The V.I. Raiders are best on the Island and best in British Columbia.
Nanaimo’s junior team won the B.C. Football Conference championship on Saturday, defeating the Westshore Rebels 21-7 on a rainy night in Victoria.
Nanaimo built an 18-7 halftime lead and maintained an edge in field position all night en route to the victory. Running back Zander Bailey was Offensive Player of the Game, safety Shawn Arabsky was Defensive Player of the Game and punter Nik Hunchak was Special Teams Player of the Game.
Dexter Shea, V.I. linebacker, said his team has believed in its capabilities all season.
“We’re peaking, we’re vibing, we’re just playing together,” he said. “We’re playing lights-out football right now and we know it, we believe it and that’s all that matters.”
The Rebels were the defending champions, the No. 1 seed and had home turf, but the Raiders overcame those factors.
“We respect our opponent, we knew what they were going into the game, they’ve been a great team all year and coach [Charly] Cardilicchia has done a great job all year, with his staff,” said Doug Hocking, Raiders coach. “But I don’t think teams understood what we were and we knew what kind of team we are.”
Raiders quarterback Jake Laberge threw two touchdowns, connecting with Trevor Pelland for a 19-yard score in the first quarter and then with Brycen Mayoh on a 18-yard major in the second quarter.
The Rebels halved the lead when Kaine Stevenson scored a 77-yard rushing touchdown five minutes into the second quarter, but that was it for major scores for either team. Hunchak punted for a rouge and James Parker was 2-for-3 on field goals.
On defence, the Raiders forced seven turnovers: three interceptions, three turnovers on downs and a fumble recovery. Arabsky had two picks and Nathan Mayers also picked off a pass.
Neither team sustained many drives in the rain and so both punters were busy, with Hunchak and the punt coverage team continually giving the Raiders the edge.
“We’ve felt all year long, with the way our defence is playing, if we put teams on a long field, they’re going to have a tough time mounting drives on us,” Hocking said.
The coach said he’s proud of his team and said not only has everyone bought into the system and the process, but there’s more to it than that.
“This team is about as close a team as I’ve ever been around,” Hocking said. “They have each others’ backs. They’re only about the team … they’re not about themselves, they’re only about playing for each other and understanding that. And that’s what they fight for.”
Several players talked about the Raiders being a family.
“We’re all close, we’re brothers in there and now we’ve got a championship and we’re one step closer to our next goal,” Hunchak said.
Bailey said the Raiders have had a great mindset all year, high expectations and a willingness to do what it takes.
“It’s absolutely exhilarating to win the Cullen Cup,” he said. “I think we exceeded what the league’s expectations of us were this year. That was obviously a great feeling, but we’re not done.”
Laberge was 5-for-18 for 54 yards. Bailey finished with 113 yards on 25 carries.
Defensively, Shea had 10 tackles and a fumble recovery and Quinton Bowles had nine tackles, a sack and forced fumble.
GAME ON … The Raiders advance to the Canadian Junior Football League semifinals next weekend on the Prairies against either the Saskatoon Hilltops or the Regina Thunder.
— Greg Sakaki (@BulletinSports) October 22, 2017