The biggest football games of the year always seem to pit the Vancouver Island Raiders against the Okanagan Sun.
Call this one the Collision in Kelowna.
The V.I. Raiders (9-0) and the Sun (8-1) meet Sunday (Oct. 9) to determine first place in the B.C. Football Conference, earn home-field advantage in the playoffs and hit each other as hard as they can.
“Playing these guys is awesome; I think it brings out the best in both teams,” said Wyatt Smith, Sun defensive back. “I’m getting goose bumps just thinking about it. This is what you play all year for and why the boys have worked so hard to get here.”
The teams are the powerhouses in the BCFC every year, though the Raiders are 13-3 all-time against the Sun. The bad feelings overflowed in recent weeks as the Sun accused the Raiders of breaking league rules and both sides have been trash talking.
“Obviously Okanagan’s going to bring their A game against us because there’s a lot of heated battles that have been going on lately,” said Jordan Yantz, Raiders quarterback.
On the field, the battle is for first place. Because V.I. defeated Okie 33-20 earlier this season, the Sun have to win by 14 points or more to claim first place.
“We’re not going out there to just win the game, we’re playing for first place and nothing else,” said Jason Casey, Sun coach. “Winning the game 20-10 won’t mean a thing. It’s the same [as] finishing 8-2, second place is second place. We need to win by two touchdowns.”
The Raiders view things a little differently. They won’t be satisfied with losing, even if it’s by 13 points or less.
“If you think complacency, don’t lose by 14, then you’ve already lost,” said Mike Schaper, Raiders receiver. “Because you’re not setting the bar – you’re setting the bar for mediocre.”
Yantz said winning is important, absolutely, and his team was preparing accordingly.
“We want to go into the playoffs 10-0 and we want to go there not giving Kelowna any reason to brag about anything,” Yantz said.
Both sides have weapons at all positions. Yantz leads the conference in every quarterbacking category, and Sun QB Jeremy Mraovic has gotten better as the year has gone on and recently had a 13-of-15 passing game.
Notably, the BCFC receiving title is undecided and both Okie’s Dan Turek (761 yards) and Nanaimo’s Andrew Smith (723) have a good shot at it.
Team goals will come first for both sides, of course.
“We match up well against them,” said Mraovic. “If everybody does their job, if we play a good, sound game, then there’s no reason we can’t come out of this with the points we need.”
No reason at all – except for a busload of proud, focused, anxious, undefeated V.I. Raiders who have a different outcome in mind.
“We want to go play and we want to go win,” Schaper said. “Especially with all the unnecessary drama going on … It’s fun. We’re playing football. A big game, where it’s actual competition.”
Most hated V.I. Raider gets excited
The V.I. Raiders and Okanagan Sun have a lot of star players, but the player to watch on Sunday, without question, is a depth receiver.
Mitch Thompson of the Raiders is in the eye of the storm between the two rivals since he switched teams at the transaction deadline. His signing in Nanaimo spurred the Okie team to file a grievance with the league.
“It’s definitely getting pretty intense, especially with everything going on, unfortunately,” Thompson said. “But I’m really excited for the game.”
Sun general manager Howie Zaron said there’s some “bad feelings” toward Thompson.
“I guess you can look at that two ways,” Zaron said. “The positive part about it is you can say, OK, screw him, let’s go kick his ass. The negative part is maybe your emotions are too high.”
It’s a sure bet that the Raiders want to get Thompson a touchdown and a sure bet that the Sun want to deliver a bone-jarring tackle.
“I’m just going to go in there and do whatever I can to help our team win and whatever happens, happens,” Thompson said.
Threats of violence don’t bother him at all, he said.
“If anything it just motivates me to do better.”
The Raiders and Sun kick off Sunday (Oct. 9) at 1 p.m. at Kelowna’s Apple Bowl stadium. The game will be webcast at 1 p.m. at this link … To read the Kelowna Capital News’ game preview, please click here.
-with files from Warren Henderson