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Rams set to battle Sun in semifinals
The first key to victory will be not spotting the other team a 29-point lead.
That is exactly what the Langley Rams did the last time they played at Kelowna's Apple Bowl during an August regular season game against the Sun.
The Rams nearly rallied that day, scoring 28 points in an eight-minute span before eventually falling short, 29-28 after a last-second field goal came up short.
But now Langley has another chance as they travel to Kelowna to face the Sun on Sunday (Oct. 13) at 2 p.m. in a B.C. Football Conference semifinal game.
"Everyone is chomping at the bit," said Rams coach Ted Kirby.
"There is no tomorrow, our backs are against the wall. You win or you don't play football anymore."
The Sun finished second in the regular season at 8-2 while Langley was third at 7-3.
And with the unbalanced schedule, the 29-28 game was the only time the two junior football teams met on the field.
Kirby said his team has learned from that day.
"You face adversity through a football season and that was definitely the most adversity we had faced this year," he said.
Langley opened the season with four straight victories, but since then, have gone 3-3, losing once to the Sun and twice to the first-place V.I. (Vancouver Island) Raiders.
Kirby knows it will be a battle and predictably, said they need to execute on all three levels.
On offence, they will rely on their punishing ground game to open things up for the passing attack.
Running back Kyle Albertini led the league with 838 yards rushing, an average of 8.9 yards per carry. The team's second back, Nathan Lund, finished fourth in the league with 699 yards, despite having 30-plus less carries than those ahead of him. Lund also had a league-best 10.6 average per carry.
And the third part of the Rams rushing attack in quarterback Jahlani Gilbert-Knorren who had a league-best 12 touchdowns along the ground and was fifth in rushing with 571 yards, an average of 7.4 per carry.
The dual-threat quarterback was also in tops in passing yards with 1,945 and he threw 21 touchdown passes — second to Okanagan's Theo Deezar, who had 23.
The majority of the touchdown passes went to Malcolm Williams (eight touchdowns, 30 receptions, 573 yards) and Dan English (seven touchdowns, 23 receptions, 507 yards).
During the regular season, Langley had the league's most potent offence, averaging 44 points per game. But they go up against the stingiest defence as the Sun allowed less than 13 points a game. The Rams defence was ranked third, allowing about 20 points per game while the Okanagan average scored 30 points per game.
The teams were also one-two in the turnover battle with the Sun finishing +27 and the Rams +16.
"Our defence has to play really sound football and not let little mistakes happen," Kirby said.
Leading the way will be defensive player of the year candidate Evan Foster, who finished the season with 16 sacks — a new BCFC and Canadian Junior Football League record. The previous records were 12.5 and 16, respectively. The next-nearest player had 8.5 sacks.
For the Sun, Robbie Yochim was tied for the league lead with seven interceptions while Jack Rush picked off four passes.
Both teams finished with 21 interceptions, but the Rams ball-hawks were more spread out — Ben Sharpe and Tanner Hamade each picked off four passes while Jeff Paras and Jacob Patko had three interceptions each.
And lastly comes special teams.
"We have to execute, we have to get big returns and win the field position battle," Kirby said.
"We can't give them half a field to work on."
One thing working in the Rams favour is the booming right leg of Steve Thomas.
Thomas led the league in kick-offs with a 58.5 gross average and 39.1 yards net average. He also had seven kick-offs go for singles. By comparison, only one other kicker managed to get his team a point on a kick-off and that was just once.