Playoffs must be desperate times, because the Okanagan Sun have taken desperate measures.
The V.I. Raiders’ rivals from Kelowna fired their head coach on Monday, just five days before the Sun travel to Caledonia Park to face the Raiders in the B.C. Football Conference semifinals on Saturday (Oct. 20).
It adds some intrigue to what was already bound to be a good game. Even though the Sun (3-7) finished well back of the Raiders (9-0-1) in the standings, both games at Caledonia this season came down to missed field goals in the final minute.
Sun president Paul Carson will serve as interim coach after Gavin Lake’s firing.
“I think their organization made a decision to have something for the team to rally around,” said Matthew (Snoop) Blokker, Raiders coach. “They’re going to be full of emotion and they’re going to be excited and feel it’s a new year, it’s a whole new thing and the guy that did all the wrong was their head coach and now he’s gone.”
So the key for the Raiders will be to try to snuff the Sun’s spirits by taking an early lead.
“Emotion is great but it doesn’t last long,” Blokker said. “We’ve got to execute play in and play out.”
In other words, the Raiders see themselves as fine-tuning at this time of year, while the Sun have made a wholesale change. It’s two totally different playoff strategies colliding.
“They’re going to be the same team, they’re still going to bring it,” said Ashton Galloway, Raiders tailback. “They’re going to have a lot of emotion coming off the firing of the head coach. We’re not too worried about that, we’re worried about the Raiders.”
Nanaimo’s game this past weekend might have been its most well-rounded of the season, a 57-7 drubbing of the Westshore Rebels.
“We’re finally getting it,” Galloway said. “Every phase of the game, defence, offence, special teams are all firing.”
Tremaine Apperley, V.I. defensive back, said consistent play is even more critical in the playoffs, so it’s encouraging that the Raiders are coming off a four-quarter effort.
“Lots of people say playoffs is a new season and in a sense it is, but I like the fact that we are rolling with some good momentum,” Apperley said.
The Raiders plan to work hard this week at the X’s and O’s, too.
Blokker said his staff met immediately after Lake’s firing to discuss the development and what it might mean to Okie’s game plan.
The Sun are led offensively by slotback Bobby Davis and defensively by rush end Steven Doege. Okanagan has also been effective forcing turnovers against V.I., something Nanaimo intends to limit this Saturday.
Both sides will have plenty of veteran savvy in their lineups, but V.I. has the edge in playoff experience.
“We understand what it’s all about,” said Blokker. “I think the key to understanding playoffs is making sure that you realize … it’s no different than any other game. The prize at the end is a little bit bigger and means more, but you still have to break it down and still prepare and still play a football game.”
GAME ON … The Raiders and Sun kick off Saturday at 1 p.m. at Caledonia Park. Tickets, $12, will be available at the gate … The Bulletin’s V.I. Raiders notes online feature will be published at www.nanaimobulletin.com/sports on Thursday (Oct. 18).