Believe it or not, even the big, bad V.I. Raiders get nervous before playoff games.
“Every athlete, no matter what you do, you always get nervous before every game,” said Andrew Smith, Raiders all-star receiver. “It gives the game more intensity, and once you start playing, then [the nerves] all just disappear.”
There’s a reason why players are on edge – every game from here on in is win or go home.
The Raiders (10-0), on the strength of their first-place finish in the B.C. Football Conference, draw the fourth-seeded Westshore Rebels (5-5) for a semifinal matchup on Saturday (Oct. 15) in Nanaimo. The other semifinal pits the Okanagan Sun against the Langley Rams on Sunday in Kelowna.
“We were kind of hoping that it would be Victoria that we would play against, maybe a little bit of an easier team than Langley,” said Mark Mueller, Raiders kicker.
Nanaimo loves to play Victoria in junior football, and with good reason – the Rebels have never beat the Raiders, whether it be at home or on the road, in the pre-season, regular season or playoffs.
But Westshore certainly tries – V.I. cornerback Tremaine Apperley said the last meeting between the two teams was the most hard-hitting game of the year so far.
“It’s always a super physical game with Victoria,” he said. “I’m expecting the same thing for this game and we’ve just got to bring it and be the bigger bully.”
That last game between the rivals was a strange one, as the Rebels had great success running the ball but couldn’t move the ball through the air.
“So we’ll have to buckle down and stop the running back and hopefully we’ll hold them to zero yards passing again,” Apperley said.
The Raiders said this week they were intending to practise hard and prepare thoroughly. They recognize what they were able to accomplish in the regular season, but playoffs “are a whole different animal,” said V.I. tailback Jordan Botel.
“The intensity, excitement, nerves, everything’s at a whole other level,” he said. “A couple miscues and you could be done, and 10-0 means nothing.”
GAME ON … The Raiders and Rebels kick off on Saturday (Oct. 15) at 1 p.m. at Caledonia Park. Tickets will be available at the gate.