The Vancouver Island Raiders are B.C. Football Conference champions once again.
The Raiders beat the Langley Rams 48-37 on Saturday afternoon at Caledonia Park in Nanaimo, avenging their loss in last year’s Cullen Cup.
Rookie quarterback Jaeden Marwick led the Raiders with three touchdowns and cornerback Ariel Fabbro sealed it with a 72-yard interception return for a score with 3:16 to go in the game.
Up next for the Raiders is the Canadian Junior Football League semifinal Jostens Cup against the Ontario Football Conference champion next Saturday.
They’ll celebrate this one first.
“It means a lot, it means everything right now, it’s the greatest feeling, especially last year with us losing it, now it’s back with us, it’s back with its rightful owners,” said linebacker Dylan Chapdelaine, who finished with 10 tackles, two assisted tackles and two interceptions, earning defensive player of the game.
For the Rams, this was a tough one to swallow. They were the defending champions, coming into Caledonia last year to beat the Raiders 20-13 in a game bogged down by torrential rain and mud.
The Raiders got out to a 24-6 lead in the second quarter and then disaster struck the Rams, losing star receiver Malcolm Williams to an apparent knee injury.
But they battled back, closing the score to 38-29 in the fourth quarter, but it wasn’t enough. Unable to get key defensive stops.
Rams quarterback Jahlani Gilbert-Knorren finished 29-of-49 for 413 yards, two touchdowns and four interceptions, while adding 90 yards rushing and one touchdown on 11 attempts
“They put more points on the board than we did,” said Rams head coach Ted Kirby. “We didn’t stop them when we were supposed to stop them and we didn’t score when we were supposed to score.”
The Raiders made a statement on the opening kickoff, as they ran the reverse to Chapdelaine. They marched the ball down to the Rams’ one-yard line, but had to settle for an eight-yard field goal by Ryan Jones.
On the ensuing Langley Rams drive, Chapdelaine picked off Rams Gilbert-Knorren at the Langley 20-yard line and returned to the 10. Marwick converted this one for six-points, finding Dylan Schrot in the back of the end zone through two Rams defensive backs, dragging one toe for the touchdown.
Langley made the score 10-6 on two long field goals by Steve Thomas, but the Raiders responded on an acrobatic 12-yard touchdown catch by Alex Thompson at 5:45 of the second quarter.
After the Rams next drive went nowhere, the Raiders marched back down again, this time capping off their drive with some more trickery. Marwick handed the ball off to Schrot on an end around, he stopped after sweeping out to the right, then found a wide open Dustin Rodriguez for a 15-yard touchdown, to go up 24-6.
The Raiders surrendered a late safety to make the score 24-8 at the half.
Alex Kutra put V.I. up 31-8 early in the third quarter on an eight-yard run, but then the Rams started to rally.
BCFC-leading rusher Kyle Albertini, scored on a one-yard plunge and then a few minutes later Gilbert-Knorren found Daniel English on a 21-yard score to pull within 31-22.
After Kutra scored his second touchdown of the game, Gilbert-Knorren had his biggest play of the game, scoring on a 38-yard quarterback draw up the middle, to make the score 38-29
Jones booted his second field goal of the game, at 8:38 of the fourth quarter to put the Raiders up by 12 points, but the Rams still did not go away. Gilbert-Knorren marched them back down again, this time, however, Fabbro picked him off at the Raiders’ 38-yard line and had a convoy of blockers in front of him as he returned it for a back-breaking touchdown.
“It feels unreal, when they’re getting momentum, to turn it around and stop them,” he said.
It started the celebration on the Raiders sideline.
“I was just grabbing on to somebody, I don’t know who it was, but I was squeezing him and almost killed him,” said Blokker. “At that point in time, if you look at the clock and can manage it a bit, I thought we had a chance for the win.”
True to form of a defending champion, the Rams did score one more touchdown, this time on a 55-yard passing play Jacob Carvey, and they added the two point conversion. One big blow for the Raiders, they lost Fabbro on the convert to a dislocated shoulder, and he will miss the Jostens Cup.
Marwick was terrific for the Raiders, finishing 13-of-19 for 211 yards passing, three touchdowns and one interception. For his efforts he was named offensive player of the game. The Raiders will have an interesting choice at quarterback at the Jostens Cup, as Jamie Ybarra, who was offensive rookie of the year and named BCFC’s top quarterback, should be back from his broken collarbone.
“Two 18-year-old guys, I don’t know who recruited them, but I think he did a hell of a job because I think those two guys have an amazing future at the quarterback spot,” said Blokker. “An 18-year-old leading us to a championship, so proud.”
GRIDIRON NOTES – Raiders running back Ashton Galloway finished with 73 yards on 12 rushes and Michael Ritchott had 88 yards on seven carries . . . Whitman Tomusiak had three kick returns totalling 114 yards, including a 58 yard return that set up a second half scoring drive for the Raiders. He was named special teams player of the game . . . Rams wide receiver David Saringer had six catches for 169 yards while English had 11 grabs for 111 yards and one touchdown . . . Albertini finished with 70 yards on 13 carries and one touchdown.
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