Vancouver Island Raiders president Chris Cross is not shy about what he is expecting out of this afternoon's B.C. Football Conference final: A seventh title in eight years.
"We host this weekend, and we're going to win this game and then we're going to head to Ontario and we're going to win (the national semifinal)," he said.
The Raiders host the Langley Rams at 1 p.m. at Caledonia Park in Nanaimo in a rematch of last year's Cullen Cup.
Twelve months ago, it was the Rams who walked into the Raiders' home and shocked the Canadian Junior Football League in the rain and the muck, and ended V.I.'s six-year stranglehold on the conference.
They have full intentions of a repeating the result.
"(Winning) gave the guys a lot of realization and belief that it could be done and that the Raiders are beatable, and they haven't been for many, many years," said Rams head coach Ted Kirby. "We've got to keep that belief alive and have that confidence in ourselves and come away with the victory."
The Rams went on to lose to the Saskatchewan Hilltops 23-21 in the CJFL final, despite holding a late second half lead. Both teams know each other very well. They have played each other three times already this season, with the Rams winning 36-28 on Aug. 10 in Nanaimo, and the Raiders taking the next two: 41-27 on Sept. 14 in Nanaimo and 22-12 on Sept. 28 in Langley.
This is a showdown of the two most complete teams in the league.
They can both pass, run and dominate defensively.
The Rams are led by dualthreat quarterback Jahlani Gilbert-Knorren who threw for 1,945 yards, 21 touchdowns and 11 interceptions and added 571 yards rushing and 12 touchdowns on the ground. Half back Kyle Albertini finished with a BCFC best 853 yards on 94 touches and four touchdowns, and physically dominating receiver Malcolm Williams went for 638 yards on 34 catches and nine touchdowns, though he was banged up in the second half of the season.
Perhaps the most intriguing matchup on the day will be between Williams and Raiders cornerback Cole Bishop, who's responsibility will be shutting down the six-foot-three, 217-pound wide out.
"Jahlani's a great quarterback. .. he throws a great ball, he's got receivers who will go up and get it," said Bishop, who was named a BCFC all-star on Thursday. "They're hungry receivers, they want the ball and they'll fight you up and down the field for the ball, so you constantly have to remain physical throughout the run, you have to stay sharp, you can't fall asleep."
The Raiders will counter with their own diverse offence. With the BCFC's top rated quarterback and rookie of the year Jamie Ybarra still recovering from a broken collarbone, the job will fall to a combination of Jaeden Marwick and Jahlani Bennett. The duo have filled in well in the two games since Ybarra went down, but the Rams will pose a much more difficult challenge than either the Westshore Rebels or Kamloops Broncos, led by outstanding defensive player of the year Evan Foster.
Still, they can beat defences through the air or on the ground with their own stable of weapons to draw on, including offensive player of the year receiver Whitman Tomusiak and big play man Dylan Schrott. At running back they have an assortment of options, though fullback Ashton Galloway and veteran tail back Andrew Deleon have emerged in recent weeks.
At the very least, they are not taking the Rams lightly. They know what Langley can do, and are not going to let the Rams sneak up on them.
"I expect the best out of the Langley Rams, I expect they're going to play the best game they have all year," said Raiders head coach Matt "Snoop" Blokker. "They're going to be physical all over the field, they're going to compete in all three phases, so it's going to be a hell of a game. If we don't play our best football, we're not going to be close to winning."
The winner of the BCFC final will advance to the CJFL semifinal, the Jostens Cup, hosted this year by the Ontario Football Conference champion - the Hamilton Hurricanes and Windsor AKO Fratmen are playing in that final today.
The Canadian Bowl will be hosted by the Prairie Football Conference champ, they play their semifinals on Sunday.
© Copyright 2013