WESTSHORE — The Vancouver Island Raiders are kings of the Rock after stunning the first place Westshore Rebels to capture the B.C. championship.
The Raiders claimed their eighth Cullen Cup title in franchise history with a 21-7 upset of the heavily favoured Rebels under a downpour at Westhills Stadium on Saturday night.
Coming in to the game, the Raiders were winless in their previous five meetings with the Rebels, mustering only a tie last season. The Rebels had reeled off the equivalent of an undefeated regular season, 10 straight, including a 14-1 mark over their last 15 home games.
But those numbers meant little to Raiders head coach Doug Hocking, who said his team simply continued what they had been doing all season.
"It's everything we expected," Hocking said to BCFC TV after the game, his arm draped around running back Zander Bailey, the game's offensive MVP.
"We don't give rings out in Nanaimo for Cullen Cup titles, we give rings out for national championships and that's our goal," Hocking said.
Warning: This video contains adult language.
Bailey, a diminutive rookie, played perhaps one of the gutsiest games in Raiders championship history. Taunted before the game by the Rebels defensive coordinator over his size, Bailey was slammed to the turf at least 15 times by the opponents behemoth 22-year-old defensive linemen. On several occasions his helmet was separated from his body.
But he never stopped getting up. While final stats weren't available, Bailey had 78 yards on the ground in the first half. As the rain continued to pour, the Raiders relied even more heavily on their running game.
"They're (Rebels) a good team but I think we proved we really earned that and we're the best team in this province," Bailey said.
Despite the critical role of the ground game, it was through the air where the Raiders found their two touchdowns. Jake Laberge hooked up with Trevor Pelland for a 20-yard score to make it 7-0 late in the first quarter. An 18-yard strike to Brycen Mayoh doubled the lead early in the second.
Shortly after, the Rebels created their only major success of the day when Kaine Stevenson scampered for an 80-yard score.
For the rest of the game a combination of the Raiders defense and all-star punter Nic Hunchak ended the Rebels hopes of a second straight provincial championship.
Hunchak, the game's special teams MVP, pounded 13 punts, each one seemingly finding a new way to confuse the Rebels returners. Several punts were dropped, including one which was narrowly recovered in the end zone, leading to a single point for the Raiders.
The defense forced seven turnovers, including three interceptions and a fumble from the hands of Rebels all-star quarterback Scott Borden. At one point in the second half, Borden had more completions to his opponents than to his own receivers. First year defensive back Sean Arabsky picked-off two passes, giving him four interceptions in two playoff games this season.
All-star kicker James Parker added a pair of field goals to round out the scoring.
"Hats off to the Raiders...a very good game plan by them. They did a great job," Rebels head coach Charly Cardilicchia said.
Next weekend the Raiders travel to face the Prairie Football Conference champion in the Canadian Bowl semi-final. Saskatoon hosts Regina in the PFC final on Oct. 22.
The Ontario Football Conference champion hosts this year's Canadian Bowl. Windsor will battle Hamilton next weekend for that right.
"We're going to get on the bus and really let this one set in. I'm sure by the time we ride that bus back to Nanaimo, that party is going to set it in. But we're going to be back to work tomorrow," Hocking said.
On Twitter: @domabassi
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