Langley (Blake Roberts/BCFC) – Langley Rams head coach Howie Zaron is no neophyte when it comes to the CJFL, the powerhouse that is the Saskatoon Hilltops and the hill (pardon the pun) his squad must climb to win a national championship Saturday afternoon. Zaron knows the Rams are up against it in a major way, even if he won’t admit it.
Although Zaron has followed the CJFL, at least PFC west closely for several years, his actual junior head coaching experience is limited, consisting of three and a half years with the Valley Huskers from 2006 to 2009 and half a season since taking over the Rams this year. Anyone who knows him will tell you Zaron and his staff will have the Rams as well prepared as possible. Still, Zaron has never coached in a Canadian Bowl so you wouldn’t blame him if he is distracted by it a bit, even as he works to make sure his players aren’t. Across the sideline, Hilltops head coach Tom Sargeant has already won 11 of these things as a head coach (not to mention more as an assistant) so the only advantage we can hope for is that “Sarge” is bored to the point he falls asleep at halftime.
Talking experience beyond the head coaches? How about this laughable stat…while the Langley Rams coaching staff and players have a grand total of 0 Canadian Bowl rings to their credit…the Hilltops can boast 182. Yes, you read that right…one hundred and eighty-two. We are pretty sure that number is 100% accurate, although originally we were ready to report the number at 180 as the only Hilltop we weren’t sure about was receivers coach Evan Turkington. We guessed him at 3 between being a young assistant coach and former player but then tracked him down and he confirmed he has 4 as a player and one as an assistant coach. Thanks for making this worse for us Mr. Turkington. This Rams squad not only lacks Canadian Bowl experience, but perhaps to a degree is still getting to know each other as only 15 players remain from the 2017 squad.
Home field advantage…Hilltops.
Weather advantage? Both teams will deal with the same conditions Saturday and Howie Zaron might be right when he says he has enough prairie talent on the Rams that any amount of wind and cold really won’t be a factor, but let’s be honest. If you have been around BCFC football any amount of time you have noticed our prairie recruits soften up just a little and get used to the balmier temperatures we enjoy. If you look carefully before the Rams leave their locker room Saturday you will likely see them sticking their heads out asking each other if it’s going to warm up just a little. The Hilltops on the other hand? Some of them will actually come out with their sleeves rolled up, they are weird that way. They call it being tough, and they may be right, but it’s also a little weird.
History, experience, home field advantage, all those things mean everything or possibly nothing according to Zaron who is quick to give credit to the Hilltops and their head coach.
“We have all the respect in the world for the Hilltops, how can you not? They are by far the best franchise in the CJFL and they have been for a very long time. We are huge underdogs…anytime you are playing a team that is playing at home, has won four national championships in a row and hasn’t lost in two years, of course we are underdogs. But we have a lot of confidence in our guys, we feel we are going to go in there and give them a game. If we go in there and play the way we can, then we might just surprise some people.”
Zaron was quick to point out that while the Hilltops have the infrastructure in place to dominate the Canadian junior football landscape, Saturday is all that matters. Championships of years gone past will mean little at kick off.
“We are going to look at film and see what we think we can exploit, just like they are. The rings they have don’t mean anything to the Hilltops right now, I’m am sure they are only focused on this week just like we are. They are human, they aren’t unbeatable.”
Unbeatable no, but dominate yes, even by Hilltops standards the 2018 version is impressive as it rolled through the PFC in going 10-0 through the regular season and play-offs and outscoring the opposition by an average 49-8 in the process. The absolute demolition the Hilltops accomplished this season might be the only area the Rams have an advantage as Zaron’s squad faced a bit more adversity this season. The Rams finished the BCFC season with an overall 10-3 record through the play-offs and actually limped out to a 1-3 start to the season, outscoring the opposition just 29-16 along the way. It could be argued the Rams are better prepared mentally if this game is close in the late stages.
Any chance the Hilltops players reading their own press clippings and the Rams battle tested season combine to turn the table to the visitor’s favour? Does the pressure the Hilltops and their head coach face to win a game they are supposed to win get to them?
Zaron isn’t so sure.
“This is one game. We aren’t under any pressure, we aren’t even supposed to be here. But how can you say Tom Sargeant is under any pressure? Look what he’s done not just this year but before this. Everybody loses a game once in a while, championships included. Anyone who would criticize him or his team if we do manage to beat them doesn’t know anything about sports or football and I’d be the first to tell them that. The only pressure the Hilltops should feel is to win a game Saturday, just like us.”
If you know anything at all about Howie Zaron, you know he says what he thinks, you just have to look back at his post Cullen Cup media comments to be reminded of that. Knowing this and thinking about what he says about this game and how the Rams are approaching it tells us he and his assistants will have the Rams ready Saturday, underdogs or not.
This story has gone off track a bit, off track a lot I suppose. It started out by breaking down the underdog Rams chances but has morphed into a bit of a Howie Zaron publicity piece. But if you know Howie Zaron and call him a friend as I do (a friend who can drive you crazy at times), you are rooting for him as much as the Langley Rams coaches and players.