed the Raiders downfield in crunch time.
"We made our reads and we just threw the football and gave ourselves a chance to make plays," Blokker said. "When you do that you've got a chance and that's what happened."
Saturday was the V.I. team's home opener and there were jitters to start, as the Raiders dropped the opening kickoff, botched a snap and had to concede a safety before the game was a minute old. Owen Redlick's fumble recovery led to a 24-yard field goal from Ryan Jones, though, and the Raiders led 3-2 after a quarter.
The second quarter started with a 104-yard catch and run from starting quarterback Jaeden Marwick to Dylan Schrot, but the Raiders had to settle for another Jones field goal. The Rams retook the lead on a 34-yard passing TD, then after the Raiders drove the other way, Langley's Ben Sharpe came up with an interception in the endzone that eventually led to a one-yard QB keeper by Jahlani Gilbert-Knorren.
Nanaimo again made it to the red zone in the dying seconds of the first half, but some miscommunication between coaches and officials – the field's score clock wasn't working – saw time expire before the Raiders could try a short field goal.
Malcolm Williams caught a 14-yard TD, the only scoring in the third quarter.
In the fourth, Tomusiak made a long catch to get his team into the red zone, then caught a 10-yard TD pass. The teams traded interceptions, then each team's QB scored on a one-yard TD run. The Raiders' onside kick attempt with four minutes left was unsuccessful, and when Gilbert-Knorren scored his third rushing TD of the day moments later, the game looked out of reach. But Tomusiak's 75-yard TD reception, followed by a big defensive stop, gave the Raiders one last chance. Langley's Tanner Hamade came up with a pick to secure the outcome.
"It's a tough way to lose and it sucks losing at home and losing two in a row is something we're not used to, but we're not going to quit," Blokker said.
He said his guys need to show better execution and desire in the red zone.
"If we play a full game, all four quarters, we win that game. We've just got to stay consistent…" said Ybarra, who took over the offence midway through the second quarter after Marwick got hurt. "We haven't quite got to the end goal that we've wanted, but all three weeks so far we've fought the whole game."
Tomusiak said the team will take positives out of the home opener, no matter the outcome.
"I think a lot of people maybe thought we were going to come and get crushed out here and we certainly didn't…" he said. "Everyone's got to relax. I know there's huge expectations for this team just off its history. This is the youngest team we've ever had. We've just got to let the season go on, let these guys learn a bit."
Ybarra finished 11-for-20 for 233 yards, two passing touchdowns, two INTs and a rushing TD, while Tomusiak had 225 receiving yards on 11 catches. Schrot scored a two-point convert and finished with four catches for 130 yards. Michael Ritchot and Andrew Deleon were Nanaimo’s top rushers with 63 yards apiece. Marwick was 8-for-13 passing for 181 yards.
Defensively, Cole Samson blocked a convert and he and Dylan Chapdelaine had five tackles each. Daniel Dubinski had an interception.
GRID BITS … Saturday's result marked the first time that the Raiders have lost two games in a row since 2007, and the first time that the team has lost a regular-season home game since July 30, 2005 … The Raiders host the Valley Huskers on Saturday (Aug. 17) at 4 p.m. at Caledonia Park.