VANCOUVER — When Chilliwack’s G.W. Graham Grizzlies rallied to beat the undefeated Langley Saints 20-19 under the lights at its own Exhibition Stadium back on Oct. 18, all you knew was that this was a battle between two teams so good that their paths were sure to cross before season’s end.
Well, that intersection takes place in prime time this Saturday (2:30 p.m.), as the No. 3 Grizzlies face the No. 4 Saints in the Subway Bowl AA semifinals at B.C. Place Stadium.
Shut down the run better than the opposition and you’ll win.
Could it actually be that simple?
Certainly if you’ve seen either team at work this season, it’s a hard fact to dispute.
G.W. Graham running back Jaiden Claassen, the 6-foot, 205-pound senior, has been nothing short of sensational with the fervour he has brought to the position.
And as Langley head coach Ryk Piche thinks back to his team’s loss last month to the Grizzlies, the Saints’ only setback on the season heading into Saturday, one play in particular is no doubt burned in his memory.
As part of the winning touchdown drive for the Grizz, one capped a two-yard Claassen run, was what has thus far been his signature run this season: A 20-yard gain in which he broke seven tackles.
“Claassen is as strong as he is fast, and he represents what we will be facing as a team this weekend,” said Piche of an offence which is also very capable of putting the ball in the air under prime conditions at B.C. Place with receivers like Jett Thomas, Colby Bessette (who can also throw it) and Liam Dallas. “You look at every aspect of G.W. Graham’s team and they are big, fast and strong.
“The conditions weren’t the greatest when we faced them last time, but Jaiden was very hard to tackle and bring down. But that offence of theirs (wth QB Grayson Frick) is also very well-balanced.”
Of course the Grizzlies can look out across the line of scrimmage on Saturday and say exactly the same thing.
“Langley’s biggest strength lies in their offensive line,” says GWG head coach Luke Acheson. “With its three conference all stars (Nolan McLeod, Dayton Boytillier, Zach Rohan, the latter two also provincial all-stars) and a rare aggressiveness, they are a tough bunch to handle. They pave the way for the province’s most potent rushing attack. Dealing with them will be our biggest key to Saturday’s game.”
The Grizzlies have a proven scheme from its earlier win over the Saints.
On the other hand, as the game moves indoors to B.C. Place Stadium, where the Saints rolled to a 46-0 quarterfinals win over Clarence Fulton last Saturday, there is a school of thought which says that Langley can begin to dominate like it did earlier in the season behind its one-two backfield punch of Kai Thomas and bruising Harshaad Jouhal.
GWG’s Claassen and Langley’s Thomas, the latter Double A’s leading rusher in 2019, were both picked deserving provincial all-stars, yet Jouhal at 5-10, 225 pounds, is the kind of player who could be the difference.
“Kai, Harshaad and Ciaran Davies are three of Langley’s most dominant players,” says Acheson, who includes the latter, a 6-foot-2, 225 pound linebacker/TE. “They really set the emotional and physical tone for their team on both sides of the ball.”
Acheson noted Jouhal as a “tough, stout defender with speed and a great football motor on defence, and a “hard runner who looks for contact and plays with a ton of emotion which his entire team feeds off of.”
Davies was noted for his sideline-to-sideline range on defence and his ability to bring even more blocking to the Saints’ O-line.
And if there is one player who defines the Saints team his Grizzlies will try to beat for a second time this season?
“Kai is Langley’s most dynamic player,” Acheson said of Thomas who rushed for 1,495 yards and 20 touchdowns this season but also shone in the secondary on defence. “He is a threat to take the ball to the end zone on any play and a very rangy and a sure tackler on defence. He can run around you or run through you to get the job done. He represents how dangerous Langley can be on any play.”
All of that, from both coaches, is enough to make you think that Grizzlies quarterback Frick or Langley quarterback Josh Goesen is going to do something to decide this game.
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