Langley Rams seek redemption in national championship game

As if the Langley Rams needed any more motivation when they play for the Canadian junior football championship on Saturday afternoon, all they need to do is look across the McLeod Stadium turf at who they’re playing.

They’ll once again see the Saskatoon Hilltops, who in 2012 erased a 15-point second half deficit to stun the Rams in the Canadian Bowl at McLeod.

On that chilly Saturday afternoon, the Hilltops scored 17 unanswered points during the second half to win 23-21.

Redemption will be on the minds of some of the Rams who played in that prestigious game two Novembers ago.

But aside from the vindication factor, winning a Canadian title on home soil takes precedent for Langley’s players and coaches.

Opening kickoff for the 107th edition of the Canadian Bowl is 1 p.m.

The Rams’ road to their second Canadian championship appearance in three years was a long and challenging one.

They finished 7-3 during the regular season to capture second place in the B.C. Football Conference (BCFC).

In the BCFC semifinal, the Rams hung on for a thrilling 48-46 victory over the Kamloops Broncos, then went on the road to beat the Okanagan Sun 23-19 in the Cullen Cup championship, claiming their seventh BCFC title.

It was Langley’s first road win this season versus the Sun, who led the BCFC during the regular campaign with a 9-1 record (their lone loss coming to the Rams in Week 2), before blowing away the defending champion VI Raiders by a 47-16 count in the other provincial semifinal.

The Hilltops, meanwhile, finished 6-2 and claimed home field advantage throughout the Prairie Football Conference (PFC) playoffs.

In the PFC semifinal they flexed their muscles by clobbering the Winnipeg Rifles 43-13, setting the table to host the Calgary Colts in the final for the first time since 2011.

The Hilltops scored 24 points in the first half and beat the Colts 27-7 to punch their ticket to the Canadian Bowl.

The Rams are led by, among others, a pair of newcomers.

Quarterback Jordan McCarty took over the starting role at halftime in Week 7 after an injury.

In four-and-a-half games, he completed 62 of 118 passes for 1,021 yards, to go along with 10 touchdown tosses and an efficiency rating of 89 per cent.

While this is his first taste of a game of this magnitude, McCarty said he isn’t nervous in the least.

“I’ve got a good supporting cast and it’ll work out for the best,” he said.

Regarding the Hilltops, McCarty said, “They’re a really good football team, they play great, fundamental football, and I expect them to bring their ‘A’ game, and we will, too.”

Beating the Sun in the BCFC championship game should give the Rams confidence heading into Saturday’s  contest. Okanagan won two of three meetings against Langley during the regular season.

“That one felt good just because we lost twice in a row up there [at the Sun’s home park, the Apple Bowl in Kelowna],” McCarty said. “We really needed that win, obviously, and we ended up getting it, and it was definitely exciting but we’re not done yet.”

Rams’ rookie linebacker Ethan Schulz will be playing in his first Canadian Bowl and will be counted on to help lead a very tough Langley defence. The BCFC’s Rookie of the Year was simply awesome this season with a team high 23 tackles, 14 assists, and four sacks.

He also had a conference-high four fumble recoveries, including one for a touchdown.

Schulz missed the BCFC title game with an injury and is champing at the bit to get back on the field.

“I’m excited,” he said. “This is what you strive for.”

Limiting mistakes, or eliminating them altogether, will be the key to victory, said Schulz: “The Hilltops are a very disciplined team and they are going to capitalize on mistakes – that’s how they win games. They are very well coached. If we don’t shoot ourselves in the foot and just win our one-on-one battles, I think that’s how we’re going to win. We’ve got to play our game and play smart.”

Centre Anthony Daly was a member of the 2012 national runner-up Rams and is looking forward to having another crack at the Canadian title on Saturday.

“It was a stinger, and it was one of those things that you never forget,” Daly said. “The fact that we get a chance to do it again now is really awesome and we want to take advantage of it.”

Daly said against Okaganan, “we stuck together as a team and we played for each other.”

He hopes the team will enter the Canadian Bowl with the same mind set. The challenge is, this Hilltops team is somewhat of an unknown entity.

“You just have to watch as much film as you can and just prepare the best you can,” Daly said.

“It’s hard because you haven’t seen them [play live] but we’ve all got connections and we can talk to people we know who have played them in other conferences but it’s a different story when you actually get on the field and go at them.”

Among the Hilltops’ many leaders are two players:

Running back Wayndel Lewis was the PFC Offensive Player of the Year and was recently named as a Canadian Junior Football League All-Canadian.  In just seven games Lewis was a machine, rushing 130 times for 1,063 yards and nine touchdowns.

He suffered an injury in the semifinal that kept him out of the PFC title game.

If healthy, he will be the focus of the Hilltops offense in the Canadian Bowl.

On defence, defensive End Matt Kozun – the PFC Defensive Lineman of the Year – is a menacing force at 6’5” and 275 pounds. He was solid on the line, leading the CJFL with 15 sacks.

Rams head coach Jeff Alamolhoda is well aware of the challenges that the Hilltops will bring to the table.

But he also knows the Rams’ destiny is in their hands.

“In 2012, that was a different time, different era,” he said. “Right now we’re just really excited. We’re excited for this group of young men… to go do the things that they set out to accomplish way back in July.”

In mid-summer, the Rams spoke about building as a team, and to be patient with the process, Alamolhoda shared.

“For us to be able to be in this game, this year, it’s about celebrating our successes and being able to enjoy the moment, giving these guys their due and what they deserve and just being really excited about getting the opportunity to play for a national title.”

Tickets for the Canadian Bowl are available through Ticketmaster by clicking here, or at the gate the day of the game.

 

– with files from CJFL media coordinator Ryan Watters

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