Is it fair to call the Langley Rams’ 20-13 win over the host Vancouver Island Raiders in the B.C. Football Conference championship game an upset?
Perhaps, considering the Raiders were the six-time defending BCFC champions, finished the regular season undefeated at 9-0-1, and had handed the Rams their only two losses this season.
The Nanaimo squad had beaten Langley twice at McLeod Stadium, 41-29 on Sept. 29 and 34-32 on Oct. 6.
On Aug. 11, the last time the teams met at Caledonia Park in Nanaimo, they battled to a 31-31 tie.
The Raiders also had two lethal weapons in their arsenal in the form of quarterback Jordan Yantz, the BCFC’s Outstanding Offensive Back, and the league’s Most Outstanding Receiver, Whitman Tomusiak.
Yantz led the BCFC in several passing categories this season including completions (175), yards (3,243), touchdowns (33), and completion percentage (66.5).
But this is a pretty good Rams’ team, to say the least. They finished second behind the Raiders in the regular season standings with a 7-2-1 record and dominated the Westshore Rebels in their playoff semifinal, blanking their Victoria rivals 33-0.
The Rams – who won their first B.C. title since 2005 – have 11 all-stars in their lineup including the BCFC’s Outstanding Defensive Player, linebacker Adam Konar.
In the title game at Caledonia Park, the Rams’ vaunted defence held Yantz to 213 yards passing and picked off four of his pass attempts.
Tanner Hamade with two, Carlo Graziano, and Jordan Linnen had interceptions for the Rams.
Tomuziak gathered in six of Yantz’s passes.
“We played awesome,” Rams’ head coach Jeff Alamolhoda said.
The Rams’ bench boss said his team set a goal out at the start of the season to win the B.C. championship.
But there’s still work to be done.
The Rams are hosting the defending national champion Saskatoon Hilltops in the 2012 Canadian Bowl on Saturday, Nov. 10 at McLeod Stadium.
“I think the guys are real excited about the opportunity they have right now,” Alamolhoda said. “We know it’s not going to be easy. It’s going to take work. They’re going to have to play the best they’ve played all year to be successful. We need to put our work in the next two weeks to beat a team of that calibre.”
The last time the Rams appeared in the Canadian Bowl was in 1992 when the Surrey Rams lost to the Ottawa Sooners 35-18 in the nation’s capital.
“Getting past [the Raiders] is a huge, huge hurdle that we needed to get over in order for us to us to accomplish our main goal, and that is to be national champions,” Alamolhoda said.
It took a gritty performance on all accounts to leap that hurdle.
On the first play of the day, Rams’ kicker Nick Naylor began what turned out to be an epic day for him.
Off the opening kickoff, Naylor was the last man back and took down the Raiders’ returner, dislocating his shoulder in the process.
Naylor’s shoulder was pushed back into place and he went on to kick field goals from 19 and 24 yards out en route to being named Special Teams Player of the Game.
Naylor’s field goals were all the offence the Rams’ managed outside of the opening quarter.
“Regardless of the position, that was one of the grittiest, toughest performances I’ve seen from a football player for a long time,” Alamolhoda said. “I turned to look at the trainer to see what as going on. He did an outstanding job of getting Nick back to playing the game.”
The very next kickoff after his injury, Naylor made a potentially touchdown-saving tackle again.
Pass catchers Nick Naylor and Malcolm Williams were on the receiving end of touchdown passes from quarterback Greg Bowcott as the Rams took a 14-10 lead after the first quarter.
The Rams’ defence stepped up in the second half, holding the Raiders to just six first downs and 41 yards passing.
The turning point came in the third quarter, which is often when the Raiders tend to run away with games.
The Rams forced a Raiders’ fumble at Langley’s one yard line and then recovered the ball.
After that, the Rams’ offence marched the ball 30 yards out of danger before punting it away.
For the Rams, the road to the Cullen Cup was an emotional one. A post-game brouhaha with Westshore Oct. 20 at McLeod Stadium possibly galvanized the star-laden Langley squad.
“We’ve gone through a whole bunch of adversity this year,” Alamolhoda said. “I can’t even put into words how proud I am of the players and the coaches.”
– With files from Ryan Watters, B.C. Football Conference Media