V.I. Raiders win first-place showdown

Nanaimo's junior football team travelled to the mainland and beat the Langley Rams 41-29 to take over first place in the BCFC.

V.I. Raiders defensive back Tremaine Apperley

V.I. Raiders defensive back Tremaine Apperley

To view a slideshow of photos from Saturday’s game, please click here.

The V.I. Raiders were victorious in the biggest game of the season so far.

Nanaimo’s junior football team travelled to the Fraser Valley on Saturday and defeated the Langley Rams 41-29 to take over first place in the B.C. Football Conference.

The matchup had been highly anticipated ever since the two teams tied 31-31 last month in Nanaimo, and Saturday’s game lived up to the billing. The Raiders went into halftime with just a 14-11 lead, but scored three touchdowns in the first six minutes of the second half to take an insurmountable lead.

“What a positive day for the V.I. Raiders today,” said Matthew (Snoop) Blokker, the team’s coach. “We haven’t really had a performance that we’ve felt proud about; I just thought this is one for sure, as a team, we can be really proud.”

He said the first-place matchup was huge motivation, and players said they worked hard to prepare.

“We wanted to come out and win,” said Aaron Gordon, Raiders kick returner. “We focused on our game and … we played for each other today. It was all about a team effort.”

After the Rams scored an early field goal, Raiders receiver Whitman Tomusiak caught a 45-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Jordan Yantz. Kicker Mark Mueller hit one field goal and missed another to make it 11-3, but then the Rams’ Nick Downey returned a punt 63 yards and a two-point convert tied it up. The Raiders marched back down the field in the two-minute drill and Mueller kicked the go-ahead field goal to end the first half.

The second half started with Gordon returning the kickoff 99 yards to paydirt.

“He just took that baby to the house and when you get a guy like Pinball (Gordon), the spirit that he brings to our team, when he scored, that just took our whole team to a new level,” said Blokker.

It showed. Erling Skuggedal promptly recovered an onside kick leading to a 10-yard TD catch from Matt Sawyer, then Tomusiak again fought through tough coverage to make a catch and score a 50-yard TD. Langley got a few points back with their kicking game, but another Sawyer TD catch, this time a five-yarder, made it 41-15 going into the fourth quarter.

The Rams continued to play hard until game’s end, but couldn’t recover from their early-second-half struggles.

“We had a bad couple plays to start it off,” said Evan Foster, Langley defensive lineman. “It was tough because we were down some points. We picked ourselves up but it was just tough to come back from that.”

The Raiders said the Rams were a good opponent, just as they expected.

“We knew they were going to come out strong. It was a battle for first place…” said Logan Mackay, Raiders linebacker. “We just played fundamental football and we all did our jobs and worked together as a team and we came out on top.”

The Rams will have to settle for looking ahead to the third and final regular-season meeting with the Raiders in two weeks’ time in Langley.

“We’re pissed off, right, I’m not going to lie,” said the Rams’ Foster. “In two weeks we’ve got to come back and get ’em.”

In the meantime, the Raiders (6-0-1) not only claim first place in the BCFC, but they also now have a 12-point advantage in point differential on the Rams (5-1-1).

“To put the pressure on this league to make the playoffs go through Caledonia, that’s massive for us,” Blokker said.

GRID BITS … Yantz finished the game 19-for-30 for 370 yards, four touchdowns and one interception. Tomusiak finished with three catches for 123 yards and Dustin Rodriguez made six catches for 114 yards. The Raiders’ Quinton Clarke had an interception and Nathan Warawa, Rockenson Angrand and Mackay had sacks. Jon Jones led the team with six tackles … The Raiders’ next game is Saturday (Sept. 29) when they face the Okanagan Sun (2-5) in a 2 p.m. kickoff at Caledonia Park.