Jaeden Marwick certainly does not look like a wideeyed, 18-year-old quarterback, heading into a national semifinal.
Four weeks ago, the Vancouver Island Raiders rookie pivot was backing up the B.C. Football Conference rookie of the year and top QB. A broken collarbone changed all that and Marwick has proven why he was regarded as highly as he was coming out of Winston Knoll Collegiate in Regina.
Now they are banking on him to continue to play like a veteran as they head to Windsor, Ont., to play the Ontario Football Conference champion Windsor AKO Fratmen in the Canadian Junior Football League Jostens Cup semifinal.
"More than the team needed confidence in him, I think him going out and doing what he did really put confidence in himself that he could play at this level and perform," said head coach Matt "Snoop" Blokker. "There's a lot of pressure on you as a Raider, you're expectations of winning are huge and to win, for our home team we're at a completely different confidence level now."
Marwick had his best game as a Raider in the Cullen Cup final, going 13-for-19 for 196 yards and three touchdowns with one interception.
In the face of a ferocious Langley Rams pass rush, he was unflappable, and when he did make mistakes, he did not let them multiply and let the game spiral out of control.
For his efforts, he was named the BCFC final's offensive player of the game.
He has done a lot of growing up in the last few weeks.
"It was a big game atmosphere and I'm going to be expecting that this coming Saturday," said Marwick, who added he's not feeling any pressure, just confidence in himself and his team.
"It's good to get the bugs out of the way and the nervousness, now I've just got to take advantage of that in another game we get to play, and hopefully the next one."
Marwick can expect a similar style defence from the AKO Fratmen that he saw from the Rams. "They're a strong looking defence. .. so we're not taking them lightly," he said. "We're expecting them to be a great team. We're going to be going all out and not taking anything for granted and I'm not expecting anything less from them as well."
He will have plenty of leaders surrounding him who have been to this game and beyond before to take the pressure off. On offence, veterans like receiver Whitman Tomusiak, lineman Tyler Oldendorf and running backs Andrew Deleon and Ashton Galloway have all played in the Jostens Cup, and all have played big rolls in one of the most dangerous attacks in the league - averaging 60.67 points over their last three games.
Defensively, the Raiders have fielded arguably the best unit in the BCFC this year. They carried them through their early rough patches as the offence found its game, and just got better as the season wore on.
They were led by an opportunistic group of defensive backs like all-star Cole Bishop, and Ariel Fabbro, who's season and career are now over after breaking his collarbone in the BCFC final. They are also loaded with playoff experience in the front seven, with the likes of Ash Gayat, Cole Samson, Andrew Rowe and BCFC linebacker of the year Dylan Chapdelaine.
They are ready for a run-heavy offence in Windsor.
"I love it, it's my specialty," said Chapdelaine, who had 10 tackles, two assisted tackles and two interceptions in the Cullen Cup. "I'm looking forward to it, because usually everyone just tries to throw it over our head and now we get to come down hill and play strength against strength, and we're pretty strong."
What this game represents is a chance to end a title drought, not usually words associated with the Raiders.
Their last national championship was in 2009, and the last time they advanced to the game was 2010, where they lost 34-23 to the Saskatoon Hilltops. Since then, they have lost to the Hilltops in the Jostens Cup and then last year they lost to the Rams in the Cullen Cup.
Earlier this year it was looking like that streak would be extended, as they fell to 1-2, but they fought back and have won nine-straight games since.
They are fully aware of what is at stake in Windsor.
"I couldn't be more excited for this challenge and this opportunity," said Blokker. "We're one game away from being in the dance, I know there wasn't too many people that thought we'd get to the national championship after Week 3, but that's sports. We needed all 10 games to get ready for the playoffs and we used it all. .. I don't think we've peaked yet."
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