The championship game involves a rivalry and history. But mostly, it will be about football as B.C.’s top two junior football teams try for the title.
The Vancouver Island Raiders play the Okanagan Sun on Sunday (Oct. 25) in the B.C. Football Conference championship.
“They are the class of the league and I’m not going to deny that,” said Jerome Erdman, V.I. coach. “But we are playing Sunday. On any given Sunday, you never know. We’re going to have to play our best to beat them, but that’s what playoff football’s all about.”
The undefeated Sun (11-0) get home-turf advantage at the Apple Bowl when they take on the Raiders (8-3) this weekend.
But winning the Lorne Cullen Cup isn’t easy. It’s worth noting that the Sun, who have won 14 B.C. championships in their history, have not won the cup since the Raiders entered the league in 2005. Nanaimo has won seven championships since.
The most recent history has favoured the Sun. Okie defeated V.I. by a 27-3 score in Nanaimo in August and then 28-7 in Kelowna in September.
Even though the Raiders have been stymied by the Sun so far, they won’t do anything dramatically different this time around, Erdman said.
“You might have a couple new schemes, but you can’t go radically different when you just don’t have enough time to perfect it. That’s when ugly things start happening…” he said. “We’ve just got to improve on what we are doing and do that very well.”
He mentioned that both games against the Sun were close at halftime, so a full four-quarter performance could make all the difference.
“And [we want to] put them in a close game, see how they react when it’s really close later on in a game,” he said. “They’re such a good team they haven’t had that occur to them yet.”
Nigel Henry, V.I. linebacker, said he likes the way the Raiders match up against the Sun, or any opponent.
“We’re a good team, they’re a good team. So it’s just going to be a battle,” he said. “It’s going to be the team that makes the least mistakes and executes the most, like always.”
Okanagan has all-stars all over the field, but was particularly successful with its passing attack in the semifinals, gaining 450 yards through the air.
“They have a very fast and talented receiving corps, and if you fall asleep for one play, that’s all it takes, they’re in behind you and it’s a huge play,” Erdman said.
The Raiders will have to be disciplined in zone drops and smart in man-to-man coverage, the coach said.
“If we stop the run and we make them a one-dimensional team and they just pass it, our secondary’s more than capable,” Henry sasid. “So we’ve just got to stay disciplined, stay in our gaps and just play football like the way we can.”
The Raiders will travel to the Okanagan the day before the game in hopes of being fresh and ready when they take the field on Sunday. They’ll have to contend with Kelowna’s turf field and an orange-and-brown-clad crowd, but that won’t faze the visitors.
“With how our young ‘uns and our veterans have played, I think they’re mentally tough,” Erdman said. “I don’t think that bothers them, going into a hostile environment.”
GAME ON … The Raiders and Sun kick off Sunday at 1 p.m. in Kelowna.