by Chris Swartz, Langley Rams
Photo: Adam Marchetti
The Langley Rams opened the 2019 Canadian Junior Football season with a 42-30 victory over Nanaimo’s VI Raiders on Saturday in front of one of the largest regular season crowds in club history.
It was the first game of the season for both teams, and it showed early as neither found the scoreboard in the first quarter, the nearly 1300 Junior Football fans at McLeod Athletic Park Stadium got a taste of things to come from the speedy Jarryd Taylor, who spent the past two seasons at Concordia University, when he fielded a punt at his own 36 and took it all the way to the house on a spectacular 74 yard touchdown romp, making the score 7-0 Rams just a minute and 40 seconds into the second quarter.
A good return of the ensuing kickoff by Andre Goulbourne, combined with a 15 yard Rams roughing penalty, gave the Raiders the ball at the Rams 51 yard line to start their next possession, five plays later quarterback Jake LaBerge hit Mike West with an 11 yard touchdown pass to even the score at 7-7 with 11:33 remaining in the second quarter, a 15 yard roughing penalty on the convert had the Raiders kicking off from the Rams 50 and Nikolas Hunchak had no problem putting it into the end-zone for a single point and an 8-7 Raiders lead.
Quarterback Duncan Little took over at the Rams 35 and the native of Didsbury Alberta took only five plays to cover 75 yards on a drive that was capped off with a 22 yard touchdown strike to Lord Tweedsmuir grad Khalik Johnson, giving the Rams a 14-8 lead with 8:07 left in the second quarter.
The Rams defense set up the next Rams touchdown when an interception by Abbotsford’s Keegan Vicklund gave the Rams offense the ball near mid field, Little capitalized on the turnover and three plays later Saskatoon native Andrew Pocrnic scored on a five yard run to make the score 21-8 Rams with 5:43 left in the second quarter.
The Raiders defense got in the act just over a minute later when Gevhahn McNally-Hardisty picked off an errant Little pass at his own 21 yard line and returned it 89 yards for a touchdown, cutting the Rams lead to 21-15 with four minutes to go in the half.
Little moved the Rams offense deep into Raiders territory once again but another interception stopped the drive at the Nanaimo 22 yard line, the Rams defense dug in and forced the Raiders to punt with their backs to the endzone and New Westminster Hyack’s grad Sebastien Reid took it back 45 yards to the Raiders 20, Little wasted no time from there and on the next play found Johnson in the end zone again, this time with a 19 yard toss that sent the Rams into the break leading 28-15.
The Raiders came out running in the second half, going no huddle and running five of the first six plays on the ground, the ploy was effective and they moved to the Rams 30 yard line, a huge sack by North Surrey Minor Football product Partap Sandhu forced the Raiders out of field goal range and the ensuing punt went into the end zone for a single point, making the score 28-16 Rams with 11:26 to go in the third.
Nanaimo wouldn’t go away and moved the ball into Rams territory once again, a nice defensive play by Reid forced a 42 yard field goal attempt that sailed wide, the Rams appeared to be out of trouble but two penalties on the play moved the ball 20 yards forward and gave the Raiders new hope at the Rams 15 yard line, LaBerge made them pay and on the next play hit West with a 15 yard touchdown pass to make the score 28-23 with just over four minutes remaining in the third.
A big punt return by Centennial Centaurs grad Jay Jay Jackson gave Little and the Rams offense the ball in good field position at the Raiders 40, it took only three plays from there and Pocrnic opened the fourth quarter with a one yard touchdown run to make the score 35-23.
Big pressure from the Rams defense forced the Raiders punter to eat the ball and take an 11 yard loss at his own 22 yard line, three plays later Little found Johnson in the end-zone from 11 yards out, the talented receiver made a spectacular catch for his third touchdown of the day and gave the Rams a 42-23 lead three minutes into the final frame.
The Raiders responded once again and LaBerge’s four yard touchdown pass to Jared Braun made the score 42-30 with seven minutes remaining in the game.
The Raiders would get the ball back one more time and the Rams were assessed four consecutive penalties for a total of 50 yards that put the Raiders deep into the red zone, big sacks by Cole Barron and Sandhu held the Raiders at bay and huge pressure by Sandhu on third and goal at the Rams nine yard line forced LaBerge to throw an incomplete pass and turn the ball over on downs with 2:34 remaining in the game, the Rams ran the clock out from there and Little took a knee to end an entertaining Junior football game and open defense of their 2018 Cullen Cup title with a 42-30 win over last years BC Semi-Final opponent.
Duncan Little has some early season kinks to work out with his new receiving corps but still managed a respectable outing, completing 20 of 35 pass attempts for 342 yards three touchdowns and a pair of interceptions.
Khalik Johnson led all receivers with seven catches for 122 yards and the three touchdowns, Johnson was named BCFC Offensive Player of the Week for his efforts. Rookie Reid Jensen caught four passes for 69 yards and the Airdrie Alberta native drew praise from Rams Head Coach Howie Zaron for his efforts, “it was good to see a lot of our young guys perform well in their first game, Reid Jensen was a standout among them” said Zaron.
Andrew Pocrnic was stellar for the Rams and had several clutch runs in key situations, the graduate of Saskatoon’s Marion Graham Secondary, who spent a season with the Concordia Stingers and two with the Kamloops Broncos, finished the day with 16 carries for 97 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
Defensive standouts for the Rams were Partap Sandhu with three tackles and three quarterback sacks, Holy Cross Grad Cole Barron, who spent last season with the UBC Thunderbirds, had four tackles and a sack, former Chilliwack Husker Keegan Vicklund had four tackles and an interception and Rams veteran defensive leaders Kyle Clarot and Isaiah Okoli had five tackles each.
The Rams were assessed a total of 22 penalties for a whopping 225 yards and had several scoring chances taken away as a result and Zaron was not happy with that part of the game “we showed off a lot of our skill and made some big plays but then took them away with lack of discipline, it’s an emotional game but we need to, and we will, focus that emotion and energy in a disciplined fashion” he said
Club President Dana Matheson saw the Rams home opener as a win on and off the field “as a club we are extremely pleased with the support the Rams are getting from the community” he said “it is great to see that local sports fans are beginning to recognize Junior Football as a highly skilled and elite level of sport that offers a ton of value, a great community atmosphere and inexpensive entertainment for the whole family” he added
The Rams head to Kamloops next Saturday August 10th for a 6PM kickoff versus the Broncos, the game can be watched live online at www.BCFCTV.com
The Rams next home game is a rare Sunday evening game on August 18th, when they host the Chilliwack Huskers, kickoff is 6:30PM.