The Vancouver Island Raiders are going back to the Canadian Bowl.
The Raiders went on the road to crush Ontario Football Conference champion Windsor AKO Fratmen 50-3 in the Canadian Junior Football League semifinal Jostens Cup on Saturday.
The Raiders were led by quarterback Jamari Bennett, who replaced rookie pivot Jaeden Marwick, with two touchdown passes, while also being a threat with his legs.
The Raiders led just 12-3 with just a couple of minutes to go in the first half, but a 46-yard interception return for a touchdown by B.C. Football Conference linebacker of the year Dylan Chapdelaine settled V.I. down and they rolled from there.
Raiders running back Michael Ritchott was named offensive player of the game, while Chapdelaine was named defensive player of the game. AKO Fratmen kicker Dillon Grondin was named special teams player of the game.
Most importantly for the Raiders, they return to the national championship for the first time since 2010 and will try to win their first Canadian Bowl since 2009.
"It feels awesome," said Raiders head coach Matt "Snoop" Blokker. "We work so hard and travel out here and get the win like we did - now there's one game left."
After a two-and-out by the Fratmen to open the game, the Raiders scored on their first drive, capped by a 21-yard touchdown run by fullback Ashton Galloway.
But the Raiders were plagued by unnecessary penalties for much of the first half, stalling several potential scoring drives.
They settled for a field goal and a safety before the Chapdelaine pick in the final three minutes of the half to go up 19-3 at the break.
"At the beginning of the game we were playing on emotion, instead of taking the emotion out of it," said Blokker. "Once Chapdelaine made that pick, I thought it was the play of the game. What a great pick, and even better yet, what a great return. Once the defence scored it settled the whole team down and away we went."
The Raiders struck quickly in the second half, driving down the length of the field and Alex Kutra plunged in from one-yard out.
After another two-and-out by AKO, Ritchott scored on the Raiders' first play, a 56-yard
On their next drive, Bennett hooked up with Dylan Schrot for another major score, to put the game out of reach at 40-3. Early in the fourth quarter, Ryan Jones kicked his second field goal of the game to increase V.I.'s lead to 43-3, and then Bennett hit Aurthor Fabbro for a 32-yard score as the Raiders went up 50-3.
After rotating between Marwick and Bennett for much of the first half, Blokker went with Bennett for most of the final two quarters. For the Mississauga, Ont., native, this was a rare opportunity to shine in front of friends and family, and he made the most of it, finishing 7-for-13 for 109 yards and two touchdowns passing, and added another 81 yards on three rushes.
"He was excited and he was playing well, so we let him finish it out," said Blokker. The Raiders finished with 587 yards of total offence to Windsor's 120.
Ritchott had a game-high 124 yards rushing on seven carries, and Kutra was the game's top receiver with 62 yards on two catches. Fabian Ross had the Raiders other interception.
V.I. held AKO Fratmen quarterback Austin Lumley to 7-of-18 for 51 yards and two interceptions, while Tarrence Crawford was their top rusher with 76 yards on 17 carries. Star return man Austin Crub had just nine yards on two punt returns and 75 yards on six kickoffs.
The Raiders will play the Regina Thunder in the Canadian Bowl on Nov. 9 in Regina. The Thunder upset the three-time defending national champion Saskatoon Hilltops 22-16 in the Prairie Football Conference final on Sunday.
"You're going to have to be a very good football team to beat us right now," said Blokker. "I don't mean that arrogantly . . . we're just playing really well as a team. It's going to take a team to beat us, not individuals." JAldrich@nanaimodailynews.com 250-729-4243
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