The first week of playoff rugby had the Betty Gilbert Middle School Raptors involved in two matches, first against W.A. Fraser Middle on Tuesday, then against Walnut Grove Secondary on Thursday.
The first match was an up and down affair. The tight five forwards, comprising Jordan Spaan, Adam Newbigging, Kaedn Forrest, Clay Churchill and Colin Hopes, kept the Fraser defence constantly moving backwards, while Josh Desrosiers and Tom Sandberg in the centers forced the opposing back line to make hard tackles all game long. The Raptors favoured the right hand corner, with tries coming from Jake Thiel, then Ash Hotti, followed by Josh Thiel and a second Jake Thiel score.
A momentary loss of concentration allowed the Fraser Falcons to score just before half, but the Raptors were justified in the pride they took from 30 solid minutes of rugby.
The second half, however, was a different story. The Falcons, true to their name, came out flying, and the Raptors showed too much complacency in light of their lead, which was quickly cut to eight with a converted Fraser try, then to a single point with a second seven point Fraser score.
The lethargy shown by BGMS continued as Fraser completed the comeback with an unconverted try to take a 24-20 lead. BGMS finally showed the urgency exhibited in the first half, and put sustained pressure on their opponents, which resulted in Josh Thiel notching his second try of the game, which he then converted. Fraser roared right back and put a valiant effort in at the Betty Gilbert goal line, but the Raptors turned over a ruck and kicked for touch to end a thriller.
Thursday’s game against the Walnut Grove Gators was another exciting match. Illnesses and injuries saw the Raptors playing with only one player on the bench, and the starters playing positions unfamiliar to them.
Betty Gilbert Middle started the game well, controlling possession and moving the ball wide for Sang Nguyen to open the scoring in the corner. Josh Thiel, with a thunderous kick from the sideline, narrowly missed the conversion for a 5-0 Raptors lead. Walnut Grove answered back, their much larger forwards keeping the ball in tight and punishing Betty Gilbert Middle with relentless phases of crashing play. They marched the length of the field and touched down to tie the game at 5-5.
The contrasting styles would continue, with Betty Gilbert moving the ball wide quickly and forcing the bigger Gators squad to chase. The Raptors found a seam in the stretched-out Walnut Grove defence which allowed Ash Hotti to score. Josh Thiel made the conversion for a 12-5 lead, but again the Gators stormed back, their pack rambling down field for a converted score of their own.
The second half saw more of the same, but this time it was Walnut Grove opening the scoring. The try went unconverted, so the Raptors were faced with a 5-point deficit, but the superior fitness and desire of the home team started to shine through.
Again using the width of the field, Betty Gilbert Middle moved the ball with alacrity, allowing Josh Thiel to punch in a try, which he converted. The Raptor pressure continued, and Jake Thiel got the last of the Raptors’ tries, bulling his way over near the posts to put a bit of distance between the hosts and the visitors. Josh Thiel again converted for a final of 24-17 in favour of the Raptors.
Already victorious as the champions of the Abbotsford league, the win secured the Langley Shield and a berth in the Fraser Valley Grade 8 tournament for Betty Gilbert Middle School. Playoff rugby continues for the team next week as they host Banting Middle from Coquitlam to decide who enters the tournament as the top seed from the Upper Fraser Valley division.