Langley Rams end Raiders reign as league champs
In a battle of the top offence versus the top defence, it was the latter which prevailed.
The Langley Rams defence forced seven V.I. (Vancouver Island) Raiders turnovers — four interceptions and three fumbles — in handing the Raiders a 20-13 loss in the Cullen Cup on Saturday afternoon at Nanaimo’s Caledonia Park.
The victory ended the Raiders’ six-year reign as the B.C. Football Conference champions.
It was also the Raiders first loss this season after a 9-0-1 regular season. That included two victories and a tie against second-place Langley (7-2-1).
“I believed 100 per cent,” said Evan Foster, who was chosen defensive player of the game.
“We had a good week of practice, a good plan. We went out there and executed … it just feels unreal.”
Foster finished with four tackles and two sacks.
The game, which was played in rainy and muddy conditions, got off to a fast start.
The Raiders scored on their opening drive, a one-yard TD run from Ashton Galloway, but the Rams answered two minutes later as Malcolm Williams caught a five-yard TD pass from Greg Bowcott.
Mark Mueller put the home side ahead 10-7 but Langley answered back with a 13-yard score on a pass from Bowcott to Nick Downey.
Nick Naylor added field goals of 19 and 24 yards, respectively, in the second and third quarters, while Mueller answered back with a 16-yarder in the fourth.
“We studied a lot of film,” said Carlo Graziano, who had two fumble recoveries and an interception.
“Each time we played them, we learned more and more about them.”
The film study, as well as some new defensive wrinkles, did the trick.
“We made plays when we needed to,” Graziano said, adding the Rams entered the game fully confident in their abilities.
“We knew that we could go in there and take this game if we played our game.”
Tanner Hamade, who picked off two passes, including on the Raiders’ final drive, said the Rams’ defensive scheme did the trick.
The Raiders entered the game averaging a league-best 45 points per game, largely behind the arm of quarterback Jordan Yantz. The three-time league’s most outstanding offensive player led the league with 3,243 passing yards and 33 touchdowns in 10 games.
But Yantz was limited to 213 yards passing and no touchdowns. Two of the interceptions bounced off his receivers’ hands and another pass in the end zone hit the upright.
“We got pressure, made him force a couple of balls he didn’t want to throw,” Hamade said about the team’s scheme.
“Our d-line played awesome.”
“I think we had him guessing; he didn’t really know what (defence) we were in and it turned out to work pretty well.”
Jordan Linnen, who also tipped Yantz’ final pass which Hamade picked off, had the other interception while Arie Nakagawa had a fumble recovery.
Bowcott, who threw for 247 yards, was named offensive player of the game, while Naylor was the special teams player of the game.
Kyle Albertini led the ground attack with 59 yards on 17 carries.
Downey was the leading receiver with five catches for 85 yards.
“We gave them a couple of different cover schemes, a couple of different blitzes but kudos to our players, they made plays when we needed them to make plays,” said Rams coach Jeff Alamolhoda.
“They were in the spots where they needed to be, but they made the plays and that’s outstanding.”
Twice in the first half, the Raiders fumbled in the red zone, including once at the Langley one-yard line.
Those miscues were magnified when the rains came in the second half and scoring chances were harder to come by for both teams.
“You’ve got to capitalize when you have those opportunities and unfortunately, we didn’t,” said Matthew (Snoop) Blokker, the VI coach.
“We believed in each other 100 per cent; that’s one thing that this team has done,” Alamolhoda said.
“We’ve come together as a family. We fight for each other. We picked each other up when things went down.
“This is everything that we worked for this year so far, but we’re not done yet.”
The Rams will host the Saskatoon Hilltops in the Canadian Bowl on Saturday, Nov. 10. The game kicks off at 1 p.m. at McLeod Park.
The Rams, who moved to Langley two seasons ago from Surrey, are searching for their first-ever Canadian Bowl championship.
The Hilltops, who play in the Prairie Football Conference, have won the Canadian Bowl 15 times and are going for the three-peat.
— with files from Greg Sakaki/Black Press