Raiders, Rams play for B.C. championship

The V.I. Raiders host the Langley Rams this Saturday (Oct. 22) in the B.C. Football Conference final at Caledonia Park.

Langley Rams defensive back Jordan Linnen

Langley Rams defensive back Jordan Linnen

The V.I. Raiders love championship games.

One reason why is because it means the semis are firmly behind them.

“I hate the semifinals,” said Matthew “Snoop” Blokker, Raiders coach. “It’s almost like everybody forgets that it’s just a football game because of all the hype that it’s a new season.”

The Raiders got through the semis just fine, with a 49-17 win over the Victoria Rebels, but they know they didn’t play anywhere near their best. With a playoff win in the books now, the coach is expecting the real Raiders to show up for the B.C. Football Conference championship final Saturday (Oct. 22).

Nanaimo takes on the Langley Rams in a 1 p.m. kickoff at Caledonia Park.

“We realize that we’ve got to do better,” said Cole Bishop, Raiders safety. “It’s either do better or suffer the consequences on game day.”

Five-time defending-champion Nanaimo (11-0) is a huge favourite over Langley (6-5). The Raiders won both meetings in the season series. They have more all-star players, more championship experience and home-field advantage at a park where they haven’t lost since 2005.

But the Rams have won their last two football games and reached the B.C. final for a reason.

From playing and scouting the Langley team, the Raiders know the Rams will bang and crash.

“The most physical team is basically going to win every time, so that’s what we really try to emphasize,” said Erling Skuggedal, V.I. special teams player.

The Rams, tasked with slowing down Raiders quarterback Jordan Yantz’s air-raid offence, will be coming for the QB.

“They’ve got a big D line and they like to bring pressure on the quarterback, that’s one thing that we’ve always prepared for against them,” Yantz said.

The Rams have some capable defensive players but their star, without doubt, is receiver and kick returner Nick Downey. Blokker said the Raiders aren’t afraid to kick to Downey, but “we’re going to be smart about what we do.”

Skuggedal said it’s important for the punt and kickoff units to funnel Downey to the inside of the field.

“We can’t give up that edge, because if we give him that edge he does have the speed that can burn us,” Skuggedal said. “We’ve just got to stay focused, run our lanes and there shouldn’t be too many busts.”

Downey made his reputation as a return threat but he was also the league’s receiving champ in 2011. Blokker said the game film shows that Downey just kept running the same two routes all season.

“We’ve got to be aware of that, and we’re going to have some different coverages in that they haven’t seen with him, and hopefully we can confuse him a little bit and at least try and contain him.”

The Rams have another strong receiver on the other side of the field in Daniel English so the Raiders’ D will have to be balanced.

“We’ve just got to play good, solid defence all the way around and we’ve got to play good field positioning and we’ve got to score points and make it a race,” said Blokker.

And no junior football team wins races like the Raiders.

“The trophy’s going to be at the field and especially on our home turf, we want to be the ones to put it up,” said Yantz.

GAME ON … The Raiders and Rams kick off on Saturday at 1 p.m. at Caledonia Park. Tickets will be available at the gate shortly after noon … The winner of the BCFC championship will be presented the Cullen Cup trophy and will earn the right to host the Prairie Football Conference champs next weekend in the Intergold Cup national semifinal.