Things could have turned out a whole lot different had the Okanagan Sun scored on their opening possession.
The Sun were driving the ball down the field during the BCFC semifinal game against the visiting Langley Rams at Kelowna’s Apple Bowl on Sunday afternoon, threatening to open the scoring. But the Rams’ Joe Lester picked off the pass and raced 106 yards — a new BCFC playoff record — for the touchdown.
“That was huge,” said Rams coach Ted Kirby of the early momentum-changing play.
“Instead of them drawing first blood, we drew first blood.”
And that play helped spur the Rams on to a great defensive effort and more importantly, a 24-13 victory.
The win also advances Langley to a third straight Cullen Cup championship game against the V.I. Raiders on Saturday at Nanaimo’s Caledonia Park.
The Raiders won in 2011 before Langley ended V.I.’s six-year reign as league champions last year.
The Sun were actually ahead 10-7 after one quarter before Langley out-scored them 17-3 over the final three quarters.
“Our defence really stepped up and we threw multiple looks at their quarterback, things we hadn’t show them before or even on film,” Kirby said.
“We really confused them and frustrated (quarterback Theo Deezar).
“He was visibly frustrated, it allowed us to dictate the game and take over.”
Langley used a clock-control attack as they continuously pounded the ball along the ground.
“We thought if we pounded the rock, we could dictate the the pace of the game and control the clock,” Kirby said.
Running back Kyle Albertini ran for 187 yards on 24 carries as the Rams ran the ball 36 times compared to 25 pass attempts.
Quarterback Jahlani Gilbert-Knorren connected on 14 of his passes for 142 yards and threw touchdown passes to Malcolm Williams (seven catches, 63 yards) and Kyle Pich (two catches, 16 yards).
Langley’s other points came from a 40-yard Steve Thomas field goal, two converts and a single on a missed 23-yard field goal.
The Rams defence came up with three turnovers on downs as well as two interceptions and a fumble. In addition to Lester’s pick-6, Joe Patko had both an interception and fumble recovery. Patko also had a team-high seven tackles, followed by Nate De Rappard-Scott’s six.
Evan Foster and Treymont Levy came up with sacks the Okanagan quarterback.
Deezar was successful in moving the Sun offence through the air as he completed 26 of 47 passes for 363 yards. But the Rams defence only allowed the one touchdown pass, which went to Pierre Luc Lord.
Okanagan was forced to abandon the running game early on as Alex Bradley was injured after just three carries. Without their lead back, the Sun finished with just 75 yards along the ground.
Winning in Kelowna also avenged the Rams’ 29-28 regular season loss back in August. In that game, Okanagan led 29-0 early in the fourth quarter before Langley nearly pulled off the comeback.
“Revenge is always sweet; It was nice to go back there and play Ram football,” Kirby said.
Prior to that game, the team was missing players, others were banged up — Gilbert-Knorren could barely walk but played — and a flu bug was going around.
But Kirby was loath to make excuses for the loss.
“We didn’t want to say anything because excuses are like armpits — everyone has got them and they all stink,” he said. “To go back in there and let them see what we were all about was quite rewarding.”
— with files from Kevin Parnell/