The Langley Rams’ reign as B.C. Football Conference champions is over.
The Rams lost 48-37 to the Vancouver Island Raiders in the Cullen Cup final Sunday at Caledonia Park in Nanaimo.
For the Raiders, the victory avenged last year’s 20-13 loss to the Rams in the Cullen Cup title game at Caledonia, as they retake the BCFC throne of the seventh time in eight years.
The key play came in the fourth quarter. The Rams appeared to have momentum, having rallied somewhat from a 31-8 second quarter deficit by outscoring the Raiders 21-7 through the next two quarters of action.
But with the Raiders leading 41-29, V.I. cornerback Ariel Fabbro returned an interception 72 yards to seal the victory.
“It feels unreal, when they were getting momentum, to be able to turn it around and stop them,” said Fabbro, who suffered a dislocated shoulder on the next Langley drive. “Redemption is huge. It feels great. We were the reigning champions and they took it away from us. It’s good competition, but it feels great to take it back.”
With the convert, Fabbro’s backbreaking interception of Langley quarterback Jahlani Gilbert-Knorren’s pass made it 48-29 Raiders with 3:16 to go in the game.
The Rams managed to score on the ensuing drive, a 55-yard catch-and-run from Gilbert-Knorren to Jacob Carvery and then cashed in the two-point conversion, but that’s as close as the got as V.I. recovered the onside kick. It was on the conversion that Fabbro popped his shoulder out.
Rams head coach Ted Kirby felt gutted by the loss.
“It's tough, man; it’s real tough,” Kirby said. “We’ve got some guys who are graduating, who are huge pieces of our puzzle, and as a coach, I let those guys down. We should have finished it off as Cullen Cup champions. I feel so terrible for those graduating players, those guys who don’t get another shot.”
He added, “It was a high-scoring game, we had some untimely turnovers, and they [the Raiders] are a heck of a team. If anything, they out-coached us.”
The Raiders are deserved winners of the Cullen Cup.
They tied the Okanagan Sun for the best record in the BCFC, at 8-2, but took top spot due to a superior points for/against ratio in the season series between the two teams.
The Rams ended up third in the six-team league with a solid 7-3 mark.
Two of Langley’s three regular season losses came at the hands of the Raiders, who have reeled off nine straight wins heading into the Jostens Cup final against the Windsor AKO Fratmen, who beat the Hamilton Hurricanes 16-9 in the Ontario Football Conference championship.
It seems very hard to fathom that the Raiders stumbled out to a 1-2 start to their season.
However, despite V.I.’s incredible run, Kirby felt the Rams had the firepower to beat the Raiders.
“The reason I feel it’s on me is to be quite honest, we have the athletes [to defeat V.I.],” Kirby said. “If you put the two rosters side by side, on paper we should have won that game.”
This was the third consecutive Cullen Cup contest pitting the Rams against the Raiders.
Langley earned a third straight trip to the BCFC final with a solid 24-13 victory over the Sun in last Sunday’s BCFC semifinal at the Apple Bowl in Kelowna.
The Raiders rolled over the fourth-place Kamloops Broncos 63-7 in the other semifinal matchup last Sunday at Caledonia.
Looking back at Sunday’s game, the loss overshadowed a historic performance by Gilbert-Knorren, who set Cullen Cup records for pass attempts (49), completions (30) and recorded the second highest passing yard total in B.C. championship game history with 413 yards, just 18 shy of the all time record.
His favorite target was Dan English, who tied the Cullen Cup record with 11 receptions on the day.
Kyle Pich also had a big day catching the football for the Rams, hauling in six of Gilbert-Knorren’s passes for 169 yards.
On the ground, Gilbert-Knorren took the ball under his arm and ran it 11 times for 90 yards.
Running back Kyle Albertini had 13 carries for 70 yards. He also ran the ball for one of the Rams’ touchdowns.
Meanwhile, Raiders quarterback Jaeden Marwick distributed the ball evenly, with six receivers making two catches or more.
Alex Kutra, Dylan Schrot, Alex Thompson, and Dustin Rodriguez caught touchdown passes. Marwick threw three of them, with Schrot passing for another.
Alex Kutra scored the other Raiders touchdown on a 10-yard run.
Kickers Steve Thomas (Langley) and Ryan Jones (V.I.) each kicked two field goals for their respective teams.
The Raiders led 10-3 after the first quarter, 34-11 at halftime, 38-22 after three quarters, and were outscored 15-10 in the final quarter.
In their head coach’s eyes, the Rams showed incredible heart throughout the final.
“They literally left it all on the field and played their hearts out, and we didn’t get the result we wanted,” he said.
During the opening kickoff, Kirby noted that kickoff veteran middle linebacker Joe Patko suffered an injured hamstring.
There was no way Patko was leaving the game, and he finished the day with three tackles and a quarterback sack.
“You could see on his face that he was in significant pain… and he was back for the [next] defensive series,” Kirby said. “He played the entire game and made some huge plays. As a fifth year guy, there was no way he was not finishing the game. The kid’s not human. He’s a warrior. Any other player would be on the training bench and be done for the game. All these kids showed heart and desire. To see another team hoist the cup you had for a year… it’s tough.”
– Josh Aldrich is a reporter with the Nanaimo Daily News
@ Copyright 2013