Yes, they were trailing, but it looked like the Langley Rams had the Westshore Rebels on the ropes as dusk settled in Saturday at McLeod Stadium.
Facing third-and-10 and with the game on the line, Rams quarterback Tommy Robertson found receiver Jay Jay Jackson behind Rebels’ coverage and threw a perfect rainbow to Jackson for a 46-yard catch-and-run touchdown.
The major and ensuing convert cut the Rebels’ lead to 31-29 with 1:54 to play.
But great teams know how to counterpunch, and the Rebels – with a key penalty against the Rams giving them extra life on offence – put the game away with a touchdown drive to make the final 38-29.
“One of our coaches was in a referee’s way and he threw the flag,” Rams head coach Khari Joseph said, of the penalty. “It was really frustrating because we were good all game in terms of sideline presence. He could have given us a warning and no flag.”
If the flag hadn’t hit the turf, the Rebels would have been looking at second and long.
“It [the flag] definitely affected us in that sense but I’m not going to blame the referees,” Joseph said. “We had an opportunity to get the ball back with plenty of time, but we let the quarterback dash us.”
Ultimately, Joseph said, it came down to execution.
“We didn’t feel we played our best game,” he said. “You can’t make mistakes against good teams when it matters and that’s what we did.”
That said, the entertainment value couldn’t have been any higher.
“It was a wild one,” Joseph said. “I hope we get to see them again. They’re a good team but we feel like we let ourselves down. We didn’t play the way we have played the last couple of weeks but it was a learning experience.”
The Rebels had already sealed first place in the B.C. Football Conference but padded their lead atop the junior league with their road win against the Rams.
The only thing the 6-3 Rams know for sure, heading into their final game of the regular season in Kelowna against the Okanagan Sun, is that they’ve made the playoffs and will finish either second or third in the BCFC.
With a record of 7-1-1 heading into their final game at home next week against the Kamloops Broncos, the Rebels place is safe atop the standings.
Meanwhile, Nanaimo’s V.I. Raiders (4-4-1) are stuck in fourth place, despite beating the Sun 14-8 last weekend.
They will travel to Westshore to take on their rival Rebels in round one of the playoffs.
The Sun – losers of three straight after opening the season with six straight victories – host the Rams at the Apple Bowl in Kelowna on Sunday. A Sun win or tie and they will take second place. Conversely, a Rams win will give them second spot.
The loser of this game finishes in third place.
Joseph said the Rams are focusing on getting a win and ending the regular season, and entering the playoffs, with momentum.
“We need to win this time of year; nothing else matters,” he said. “Whether we have home field [advantage] or not, that’s the main goal we’re trying to achieve Sunday – go hard, leave it all out there, and put ourselves in a position to win against them.”
The Sun and Rams will then meet in the first round of the playoffs at the home of the second place finisher.
The Kamloops Broncos (2-7) and Valley Huskers (0-9) will finish out of the playoffs.
Rebels kill momentum
The Rebels held a 21-19 lead at halftime then tacked on 10 unanswered points in the third quarter to take a 31-19 advantage into the final stanza.
Tiernan Docherty’s fifth field goal of the night narrowed the Rams’ deficit to 31-22, before the late game heroics, as the lights began to turn on at McLeod, had Langley players jacked up, standing on the sideline, imploring their fans to stand up and make some noise.
And make noise they did, until the Rebels silenced them with the momentum killing drive as the final seconds ticked down.
Led by running back Jamel Lyles (16 carries for 184 yards and four touchdowns) and quaterback Ashton Mckinnon (11 carries for 113 yards) the Rebels vaunted ground game chewed up yards and time on the clock.
As well, the Rebels’ Nathaniel Pinto connected with McKinnon for a 109-yard pass play for a touchdown.
The Rams answered with Joseph Carter, who ran for 124 yards on 16 carries. Langley’s Stephen Legare carried the ball in for a touchdown.
FINAL WHISTLE: After the game, The Hip Show put on a concert. The Tragically Hip tribute band was playing as part of a fundraiser, in partnership with the Rams, benefiting Basics for Babies, a local charity that helps needy moms with babies.