Last year, the Langley Rams ended the V.I. Raiders six-year reign as champions of the B.C. Football Conference, downing the Raiders on their home turf, Nanaimo’s Caledonia Park, 20-13.
And now for the third straight season, the two junior football foes will square off once again on Oct. 19 (1 p.m.) with the winner advancing to the national semifinals against the winner of the Ontario Football Conference final between the Hamilton Hurricanes and the Windsor AKO Fratmen.
The teams split their first two games this season, both of which were played in Nanaimo, with the Rams winning 36-28 in week three before the Raiders took the rematch 41-27 in week seven.
They met for a third time in week nine — with the winner pretty much assuring themselves of top spot in the regular season — but the Raiders came into Langley and beat the Rams 22-12 at McLeod Athletic Park.
It meant the Rams finished the regular season in third place at 7-3 while the Raiders won home field advantage with an 8-2 record.
Langley went into Kelowna to beat the second-place Okanagan Sun (8-2) 24-13 last week to earn themselves another shot at the Raiders.
The Raiders destroyed the Kamloops Broncos 63-7.
“Here we go,” said Rams coach Ted Kirby.
“It will take everything we have: we have to play sound football, we have to play physical football (and) we can’t take dumb penalties.
“We have to leave everything we have on that field to become a champion.”
The Rams head into one of the toughest venues for road teams as the Raiders.
Prior to this season’s loss to the Rams, the Raiders had not lost a regular season home game since week two of the 2005 regular season.
“We did it last year and once this year (but) they are a great team,” Kirby said about the Raiders.
“Having done that (winning) there might be helpful, but anytime you play there, it is a ferocious place to play.
“It is a tough, tough place to get a win, but we are hoping to do it.”
“I think we are evenly matched. It is going to come down to playing disciplined football.”
One of the keys will be to limit the big plays allowed.
“They are going to get them, they are that good,” Kirby said.
“But hopefully we can minimize them and execute our big plays a little more than them.”
The Rams and Raiders were ranked one-two, respectively, offensively, and second (Raiders) and third (Rams) defensively during the regular season.
Langley averaged 44 points per game while allowing 20. The Raiders countered by scoring 39 points a game and surrendering 15.
The Rams also boast the top-rated rushing attack led by the three-headed monster of Kyle Albertini, Nathan Lund and quarterback Jahlani Gilbert-Knorren.
Albertini led the league with 838 yards on 94 carries, an average of 8.9 per rush. The top average per rush went to Lund, who picked up 10.6 yards per carry, finishing with 699 yards on 66 carries.
And Gilbert-Knorren led the league with a dozen rushing touchdowns.
The Raiders are without starting quarterback Jamie Ybarra, who suffered a broken collarbone against the Rams in week nine of the regular season.
But they still have receiver Whitman Tomusiak, who was named the league’s outstanding offensive player. He finished the season with 38 catches for 660 yards and seven touchdowns.
The Langley defence will be lead by Evan Foster, who was named the league’s top defensive player. Foster set a new Canadian Junior Football League record with 16 sacks this past season, which was nearly more than double the next closest player.
The Raiders did lead the league with 24 interceptions, but the Rams had the better turnover ratio, finishing +16 compared to V.I.’s +7.
As for health, Kirby said that is a non-factor.
“We are as healthy as any other team at this point in the season,” he said.
“You never go into the Cullen Cup championship healthy (and) they are going in the same way.”