The first game of the Canadian Junior Football League 110th season did not go the way the Langley Rams would have liked.
The Saturday (Aug 4) BC Conference game against the Westshore Rebels at at McLeod Athletic Park Stadium was close until the final quarter, when the visitors made it 19-16 and kept it that way till the end.
The teams last met in the 2017 BCFC Semi-Final at the Rebels home field in Langford, a game that ended the Rams season with a 57-14 loss while the Rebels advanced to the Cullen Cup BCFC Championship game, where they suffered a home 21-7 loss to Nanaimo’s VI Raiders.
— Westshore Rebels (@WestshoreRebels) August 5, 2018
The first quarter of Saturday’s game was dominated by defensive play as both teams’ offensive units worked out the first game bugs.
A Rams turnover resulted in the first points of the game, Max Joseph was stripped of the ball near mid field and then the Rebels offense pushed the ball to the Rams 21 but could get no further, Kyle Clarke’s 28-yard field goal gave the Rebels a 3-0 lead with 4:41 remaining in the opening frame.
Duncan Little took over at the Rams 35 and put together a 10-play drive that took them to the Rebels 21, Mattias Bueno matched Clarke’s field goal with a 28-yard kick of his own with 17 seconds on the clock and the score was tied 3-3 after one quarter of play.
The Rams defense stepped up on the Rebels first series of the second quarter and sacks by Skye King and Dalton Dietrich forced Clarke to punt from his own 45, his effort to keep the ball away from the ever-dangerous Max Joseph resulted in only a 20-yard punt and the Rams took over on their own 45.
Little and the Rams offense went to work once again and this time marched the ball all the way to the Rebels three-yard line, after two unsuccessful attempts to find the endzone the Rams settled for a 13-yard field goal to take a 6-3 lead with 6:04 remaining in the half.
Rebels quarterback Mason Brown was a thorn in the Rams defensive unit’s side most of the game for his ability to avoid pressure and make key passes and runs at key times, he avoided several sacks on the Rebels next possession and using a mix of runs and passes moved the ball deep into Rams territory, his 10-yard touchdown strike to Khaliel James gave the Rebels a 10-6 lead with 2:27 to go in the half.
Little once again responded by moving the ball deep into the Rebels end of the field but once again settled for a short field goal, this time Bueno’s 20-yard effort made the score 10-9 Rebels with 1:32 on the clock.
A short series by the Rebels forced a punt and put the ball in Little’s hands once more, this time with under a minute to go. Starting at his own 26 the native of Didsbury Alberta hit Victor Belanger with a 24-yard toss and then found veteran running back Joseph Carter with a screen pass that went 56 yards for a touchdown and brought the Rams faithful to their feet, the two-point convert attempt failed and the Rams went into the break leading 15-10.
The Rams got one of the missed convert points back early in the third when a booming 55-yard punt single by Bueno made the score 16-10.
The remainder of the third quarter was, for the most part, played between the 50-yard lines as neither team could work their way into scoring position.
A missed Rebels 42-yard field goal attempt followed by an untimely Rams penalty put Little over center on his own one-yard line, the Rams gave up a safety touchback from there to make the score 16-12 with 10 minutes left in the game, as a result of the safety the Rams had to kick the ball back to the Rebels, who found themselves near mid field after a good return.
Brown once again averted several sacks and managed to move the ball into the Rams end of the field, he then hit Nathan Falito with a 30-yard touchdown strike to make the score 19-16 with 6:31 to go in the game.
With time getting short Little pushed the Rams offense into Rebels territory, where they were faced with a third and one situation at the Rebels 30. The Rams opted to go for a first down over what would have been a 37-yard game tying field goal attempt, Little’s third down pass attempt fell incomplete and the Rams turned the ball, and the game, over on downs.
There were some rusty spots in Duncan Little’s game but there was enough shine for Rams coaches and fans to be excited about the rest of the season. Little completed 21 of 43 pass attempts for 320 yards and a touchdown, he spread the ball around to 10 different receivers on the day and hit Max Joseph a team leading five times, Joseph Carter had three catches for 103 yards and a touchdown.
The Rams were committed to throwing the ball and didn’t run much, when they did there wasn’t a lot of room, Carter carried the ball five times for eight yards and Vincent Mohammed 3 times for 29 yards.
Mason Brown completed 13 of his 24 attempts for 213 yards and a touchdown, he was also the Rebels leading rusher with 95 yards on nine carries, in total the Rebels rushed for 181 yards.
Isaiah Okoli led the way defensively for the Rams with 12 tackles, Kyle Clarot had 9 tackles and a pass knockdown and JP Kalambay had the lone interception. The Rams were in the Rebels backfield all game but only managed to catch the elusive Brown four times for sacks, two of them by Partap Sandhu and the others by Skye King and Dalton Dietrich.
The Rams struggled through a tumultuous 2017 season, finishing in fourth place with a 4-6 record, 231 points for and 231 points against.
The Rebels finished in first place in the BCFC with a 9-1 record, 311 points for and 178 against.
Both clubs head into the 2018 season looking much different than they did in 2017.
The Rebels are fielding a team with many newcomers but had far less of a turnover than the Rams.
Following the disappointing 2017 season the Rams brass decided that it was time to clean house and take a serious run at building a National Championship calibre team. The Rams parted ways with their coaching staff and brought in Matt “Snoop” Blokker.
Blokker comes to the Rams as the winningest coach in BCFC History and second on the all time list for CJFL wins, with 126 regular season and 26 playoff victories. Blokker has won eight BCFC Championships, his first with the Victoria Rebels and the other seven in Nanaimo, where he also guided the Raiders to three National Championship victories.
Blokker has assembled an entirely new coaching staff and completely revamped the talent on the field.
Only 25 of the 80 players in camp were Rams last season.
The Rams head into the season with a young team for Junior football standards, but they were among the best in their respective High School or Midget leagues and will not be out of place at the Junior level. Mixed in with the youth movement are quality older players with Junior or CIS experience, players who will be among the best in Junior football at key positions.
The CJFL is a community based college level of football for elite athletes aged of 18 to 22, the junior loop consists of 18 teams over three conferences, BC, Prairie and Ontario.
Up next for the Rams, an away game against Valley Huskers in Chilliwack on Saturday Aug 11.
The Rams are in Nanaimo the following week and return home on Saturday August 25 for a 7PM game versus the Okanagan Sun.