For the first time since 2010, the Langley Rams won’t be vying for the B.C. Football Conference title.
The Vancouver Island (VI) Raiders ended Langley’s streak of Cullen Cup appearances by edging the Rams 28-27 in the conference’s playoff semifinal, played Saturday at Caledonia Park in Nanaimo.
The loss dashed Rams’ hopes of making a fifth consecutive Cullen Cup showing.
With the win, the Raiders will face the powerhouse Okanagan Sun, who went undefeated at 10-0 during the regular season before pummelling the Kamloops Broncos 75-7 in their semifinal match-up Sunday at the Apple Bowl in Kelowna.
The winner of next weekend’s Cullen Cup, BCFC championship game will compete in the Canadian Bowl next weekend against the Prairie Football Conference (PFC) titleholder.
“We were up against a very well coached football team that was disciplined and fought right to the very end,” Rams head coach Jeff Alamolhoda said, regarding the Raiders. “We knew it would come down to inches in that game and it did come down to wire.”
The Raiders’ defence intercepted Rams quarterback Bobby Pospischil three times, and forced a turnover in the waning seconds to seal the win.
Defensively, the Rams shut down the Raiders ground game, but couldn’t contain VI’s air attack. Langley gave up just 61 yards on the ground, and posted five quarterback take downs led by BCFC regular season sack leader Brock Gowanlock with a pair, while Shalheem Charles-Brown and Adam Marchetti each recorded a sack-and-a-half.
All-star linebacker Brendan Desjardine had an interception for the Rams.
The Raiders’ did most of their damage with big plays in the air, with quarterback Liam O’Brien connecting with Dustin Rodriguez for a pair of majors (including the game-winning strike, a 56-yard catch-and-run with under nine minutes to play), and Arthur Fabbro for a third touchdown.
O’Brien passed for 279 total yards.
“Big plays, quick scores – those were the biggest things [in the Raiders’ success],” Alamolhoda said.
Pospischil connected with Seye Akinsanmi for a 10-yard touchdown while running the ball 19 times for 133 yards and two touchdowns.
The Rams’ BCFC all-star, running back Nathan Lund, was limited to 28 yards on nine carries, with his longest gain being a 13-yard ramble.
Jacob Patko had nine touches for 61 yards, his longest run covering 17 yards of real estate.
The game was close throughout, with the Rams leading 10-7 after the first quarter and trailing 21-17 at the half.
After a scoreless third quarter, the Rams moved ahead 24-21 on Akinsanmi’s touchdown reception early in the fourth stanza.
Rodriguez then caught the eventual game-winning touchdown roughly a minute after the Akinsanmi major as the Raiders moved ahead 28-24.
The Rams responded with a touchdown of their own, which would have put them ahead again, but Patko’s 25 yard scamper to the end zone was called back due to a holding penalty.
The Rams had to settle for a Brian Hope field goal, the second of two on the day for the Langley kicker.
Looking back on the season, Alamolhoda was pleased with how Rams who were making the jump to junior football responded to the challenge.
“I thought the young guys came in and adapted quite well,” Alamolhoda said. “They learned the Rams’ way and they bought in as the season progressed, and really became part of our family. This season was a big accomplishment for our young guys coming in, being able to take on the level of the CJFL and being able to acclimatize themselves as quickly as they did.”
FINAL WHISTLE: The Raiders (7-3) and Rams (6-4) finished second and third in the BCFC regular season standings, respectively.
– Files from the BCFC’s Ryan Watters.