Raiders will kick off at new Caledonia

Nanaimo’s V.I. Raiders play their homecoming game Saturday (Aug. 16) at Caledonia Park against the Okanagan Sun.

Okanagan Sun players tackle V.I. Raiders receiver Marshall Cook during last weekend’s game in Kelowna. The teams play a rematch Saturday (Aug. 16) at Caledonia Park.

Okanagan Sun players tackle V.I. Raiders receiver Marshall Cook during last weekend’s game in Kelowna. The teams play a rematch Saturday (Aug. 16) at Caledonia Park.

This is Part 1 of the News Bulletin’s preview of the V.I. Raiders’ home opener. For Part 2, please click here.

The new-look Raiders take the field at a new-look stadium as football season finally arrives in the city.

Nanaimo’s V.I. Raiders play their homecoming game Saturday (Aug. 16) at Caledonia Park against the Okanagan Sun.

The men in black had to be road warriors to start the summer, playing their first three regular-season games on opponents’ turf and going 1-2. Now the Raiders get to take to Caledonia in front of friendly fans.

“It should be very exciting for them,” said Brian Ridgeway, Raiders coach. “We do relish the fact that it is at home … This is going to be good for us.”

The venue has new, safer aluminum bleachers and the changerooms have been renovated.

“It’ll be nice to have our home fans, especially now the stands are remodelled and it’s a little bit of a newer Caledonia,” said Daniel Dubinski, V.I. defensive back.

Players should draw plenty of family and friends to home games. Never in Raiders history has the team had so many local guys – more than 20 Raiders are alumni of the John Barsby Bulldogs, the Nanaimo Redmen, or both. So for guys like Nate Berg – injured all of last season and now a feature back – this home game will be special.

“I’m looking forward to it and a lot of the new guys are,” he said. “It’s going to be a good feeling.”

Whether the players are from Nanaimo or not, there’s a tendency to want to play to the crowd and bring extra energy and physicality.

“It’s in the back of your mind, but we’ve got to come out and play our game, Raider football,” said Dubinski.

They weren’t able to do that a week ago in Kelowna in a 38-0 loss to the Sun. The Raiders had a tough travel day, came out flat at kickoff and couldn’t recover.

“They’ve got to come out and play much more physical and they’ve got to come out and push the pace and have a sense of urgency in their play,” Ridgeway said.

The coach said when a team doesn’t get the kind of start it wants, it has to ignore the scoreboard and take each play as it comes.

Berg said in those situations, a player shouldn’t rely on a teammate to get things going.

“Expect the plays out of yourself, don’t be looking to someone else to make a play,” he said. “If we all do that, we’ve got 24 guys out there all expecting to make a play.”

A rematch after a tough loss can be daunting, but it can also be an opportunity.

“If you enjoy the challenge, then it’s perfect. If you don’t, and you want to shy away from it, then it’s the worst matchup possible,” Ridgeway said. “I think our guys enjoy the challenge or else they wouldn’t be here in Nanaimo playing for us. So I think they’ll respond.”

Dubinski said after a “reality check,” his team will bounce back.

“An uphill battle makes us tougher in the long run,” he said.

GAME ON … The Raiders and the Sun kick off at 4 p.m. Saturday at Caledonia Park. Tickets cost $12 for adults, $10 for seniors and students and free for children five and under and will be available at the gate or in advance at Palladian Developments on Turner Road.… For a preview, please visit on Thursday.

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