The Langley Rams top the list of sports newsmakers in Langley in 2012.
The junior football team won the B.C. Football Conference playoff title with a 20-13 win over the host Vancouver Island Raiders in the B.C. Football Conference championship game.
The Raiders were the six-time defending BCFC champions, finished the regular season undefeated at 9-0-1, and had handed the Rams (7-2-1) their only two losses this season.
With the championship victory, the Rams earned the right to host the Saskatoon Hilltops in the Canadian Bowl on Nov. 10.
The game, held in front of a capacity crowd and under clear skies at McLeod Stadium, was one for the ages.
The visiting Hilltops scored a stunning, come-from-behind 23-21 win over the Rams.
The Hilltops scored 17 unanswered points during the second half to win by two.
The victory gave the Hilltops their third consecutive Canadian Junior Football League championship and a CJFL record 16th national title overall.
"I don't think we could have done anything different," Rams linebacker Arie Nakagawa said. "Things just didn't go our way today."
Surrounded by reporters, Rams' head coach Jeff Alamolhoda congratulated the Hilltops for their win.
"It is what it is," an emotional Alamolhoda said. "The Hilltops were continuing to fight, being down like that, and they just have the knowledge, of being in that situation, of putting their foot on the gas."
Alamolhoda was also quick to applaud his own players, saying that the Rams overcame adversity to win the BCFC and give themselves the opportunity to play for a Canadian title on home soil.
"Obviously the outcome wasn't what we wanted but you know what? This is a family, we'll always be a family, we'll stick together through thick and thin and we'll be back next year," Alamolhoda said.
Not surprisingly, the Rams dominated the league awards. Eleven Rams were named as all-stars to lead the conference. Five Langley players earned all-star nods on each side of the ball and one was named twice.
The top accolades went to Adam Konar (top defensive player) Anthony Daley (outstanding offensive lineman), Evan Foster (outstanding defensive lineman), Nick Downey (outstanding special teams player for the second consecutive year), and Malcolm Williams (rookie of the year).
The Rams weren't the only high calibre team from Langley to finish second in Canada.
The Langley Thunder senior A lacrosse team won the Western Lacrosse Association title for the second straight year before heading to Peterborough for the Mann Cup national championship.
In 2011, the Thunder lost the Mann Cup series to the Brampton Excelsiors.
This time around, against the Lakers, the Thunder jumped ahead to a 2-0 series lead before losing the next four, as they settled for second place in Canada for the second year in a row.
The Lakers secured the Mann Cup with a series-clinching, 14-8 win during game six, in front of 3,904 fans at the Peterborough Memorial Centre.
Langley native Garrett Billings led all Mann Cup players in assists (25) and points (32), one better than the Lakers' Shawn Evans in both categories.
"Obviously we're disappointed with our finish," Billings said. "We thought we had a few chances to win but that's what happens when you are playing a team as deep as Peterborough."
Thunder head coach Rod Jensen took some comfort in the fact his team had a better showing than it did at the 2011 Mann Cup, which the Thunder lost in five games to Brampton at the Langley Events Centre.
"We had a way better performance than last year," Jensen said. "Last year we were deer in headlights; this year we were right there. Last year we didn't have enough; this year we competed in every game."
However, the Thunder players weren't congratulating each other for giving it the old college try after the series-clinching loss.
"It was pretty emotional in the changing room," Jensen related. "The guys were pretty disappointed, but everyone can walk away truly with their heads up."
Prior to the Mann Cup, the Thunder
repeated as WLA playoff champions by beating the Coquitlam Adanacs in six games in the best-of-seven league championship series.
Jensen said the Adanacs gave his team a very stern test.
"It was tough," Jensen said. "We got out of the [first round] Burnaby series pretty unscathed, with limited injuries, but this Coquitlam team, man, that's what they do - they play aggressive. We had people banged up, there."
The Thunder also finished on top of the WLA during the regular season with a 126 record and 24 points.
Thriller at LEC
The Walnut Grove Gators senior boys basketball team rounded out the list of Langley teams that finished second in high-profile competitions.
The Walnut Grove Secondary squad lost by a single point to the Terry Fox Ravens, in the March 17 final of the B.C. high school Triple A boys basketball championships at the Langley Events Centre.
With 3.4 ticks left on the clock and the Gators clinging to a 74-73 lead, Terry Fox Ravens' sharpshooter Jesse Crookes drove a stake through the hearts of Gator Nation. Crookes' 10-foot basket put the Ravens ahead 75-74 in front of a raucous Saturday night crowd of 4,061 inside the Langley Events Centre's arena bowl.
The Gators tried desperately to get that one, final, game-winning basket of their own, but it didn't materialize.
At game's end, a jubilant bunch of Ravens from Port Coquitlam turned centre-court into a giant mosh pit as they jumped, hugged each other, and screamed with joy.
The Gators, oh-so-close to the elusive provincial title, hugged one another and their legion of fans.
Many of the Gators were in tears, including their head coach George
Bergen. The veteran bench boss didn't hide his emotions, as he consoled his young charges.
Gator Nation, the group of Walnut Grove students adorned in green clothes and body paint, and who clustered at one end of the
court, were vocal to the bitter end.
They chanted "Geo-rge Ber-gen" in honour of the man who led the Gators to second place in both the Fraser Valley and B.C.
"Of course it's tough. It's really tough," Bergen said, after being asked the obvious question. "We've worked a long time, a long journey of a lot of different things, from skill development to strength training. We really worked our tails off.
We're not an all-star team, we are a bunch of locals."
Bergen said both teams played "extremely well," adding that one team has to win and one team has to lose.
"They made the final shot and so be it, right?"
Bergen believed his team had the potential to make the provincial final four.
He noted that a Walnut Grove team that's only losing three Grade 12 starters has a new goal to strive for next season.
"They better know that they're going for it next year," Bergen said.