The V.I. Raiders have been proving doubters wrong all season, and now is no time to be daunted.
Nanaimo’s junior football team is getting ready to face the Saskatoon Hilltops in the national semifinal on Sunday, Oct. 29 in Saskatchewan.
“For us it’s just another step along the road,” said Cody Upton, Raiders offensive lineman. “We’ve played some pretty good teams and we’re going to play a really, really good team again so it’ll be fun to get ready for them and we’ll see them on Sunday.”
Upton, who played more than three seasons with the Hilltops, said that opponent has a lot of strength areas on defence and an “unbelievable” offence.
Doug Hocking, Raiders coach, said the Hilltops are well-coached, disciplined and execute at a high level. They look like a physical team on film, but “unless you play against them, then you don’t really get a sense of it,” he said.
“But the same goes for them. They can watch us and tendencies and that type of thing and how we scheme against teams, but they don’t get a good idea of how physical a football team is and how bad of a desire to win you’ll get from a group of kids.”
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Quinton Bowles, Raiders defensive lineman, said the Raiders will need to do their jobs, execute, and keep driving their feet forward relentlessly against the Hilltops.
“These guys are good, they’ve earned that respect with a bunch of national championships, but it’s just another step, right? We’ve just got to focus on us,” he said.
The semifinalists have taken different paths to the Canadian Junior Football League semifinal. The Hilltops are three-time defending national champs and finished first in the Prairie Football Conference in 2017. The Raiders, meanwhile, were third in the B.C. Football Conference and had to win two straight playoff upsets on the road to make it to the Prairies.
Even still, the Raiders aren’t satisfied with what they’ve achieved to date – they want more.
“The Cullen Cup, it’s great, we’re honoured to bring the Cullen Cup back to Nanaimo, but for us, it’s just a step, that’s it,” said Bowles.
Hocking said the team started talking about a national championship in training camp, and players believed in the process.
“A lot of teams have overlooked us,” Upton said. “It’s been a huge advantage for us because we just keep rolling and rolling and I’d be a little nervous to play us right now, that’s for sure.”
The Raiders fly out Saturday and Bowles said they’ll have to be ready to play when it’s not just cold, but “Prairie cold” on Sunday afternoon at SMF Field. It’s going to be a good game and it’s going to be a fun game, he said.
“They have a history of playing well in big games, and in the past, we’ve had that history, too,” Hocking said. “We’re excited about this challenge. We’re really looking foward to getting out there and playing these guys.”
GAME ON … The CJFL semifinal is Sunday, Oct. 29 at noon Pacific Time. Fans can look for radio and webcast links online at www.bcfootballconference.com.