With a week off to heal up and get a bit of a rest, both teams will be ready to go for this potentially history-making junior football matchup. The Rebels have never beat the Raiders in a playoff game and come in with a chip on their shoulder, hoping to prove to everyone they are the better team this year. The slow-starting Raiders enter the playoffs with momentum, having crafted a three-game unbeaten streak to end the regular season, with a in over Okanagan and a tie against the Rebels in Nanaimo part of that streak. They’ll be looking to show they are a team on the way up at the right time and pull off what would be a mighty upset to get back to the BCFC Cullen Cup final.
Both teams played against weaker opponents to end the regular season but should have no problem ramping up their games for this Saturday’s third meeting of the season. The Rebels, who pounded the Raiders at Westhills Stadium in the first game and saw penalties and other squandered opportunities prevent them from winning in Nanaimo, continue to be the favourite here.
Westshore’s weapons on offence are many and start with explosive running back Jamel Lyles, the newly crowned BCFC rushing record holder with 1,604 yards, He was the runaway leader in TDs with 17 and amassed 2,277 all-purpose yards, again easily tops in the league. Backfield mate Trey Campbell (576 yds., third in BCFC) gives the Rebels a solid second option. And big quarterback Ashton Mackinnon, who was rested in week 10, showed great poise under pressure otherwise, running for 458 yards (7.9 yds/carry).
In the air Mackinnon settled into a groove in the last several games, boosting his efficiency rating up to a solid 94.9 per cent. While his completion rate isn’t great (53.3%), when he does pass he has the soft hands of Nathaniel Pinto (610 yds., 30.9 yds ave.) and Kain Melchior (410 yds.) to throw to.
While none of the Rebels defensive backs made the 2016 all-star team, they’ll be anxiously awaiting playing against Raiders starting QB Jacob Laberge, who had the third-most completions in the league with 118 (55.9 % completion rate), but had one of the worst TD to interception ratios (7 to 10) among starting passers.
That said, Laberge has an excellent target in the elusive Dustin Rodriguez (league-best 941 yds. receiving) and a reliable running back in Nathan Berg (930 yds.).
On special teams the Raiders have strong legged James Parker handling all the kicking duties. His solid consistency may be a factor if the game is close, but Rebels up and coming place kicker Kyle Clarke has been equally effective when called upon.
For the notoriously slow-starting Rebels, the only thing that will keep them from the final is allowing the Raiders to stay in the game too long. That is the Nanaimo squad’s challenge, come out fast and hard and put the Rebels on their heels. Should that not happen, the Raiders are in for a long unpleasant night.