If this is how Ariel Fabbro's career with the Vancouver Island Raiders ends, he could not have drafted a better finish. The Nanaimo corner back returned an interception 72 yards late in the fourth quarter to seal a 48-37 victory over the Langley Rams to win the Cullen Cup on Saturday.
Unfortunately for Fabbro, he dislocated his right shoulder on the next Langley drive and that will knock him out of at least the Jostens Cup, the Canadian Junior Football League semifinal, on Saturday in Windsor, Ont.
If the Raiders advance to the Canadian Bowl on Nov. 9, he could potentially be ready to go, but there is no guarantee.
If this is the end of the fouryear veteran's junior football career, what a way to go out.
"It feels unreal, when they were getting momentum, to be able to turn it around and stop them," he said. "Redemption is huge. It feels great. We were the reigning champions and they took it away from us. It's good competition, but it feels great to take it back."
The Rams had rallied from a 31-8 deficit, early in the third quarter, to close the gap to 38-29 early in the fourth quarter.
After a Raiders field goal by Ryan Jones, the Rams were driving again. Langley quarterback Jahlani Gilbert-Knorren let a pass get away from him and Fabbro stepped in front of it and had a clear path to the Rams' end zone. The score made it 48-29 with 3:16 to go in the game.
The Rams managed to score on the ensuing drive, a 55-yard catch-and-run from Gilbert-Knorren to Jacob Carvery and then cashed in the two-point conversion, but that's as close as the got as V.I. recovered the onside kick. It was on the conversion that Fabbro popped his shoulder out.
Fabbro is one of several former Barsby Bulldogs on the roster, including his younger brother Arthur Fabbro, linebackers
Dylan Chapdelaine and Dexter Shea, lineman Jordan Kuziek, running back Nathan Berg, receiver Marshall Cook and several others.
Most of them played a major role in leading the Raiders to their seventh BCFC title in eight years, avenging last year' Cullen Cup loss to the Rams.
"We've been together from the beginning Me and (Fabbro) are best friends," said Chapdelaine, who was named defensive player of the game, after amassing 10 tackles, two assisted tackles and two interceptions.
"We both ball out, we both have great chemistry together. I can trust him to cover receivers and he cant rust me to stop the run and do what I do."
The Raiders were also stocked with a number of Nanaimo Redmen products like linebacker Cole Samson and BCFC offensive player of the year and top receiver Whitman Tomusiak, who was named the special teams player of the game.
But there were imports who played a major role as well, most notably 18-year-old rookie quarterback Jaeden Marwick, who finished 13-of-19 for 211 yards passing, three touchdowns and one interception.
The Regina native was forced into the starting role after Jamie Ybarra - also 18 and named BCFC rookie of the year and the league's top quarterback - went down with a broken collarbone three weeks ago.
Marwick looked like a seasoned veteran on Saturday.
"It's quite amazing, it's definitely a different atmosphere from high school. You can just feel it's a bigger game and it means a lot more," said Marwick. "But it's awesome being out here. This much pressure just makes you play better." Wide receiver Dylan Schrot, out of Winnipeg, also played a big role in Saturday's championship game, catching the game's first touchdown and throwing for the Raiders' third to Ballenas grad Dustin Rodriguez on a trick play. He was also used in the running game, keeping the Rams defence off balance.
"It's an honour that the coaches have confidence in me to go make a (trick) play like that," said Schrot. "I'm just glad we executed properly and got it done."
This game was as much about avenging last year's 20-13 loss to the Rams at Caledonia in the rain and the mud. Conditions were near perfect for mid-October this year, and the Raiders were at their best.
"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 Chapdelaine.
However, this is just the first step to be completed for the Raiders. They now have to prepare for the Windsor AKO Fratmen, who beat the Hamilton Hurricanes 16-9 in the Ontario Football Conference championship.
If V.I. emerges with the Jostens Cup, they will then travel Saskatchewan to play the Prairie Football Conference champion in the Canadian Bowl on Nov. 9 - the Saskatoon Hilltops play the Regina Thunder in the PFC final on Saturday.
"It's going to be competitive in Ontario, so we just have to get on some film and see what our opponents are like and try to match up our best against their best," said Chapdelaine.
GRIDIRON NOTES - Raiders running back Ashton Galloway finished with 73 yards on 12 rushes and Michael Ritchott had 88 yards on seven carries. .. Kutra had two touchdowns for the Raiders, one receiving, one rushing. .. 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. .. 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.
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