Western Crusaders are through to Gridiron Victoria Vic Bowl XXXIII after crushing Croydon Rangers 34-10 in their semi-final at Henry Turner Reserve on Saturday.
The Crusaders will go into the showpiece event against surprise packets Melbourne University Royals at MacPherson Park on Saturday as hot favourites to make it 12 wins in a row and secure their first Vic Bowl title since 2008.
Crusaders coach Craig Wilson said expectations were high within his camp, but admits the favourite tag comes with its own pressures and that the Royals were not going to be easy-beats.
“Everyone is really stoked to get there,” Wilson said.
“We’ve had an undefeated season so far and we’re playing against a team that’s just around the corner from us, so there’s a bit of a rivalry. There’s a bit of pressure on everyone to perform … so we’re going to have to work
The Crusaders raced to an 18-point lead over Croydon and never looked back.
They were marshalled around the field by star quarterback Andrew Healy.
Healy, a Canadian import, provided the highlight of the game with an incredible 98-yard running touchdown on the back of a well-disguised trick play.
“That was pretty special,” Wilson said. “There was no one on the field that could outpace him.
“Andrew used to play wide receiver in college, so he’s got speed and he’s got moves as well.
“It was a trick play, as well, so everyone got caught by surprise … by the time they realised that Andrew still had the ball, he was halfway up the sideline.”
Healy had the Western Crusaders’ offence in a groove from the outset.
He combined with wide receiver DJ Battistella for two touchdowns, while running back Samuel Delai was a constant threat.
“The offence got us on top early,” Wilson said. “After that, it’s really just game management and making sure we don’t lose our focus.”
Western Crusaders conceded one touchdown during the game. The defensive effort was led by Malo Tuala, Andrew Yeung and Harrison Delai.
Saturday’s decider will provide the Crusaders an opportunity to atone for their Vic Bowl loss to Monash Warriors last season.
No one expected Melbourne University – a team with a record well under .500 during the season – to be in the Vic Bowl, but it advanced with a shock 24-13 win over Monash in Saturday’s semi-final.
“It just shows you how a bit of emotion and a bit of hunger can get you up,” Wilson said.
“They obviously wanted it more than the Warriors and that shone out. There’s a lesson there for us if we pay attention.”
Vic Bowl XXXIII will be played at MacPherson Park, 783 Coburns Road, Melton, from 3pm on Saturday.