The Langley Rams played like champions â€“ B.C. Football Conference champions, to be precise â€“ Sunday at the Apple Bowl in Kelowna.
The Rams upended the host Okanagan Sun 23-19 in the BCFC championship game.
This was the Ramsâ€™ fourth consecutive trip to the Cullen Cup contest, and the second time in three years they have captured the coveted trophy.
They defeated the V.I. (Nanaimo) Raiders for the Cup in 2012 before losing to the Raiders in the 2013 title game.
â€œIâ€™m extremely proud of these guys,â€ Rams head coach Jeff Alamolhoda said. â€œI couldnâ€™t be prouder. The guys stepped up to the plate and showed they can compete. Kudos to them for stepping up and showing they can compete at such a high level, and for believing in each other, believing in our system, and believing in the process all year, and coming out with the victory when we needed it the most. It was a full team effort.â€
The Rams will now host the Saskatoon Hilltops in the Canadian Bowl on Saturday, Nov. 8 at McLeod Stadium.
The Hilltops advanced to the national championship game after beating the Calgary Colts 27-7.
In the 2012 Bowl game at McLeod Stadium, the Hilltops erased a 17-point second-half deficit to complete stunning, come-from-behind, 23-21 win over the Rams.
The Langley juniors now have a shot at vindication, and a Canadian championship, on their home turf come Nov. 8.
â€œSome players who were there in 2012 are looking at getting some redemptionâ€¦, and the new guys here are extremely excited to be in this situation,â€ Alamolhoda said. â€œWeâ€™ve achieved great success but now weâ€™re really focused. Guys were saying [after the Cullen Cup win], â€˜Thereâ€™s still one more game left.â€™ They have that focus and are taking that approach.â€
Some would consider the Ramsâ€™ victory over the Sun to be a mild upset.
The Sun, who were 6-0 at the Apple Bowl going into Sundayâ€™s contest, topped the six-team BCFC during the regular season with a 9-1 record, with the Rams finishing second at 7-3.
Two of the Ramsâ€™ three regular season losses came at the hands of the Sun, and both were at the Apple Bowl.
The Sun entered the game on a nine game undefeated streak, with their last loss previous to Sundayâ€™s coming to the Rams way back on Aug. 2.
The Kelowna squad was fresh off a 47-16 romp over the Raiders in one of two BCFC semifinals played the previous weekend.
The Rams edged the visiting Kamloops Broncos 48-46 in the other semifinal, and had something to prove in the final.
â€œWe were tired of getting beat by the same team. We knew that, if we did put things together, we could come away victorious,â€ Alamolhoda said. â€œWe felt that turnovers, field position, and special teams really hurt us [in the previous two losses to the Sun]. We knew that if we shored those pieces up, there would be no reason why we couldnâ€™t walk away with the win.â€
With 31 seconds to go in the fourth quarter and the Sun leading 19-16, Rams running back Nathan Lund took the ball in from six yards out for the winning touchdown.
The drive was kept alive by a roughing the kicker penalty on Okanaganâ€™s Ron Mwamba as the Rams were attempting to tie the game with a field goal.
The penalty gave the Rams a new set of downs from the six yard line before Lund punched it in two plays later.
Lund was named the Offensive Player of the Game with a pair of rushing touchdowns on 17 carries and 105 yards.
Langley defensive lineman Luke Andrews â€“ who recorded five tackles, two assisted tackles, two special teams tackles, a quarterback sack, and a fumble recovery â€“ was named the Defensive Player of the Game while Brennan Van Nistelrooy of the Sun earned Special Teams Player of the Game honours.
The Rams led 14-6 at halftime and trailed 18-14 at one point of the fourth quarter.
Langleyâ€™s â€˜Dâ€™ shone, limiting the Sun offence to just one point in the fourth quarter while the Ramsâ€™ offence scored nine to complete the come-from-behind victory.
Jacob Patko, who ran the ball in from five yards out with nine minutes to go in the second quarter, scored the other major for the Rams, who got two singles and three converts from kicker Steve Thomas to round out their scoring.
Scoring the Sunâ€™s lone touchdown was the BCFCâ€™s Most Outstanding Running Back Alex Bradley, who busted 101 yards untouched for the lone Sun touchdown during the second half.
The spectacular scamper, which set a new Cullen Cup record for longest touchdown run in the B.C. championship game, gave the Sun an four-point advantage with 14 minutes to play.
Okanagan kicker Thomas Huber had the rest of his teamâ€™s points with three field goals, a single, and a convert.
Six of Ramsâ€™ quarterbackâ€™s Jordan McCartyâ€™s 14 completed passes were hauled in by receiver Malcolm Williams, who racked up 138 yards receiving.
Daniel English had three catches for 51 yards for the Rams.
One of the keys to victories, Alamolhoda said, was to try to win each play.
â€œWin one play, and then move on to next play,â€ he added. â€œWe saw in previous games, we had consecutive back-to-back negative plays which caused us to lose the game. When a bad play happened on Sunday, guys were saying, â€˜Coach, no worries, we got this next play.â€™ The sideline was alive the whole game. We never took any lulls in our emotion, in our energy, and it showed that we wanted it more.â€
The Rams won despite missing four starters on defence, all out with injuries.
The BCFCâ€™s Most Outstanding Player and Outstanding Defensive Lineman, defensive lineman Dylan Roper, broke his hand on the second series.
Also getting hurt early the game was key run defender, Brock Gowanlock.
And BCFC Rookie of the Year, linebacker Ethan Schulz, missed the title contest with an injury.
The losses of Roper and Schulz particularly hurt.
Schulz posted 23 tackles, 14 assists, four sacks, one forced fumble, four fumble recoveries, one touchdown and one interception this season.
Roper, meanwhile, posted 11 tackles, seven assisted tackles, led the conference with 10 sacks, had one knockdown, and forced two fumbles.
Alamolhoda said thereâ€™s a good chance the Rams could be completely healthy in time for the Canadian championship game.
â€“ With files from Ryan Watters, On Air Enterprises, and the BCFC website, bcjuniorfootball.ca