Last week's win over the Okanagan Sun has created a situation for the Vancouver Island Raiders where each subsequent game has become more and more important.
This week's B.C. Football Conference matchup with the Langley Rams (5-1-0) did not require any added emphasis, but first place is now potentially on the line.
The Raiders (4-2-0) have lost their last two games to the Rams - 20-13 in the 2012 BCFC final, and 36-28 earlier this year - and so revenge is on their minds.
The Raiders have also improved a lot since the last time they played and added a number of new wrinkles, including the way they have used star receiver Whitman Tomusiak.
After the Raiders demolished the previously unbeaten Sun 45-17, the Rams are not taking them lightly.
"Anytime you play the V.I. Raiders, it's a huge game," said Langley head coach Ted Kirby, whose only loss this year was a 29-28 defeat to the Sun (4-2-0) in Week 5. "It's a lot like a chess match, they've come out with a few different looks the last couple of weeks, and they're so well coached that we kind of try to prepare for everything."
The Raiders unveiled a new running attack this past Saturday which led to their big win. But it was their passing game in Week 3 that nearly allowed them to pull the upset with rookie quarterback Jamie Ybarra under centre for the second half.
Raiders head coach Matt "Snoop" Blokker was not about to tip his hand how they planned to attack the Rams this week.
"We have different match ups and different personnel, and they play differently (then the Sun)," he said.
"We're going to have a few things that are the same and we're going to have a few things that are different and we're just going to try to put ourselves in formations that we can execute out of."
One of the biggest puzzles for Kirby to figure out is the reigning Canadian Junior Football League's top receiver Tomusiak.
In their first meeting he caught 11 passes for 225 yards and two touchdowns, keying a late rally that fell one-score short.
Against the Sun, he only caught four passes for 40 yards, but he also had two runs for 34 yards and two majors. He was incorporated on sweeps out of the backfield, catching the Sun by surprise.
Blokker knows, however, Langley will be focused on shutting him down.
"If they don't then we're maybe going to see 15 or 20 balls thrown his way or handed off or maybe a combination of both," said Blokker. "We're going to get Whitman Tomusiak the ball. We feel he's one of the most explosive game changing players in all of Canada in junior football." However, Blokker is also acutely aware of the problems the Rams offence has caused the rest of the league this year.
They have scored a BCFC high 291 points in six games, the Raiders are No. 2 on that list with 201 points.
They are led by imposing wide out Malcolm Williams who leads the BCFC with 517 yards on 27 receptions and seven touchdowns, while running back Kyle Albertini leads the league with 567 yards on 60 carries and three touchdowns. Their quarterback Jahlani Gilbert-Knorren, meanwhile, leads the BCFC with 1,307 yards and 14 touchdowns.
Their high-powered offence was a big reason they entered the season as favourites to repeat as champions and they've had to get used to having a target on their back.
"It's definitely different, it's definitely something you have to adjust to, but as the year's gone there's definitely starting to show a lot parity throughout the league," said Kirby.
V.I.'s defence has played strong this year, however, and forced four interceptions by the Okanagan quarterbacks while sacking them three times on Saturday.
"One thing I like about the way our defence is playing is we're getting after people, we're playing physical and we're getting six or seven players to the ball. Good things happen on defence when you do that," said Blokker.
The battle for first place may be taken out of the Raiders hands. One of the two pock marks on the Sun's record is a Week 1 forfeiture for playing with an ineligible player. But that ruling has been challenged and has gone to an arbitrator. If the ruling is overturned, it will all but guarantee the Okanagan first place with four games left against BCFC weak sisters Kamloops Broncos and Valley Huskers, playing them both twice. They
should know before the start of their game on Saturday.
"Until we here different - whether that appeal is overturned or not - we've still got a shot at first place," said Blokker.
"That's the motivation we need and the focus we need, is to keep battling for first place."
Kickoff is at 2 p.m. at Caledonia Park in Nanaimo.
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