Some might not put much stock in a championship won in a season-long dogfight over one other team.
But John Burleson downplays that argument.
The Pemberton Grizzlies coach has been preparing for the same Richmond Raiders squad for the past five games and with the two squads evenly matched, trying to eke out two more victories is easier said than done.
Pemberton holds the advantage so far, having captured three of the five matchups. However, the three Grizzlies wins came by a combined five points and this past weekend's game, a 16-0 Richmond whitewash in Squamish, was the largest margin of victory for either team in the series.
"We know Richmond so well and they know us so well at this point that it makes it much more difficult," Burleson said. "We went from posting 30 points a game and down now to 16 to 20. The last time we beat them, it was only 8-6, so it becomes a defensive struggle.
"For the coaches, we have to come up with new and innovative ways to outsmart our opposition."
The final BC Varsity League regular season meeting of the two teams comes this Saturday in Pemberton with a noon kickoff. It will also be the final home game for two graduating players — quarterback Kex Nelson and lineman Jeremey Lacsamana. Burleson said the players appreciate each spectator who comes out adding that the atmosphere has intensified every year. This year, a cheerleading squad started up to root on the club.
The Grizzlies and Raiders will then meet for the final test — the inaugural league championship — in Kamloops on Nov. 21. The Grizzlies, who began the season with games against Oregon's Bandon High School and the Squamish Sounders, would also capture the provincial nine-man championship with a win by virtue of having played three different teams, the minimum standard needed to be eligible. The Raiders have not played anyone but the Grizzlies and would settle solely for the league's crown in victory.
"At the end of the day, somebody's going to get that trophy and somebody's going to be the champion," Burleson said. "It's going to be exciting for the guys because at least now they've had the hope all year that they get to be in the playoffs. They get to go compete for something that matters."
Recent shutout aside, Burleson has been thrilled to chart the Grizzlies' development over the course of their first seven outings.
"They've learned over this season the art of winning and what it takes in order to be successful as a football family," he said. "Every game we've played, we can look at the film, and we can look at the statistics at the end of the game and say they made progress, (but) there are areas they needed to work on."
Burleson explained Pemberton opted to join the fledgling BC Varsity League (BCVL) as opposed to the BC High School Football League's Tier II as they would have to forfeit their right to challenge for a championship under the latter option. The team would have been treated like a brand-new club despite being in its fourth season and would have been contesting an exhibition schedule. As well, the squad would not have been allowed to dress players attending classes in different school divisions, meaning the Lillooet contingent would have been cut from the team.
"I didn't want to tell all those guys who'd worked hard all summer that they couldn't be a part of the team anymore," he said.
The BCVL had as many as eight teams interested in joining this offseason, Burleson said, but many couldn't get organized in time and either folded or jumped into leagues where they're at a significant disadvantage, as established teams have much bigger rosters.
"Next year, we'll have, I would forecast, a minimum of six and it could go as high as 10 teams," he said.