The Pemberton Grizzlies' season series with the Richmond Raiders had been a back-and-forth affair this season.
Well, until their Nov. 7 meeting.
In Pemberton's final home game of the season, the Grizzlies romped to a 53-6 victory to improve to 5-3, guaranteeing the squad's first winning season in its four-year history. It also gives the Grizzlies a solid platform from which to work as they seek to secure their first championship when they meet the Raiders for the B.C. Varsity League title at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops on Nov. 21. A win would also lock up the nine-man provincial title for Pemberton.
Head coach John Burleson was pleased with all facets of the contest.
"We played four quarters of football and delivered in every aspect of the game — offence, defence and special teams. We only had one breakdown, one blown coverage on special teams that allowed them to score their lone touchdown. Other than that, it was a fantastic day," Burleson said. "They played with real intensity, went after the ball and did a great job."
The Grizzlies were buoyed by the return of running back Brett Hennessey, who has missed a significant chunk of the season with an injury. Hennessey hit paydirt plenty, racking up four touchdowns on 211 yards rushing. Jan-Luca Gierse, Reilly Cuttle and Mixalhcen Ned also found their way into the end zone a week after the Grizzlies were shut out by the Raiders. Quarterback Kex Nelson tossed a pair of touchdowns and threw for 163 yards overall.
Burleson is impressed with the offence's progress.
"We're learning how to drive the car, so to speak. They didn't realize that the system that we run offensively is a pretty fast car. It's predicated on finding open space, a quick release and making quick breaks on the route. We're starting to figure that out," he said. "The week prior, collectively, they took the game a little bit for granted. I don't think they respected the opponent as much as they should and they were distracted by some other things.
"It was inexcusable and they found that out last week during practice that there's a price to pay for that kind of effort."
Linebacker Johan Krueger made six solo and four assisted tackles to go along with a pair of quarterback sacks while kicking a field goal and forcing a safety. Jeremey Lacsamana notched a pair of quarterback sacks as well.
"Defensively, we were relentless," he said. "We racked up four or five quarterback sacks. We had three fumble recoveries, an interception. We had a deflected punt return caught by Mixalhcen for his first touchdown of the year."
While Burleson is glad to head into the championship game on a high, he knows anything can happen once the teams take the field in Kamloops.
"Anytime it's a championship game, anytime it's a game for everything, the records don't matter. It depends on how you prepare yourself for that one day and how you come out and how you play," he said. "I think the guys are aware of that now."