To see a slideshow of photos from Saturday’s season opener, please click here.
The V.I. Raiders were pumped up for the start of football season, and they played like it.
Nanaimo’s Canadian Junior Football League team showed a lot of big-play potential and a little bit of nerves in a 44-14 win over the Westshore Rebels on Saturday night in Victoria.
“I thought the effort was there consistently and that was important,” said Matthew (Snoop) Blokker, Raiders coach.
The game changed with three minutes to go in the first half, with the Raiders up 10-7. Quarterback Jordan Yantz scored on a one-yard plunge, then 16 seconds later defensive back Ariel Fabbro intercepted a pass and ran it back into the red zone. Seconds after that, Yantz found Dustin Pedersen for a three-yard TD and all of a sudden it was 24-7 going into halftime.
Yantz had a huge game, going 17-for-24 passing for 331 yards, four touchdowns, no interceptions and 89 rushing yards. Whitman Tomusiak had two touchdown grabs including a 70-yarder, with Marshall Cook also catching a TD pass. Tomusiak and Pedersen were both over 100 yards receiving and tailback Ashton Galloway gained 108 yards on 19 carries. Mark Mueller had three field goals, including a 37-yarder, to go with five converts.
Defensively, Shane Stonehouse had a sack and a fumble recovery and Ash Gayat and Jordan King-Nyberg also had sacks. Full defensive statistics are still unavailable.
Victoria’s touchdowns were scored by Mark Black, on a one-yard keeper, and Eric Eggleston on a 24-yard pass from Jesse Herman.
“I think we did pretty good for our first game, not having an exhibition game,” Fabbro said. “We have a lot to work on, a lot of little things, just to get the techniques right.”
Raiders defensive players said coaches had them well-prepared for Victoria’s rushing attack in the first half. Blokker said his D did a good job limiting Rebels star tailback Greg Morris.
“I don’t think he had a whole lot of carries for big yards; he didn’t have any big rips against us and we stopped him in the pass,” Blokker said. “Our game plan was to make the other guys beat us.”
The Raiders’ offence came largely through the air and appeared crisp for Week 1, though Yantz thought it could have been better still.
“I could have been hitting a couple more guys in the hands when it was going over their heads,” he said. “There were a couple nice plays that receivers made, a couple nice throws, a couple nice runs by Ashton [Galloway]. The end result was pretty good.”
The Raiders recognize there’s work to be done. The kick return unit had some issues and fumbled twice, and Blokker also lamented a couple of ill-timed penalties on defence. But the V.I. team will be in a better position to work on those things now that it’s gotten some game action, some film, and a win in the standings.
“Now we’ve played live, now we’re going to have a little more confidence in ourselves as a team,” Blokker said. “It’s a lot of pressure for these guys in the beginning, to live up to what it’s like to be a Raider.”
Stonehouse called the victory Step 1 in a long season.
“We’re going to improve and we’ve just got to work our best to become the best team we can possibly be,” he said.
GRID BITS … This article will be updated with official statistics when they become available … Raiders linebacker Anthony Bienvenue suffered what appeared to be a serious leg injury late in the first half … The V.I. Raiders play their home opener Saturday (Aug. 11) when the Langley Rams visit Caledonia Park for a 5 p.m. kickoff.