V.I. Raiders have a lot to play for

Here are some players to watch at the Canadian Bowl this Saturday in Regina, when the V.I. Raiders face the Regina Thunder.

V.I. Raiders teammates Dustin Rodriguez

V.I. Raiders teammates Dustin Rodriguez

The Canadian Bowl will be played this Saturday (Nov. 9) in Regina, with Nanaimo’s V.I. Raiders taking on the Regina Thunder. For a preview of the game, please click this link. Here are some storylines to watch for in Saturday’s big game:

Quarterback a prodigal son

Raiders quarterback Jaeden Marwick couldn’t have hoped for a better homecoming than this.

The rookie, who is from Regina, chose to move west and join the Vancouver Island Raiders. Beginning the year as a backup, he took advantage of his opportunities and was MVP of the B.C. Football Conference final.

Now he leads the Raiders into Regina in a national championship game.

“Marwick’s been our starting quarterback since [Jamie] Ybarra got hurt so nothing’s changed in that department at all,” said Matthew (Snoop) Blokker, Raiders coach. “We still expect Marwick to be the starting quarterback.”

The pivot said he was trying to put aside the pressure and was looking forward to the Canadian Bowl.

“I can’t wait to be back in Regina,” he said. “It’s going to be a blast. Playing football in November and getting a chance at a national title? You can’t have more fun than that.”

All-star pivot making return

The V.I. Raiders sure needed their depth at quarterback, and they might need it one last time.

“As of now, we’re going to travel with three quarterbacks and dress three quarterbacks in the game if all three are healthy to go,” said Blokker.

Jamie Ybarra, who was the BCFC’s Rookie of the Year and an all-star, was back practising with the Raiders last week and was expecting to receive medical clearance to play after breaking his collarbone in a game in Langley on Sept. 28.

“This whole team’s mindset has been that we’re going to be in the national championship,” Ybarra said. “So when I got injured and they told me I’d be out for four to six weeks, I did the calculations and I realized that if I healed fast, then I’d be able to come back for this game. So it was always my intention and I just needed the team to pull through.”

It was nerve-wracking having to watch the games, he said.

Blokker said “it’s huge” if Ybarra is back and able to contribute in the Canadian Bowl.

“Everybody got to see, when he got on a little bit of a run, what type of quarterback he is,” said the coach.

Brothers meet in bowl game

The Regina Thunder will have home-field advantage in the Canadian Bowl, and a loud and proud fan base. The V.I. Raiders are sure to have a cheering contingent, too.

And then there will be those who don’t know who to cheer for – namely the Thompson family.

“They’re cheering for both teams,” said Alex Thompson, Raiders receiver.

He’ll be in the unique situation of taking on his brother, as Thunder receiver Mitch Thompson – a former Raiders player – will also be taking the field in the Canadian Junior Football League’s championship game Saturday (Nov. 9) on the Prairies.

“It will definitely give a little extra motivation to have the win over him when I go back there,” Alex said. “There’s been a little bit of talk going back and forth but it’s all in good fun. We both want each other to play good.”

Alex said the Raiders’ defensive backs will have to be wary of Mitch and the other Thunder receivers.

“They’re definitely going to have a big matchup on their hands and they’re going to have to play well, but I feel like our defensive backs are good enough to shut them down,” he said.

Raiders fan now a leader

One member of the V.I. Raiders is coming full circle as he takes the field in the Canadian Bowl.

Cole Samson, hard-hitting linebacker, used to be one of the Raiders’ biggest fans back when he was playing minor football with the Nanaimo Redmen.

In 2006, Cole kissed a loonie and his dad Wayne buried it at the centre of the field at Caledonia Park before that November’s national championship game.

“In 2006, they were all big men and I was way smaller than them,” he recalled.

Whether or not the good-luck gesture helped, the Raiders won the championship that day, 27-26 over the Edmonton Wildcats.

In his last year of junior eligibility, Samson decided he wanted to play for his hometown Raiders, the team he used to cheer for, and try to win with them.

“Coach Snoop said the first day we met that this was going to be a national championship team. So he’s kept his word and I kept mine – I came on the team and I was a leader,” Samson said. “So it’s come down to this.”

Game on

The V.I. Raiders and the Regina Thunder play in the Canadian Bowl this Saturday (Nov. 9) at Regina’s Mosaic Stadium. Kickoff is noon Pacific Time and there will be a pay-per-view webcast available for $10 on the Regina Thunder’s website. For details, click here … This is Part 2 of the News Bulletin’s Canadian Bowl preview. For Part 1, please click here … Check back at the News Bulletin’s website on Saturday for results from the Canadian Bowl.

sports@nanaimobulletin.com