The Vancouver Island Raiders biggest win of the season came at great cost, losing starting quarterback Jamie Ybarra to a broken collar bone.
The 22-12 win over the Langley Rams on Saturday all but sewed up first place in the B.C. Football Conference for the Raiders, with one game remaining against the last place Westshore Rebels.
The Raiders have come a long way since starting the season 1-2 and looking like they were going to be left in the dust by the Rams and the Okanagan Sun.
But they proceed to win their next six games, capped by Saturday's win in torrential rain in Langley.
First place gives them the all-important home field advantage through the playoffs, that is if the BCFC allows them to play at Caledonia Park.
"(Winning) was the difference between having the chance to finish in first place or automatically finishing in third and having to go back to Langley in two weeks and start the playoffs that way," said Raiders head coach Matt "Snoop" Blokker.
If they are going to go on a long post-season run, they will have to do it without Ybarra.
The 18-year-old rookie pivot has been key in their turnaround this year, as they've won all six games he's started.
He was crunched on the second series of the game after driving the Raiders deep into Rams territory. He dropped back in the pocket and just got the ball off before being hammered by Langley defensive tackle Evan Foster. "It didn't feel like it was broken right away, it just felt different," he said. "I got up, I was kind of stunned, walked over to the bench and felt my collar bone and realized it was broken."
Ybarra was taken to hospital where the diagnosis was confirmed. He will now be out for the next five weeks, effectively ending his rookie season with the club.
"I feel like I've done a lot of work in the last little while to get to where I am now and it all seemed to go away real fast," he said. "I'm still going to be around the team all the time. .. and try to continue my leadership role as much as I can. But I'm definitely disappointed."
But Jaiden Marwick, 18, came in and played well, leading a couple of Raiders scoring drives. He finished 7-of-14 for 141 yards and one touchdown. He also added on score on an eight-yard run.
Jahmari Bennett, 22, also got into the game and played well. He was the starting quarterback, expected to lead the young Raiders pivots at the beginning of the season, but a thumb injury took him out of action after the second week. He came back in the fourth quarter of last week's 54-14 win in Victoria, and looked good.
"He looks really good, you can tell he's a lot more healthy," said Blokker. "He runs the ball well and he's making some throws and making some plays. Coach Daryl (Rogers) will keep adding to the playbook the more comfortable he is with it."
He was not surprised that Marwick and Bennett played well and carried the Raiders to victory on Saturday, he has competed against them all season in practice for playing time.
"I knew they would (win)," said Ybarra, who was 2-for-4 for 24 yards before getting injured. "To be a successful football team, everyone's got to know their role and be able to execute their role. When someone goes down, you can't just shut down, you've got to keep going and find someone to replace that person and keep going on that track."
Running back Andrew Deleon also had a big game for the Raiders, finishing with 106 yards on 10 carriers on the ground. With fellow tailbacks like Michael Richott, Taylor Flavel, Mikhail Maloff and Ashton Galloway all banged up of late, a big game out of the veteran back was much needed.
"Deleon ran the ball really well and had a really good game," said Blokker.
"We got what we really needed out of the run game and I thought we got better."
Perhaps the most impressive part of their play was that they kept their composure in horrible weather. The game was pounded by high winds and soaking rains from before kick off until late in the fourth quarter. Yet the Raiders won the turnover battle 4-1 as their defence stiffened in the poor conditions.
They also got four quarterback sacks and held the Rams to just 279 yards of total offence.
"I've never been in rain like that ever," said Blokker. "We scored some good points in the first half and I thought we were in control of the game and I thought we did a really good job of managing the clock and managing the game."
The Raiders host the Rebels in their regular season finale on Saturday at 2 p.m. A final victory would officially clinch first place in the BCFC.
GRIDIRON NOTES - Raiders receiver Alex Thompson had his biggest game of his season, catching five passes for 106 yards and a touchdown. .. Rams quarterback Jahlani Gilber-Knorren finished 13-for-31 for 150 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions. .. Raiders defensive end Ash Gayat finished with three tackles, all of them quarterback sacks. .. Cole Bishop, Nigel Henry and Cole Samson all had interceptions for V.I.. .. Raiders linebacker Dylan Chapdelaine had a team-high seven tackles.
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