Raiders trying to measure up in rematch with Sun

The V.I. Raiders take on the Okanagan Sun on Saturday (Sept. 13) at 2 p.m. at Caledonia Park.

V.I. Raiders running back Nate Berg tries to fend off Okanagan Sun opponent Ron Mwamba during a game earlier this season at Caledonia Park.

V.I. Raiders running back Nate Berg tries to fend off Okanagan Sun opponent Ron Mwamba during a game earlier this season at Caledonia Park.

The V.I. Raiders have come a long way.

They’ve gained a lot of yards, experience, and some points in the standings since a pair of ugly losses to the Okanagan Sun earlier this season.

Now, in the third and final regular-season meeting between the rivals, the Raiders will find out how they measure up.

“We’ve grown up a lot,” said Brian Ridgeway, V.I. coach. “Still the same look, same ideas, same playbook, it’s just we’re executing at a much higher level. It’s like night and day.”

The Sun shut out the Raiders 38-0 in Kelowna on Aug. 9, then won the rematch a week later in Nanaimo by a 64-20 score.

“[We] took two absolute beatings by the Okanagan Sun and they were well-deserved,” Ridgeway said. “We didn’t come out and play hard and we had 100 excuses why.”

The Raiders learned from those losses, and realized they needed to be more prepared and more physical to compete in the B.C. Football Conference. Those tough lessons were part of the process, said the coach.

“Getting stomped down a few times, it’s the adversity. That feeling … really fuelled our next phase of hard work,” Ridgeway said.

He said he hopes the losses to the Sun don’t sit well with his guys, and said this week is absolutely a measuring stick. The players view it that way, too.

“Our players, they’ve gained more experience and our players are in better positions than they were a couple weeks ago,” said Dylan Chapdelaine, V.I. linebacker. “And everyone’s maturing and getting into the rhythm of the season. So I think this game’s going to be a lot better than the last time we saw them.”

Both teams are on win streaks. The Raiders have won two in a row and the Sun have taken over first place in the standings.

Okanagan has a potent rushing attack and the conference’s stingiest defence, while V.I. has the league’s best passing game.

“You can’t take anything away from Okie, they’re executing very well, their big players are playing big and they’ve got confidence; they’re on a roll,” Ridgeway said. “No doubt they’re going to be a very powerful opponent, but everybody’s beatable.”

The coach said there could be huge swings in the score depending on what each team does right and wrong. Chapdelaine predicted a tight game.

“We’re going to have to play hard and we’re going to have to execute every play and it’s going to be a game of inches,” he said.

After playing a barnburner and a blowout the last two home games, the Raiders are expecting this one to be physical and intense.

“If you’ve ever watched a bullfight, even though the matador’s quite calm, it’s an intense situation. It’s going to be a lot like that…” Ridgeway said. “The Okanagan Sun will be ready to play and I think our guys are really going to be ready to play.”

GAME ON … The V.I. Raiders take on the Okanagan Sun on Saturday (Sept. 13) at 2 p.m. at Caledonia Park. Tickets will be available at the gate at a cost of $12 for adults and $10 for seniors and students.

sports@nanaimobulletin.com