With Thanksgiving behind them, the Langley Rams have much to be thankful about.
Most notably, the Rams can thank one another for an efficient, professional performance on both sides of the ball during the B.C. Football Conference semifinal against the Okanagan Sun.
The junior Rams punched their ticket to a third consecutive Cullen Cup (BCFC final) appearance after an impressive 24-13 win over the Sun at Kelowna’s Apple Bowl on Sunday afternoon.
One of the key plays came very early on, during the Sun’s opening drive of the game.
After the Sun drove the ball all the way to the red zone, Rams defensive back Joe Lester picked off a pass at the Langley four yard line and returned the ball 106 yards for a touchdown. Lester’s epic interception return set a BCFC playoff record.
“It looked like they were about to score at least a field goal,” Rams head coach Ted Kirby said. “All of the sudden, momentum swings, and we were in the driver’s seat.”
However, the pendulum swung the other way when, on the final play of the first quarter, Sun quarterback Theo Deezar connected with receiver Pierre Luc Lord for a 53-yard pass and run for a major as Okanagan carried a 10-7 lead into the second quarter.
Undaunted, the Rams took control in the second stanza by outscoring the Sun 13-3.
Quarterback Jahlani Gilbert-Knorren threw two touchdown passes during the quarter, to Kyle Pich from nine yards away, and to Malcolm Williams for 26 yards.
Gilbert-Knorren finished the day with 142 yards passing on 14 completions.
The Rams QB also ran the ball for 54 yards.
Kicker Steve Thomas clinched the win with a clutch 40-yard field goal with roughly three minutes to play in the game.
While Langley’s offence did its job reasonably well, the Rams defence was the key.
The Rams devised a couple of different defensive schemes to put the Sun’s offence off kilter, and the strategy worked to a tee.
While the Rams were limited to Thomas’s late field goal after the break, the Kelowna hosts were held scoreless during the second half.
“I was super proud of the effort they put forth,” Kirby said, of his players. “This was the most physical we played all year.”
The Rams have no time to celebrate. They have to prepare for a Vancouver Island Raiders team that has handed them two of their three losses during the regular season.
For the third time in as many years, the Rams and Raiders will play for the Cullen Cup.
Last year, the Rams upset the Raiders 20-13 at Caledonia Park in Nanaimo en route to a spot in the Canadian championship.
The Rams return to Caledonia this Saturday, Oct. 19, with the BCFC title on the line. Kickoff is 1 p.m.
The Raiders from Nanaimo finished on top of the BCFC with an 8-2 record; the Rams finished third at 6-3.
The Rams have proven they can beat the Raiders, posting a 36-28 at Caledonia in their third game of the season way back on Aug. 10.
Since then, the Raiders have reeled off eight straight wins, including a pair of victories over the Rams, 41-27 Sept. 14 at Caledonia and 22-12 Sept. 28 at McLeod Stadium.
The Vancouver Island squad is coming off a 63-7 pounding of the Kamloops Broncos in the other BCFC semifinal played on Sunday.
“We’ve got to improve, even on what we did last weekend,” Kirby said Tuesday. “We take pride in what we did, but it’s over. Now we set new goals. We’re facing the No. 1 team [in the league] and we’re going into Caledonia Park, which is a tough place to win. We’ve got to play a 60 minute, physical football game. We’re going to have to match them and play a little bit better.”
Kirby added, “It’s playoff football. We have to leave everything on the field and finish off every series. We can’t take a play off.”
Photo courtesy GreyStoke Photography, http:// <file:///C:\Users\KSR-Go\Desktop\GreyStoke%20Photography.htm> .
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