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Kamloops Broncos post first win since 2017 — 'To be honest, I think the future of the team was on the line tonight'

“We had to do it. Everything was on the line. We had to win. It meant so f-ing much.”

Running back Cam Grzegorczyk’s F-bombs exploded like pinatas, bursting with happiness, used as adjectives, verbs and even commas of sorts, joyful swear words that separated cuss-filled clauses in a post-game interview.

Quarterback Ayden Cummins was crying in the arms of his mother and father.

Head coach Braden Vankoughnett was drenched, soaked from a surprise ice shower, saturated, shivering and smiling.

“We f-ing won,” said Grzegorczyk, who artfully and gleefully used the complete bad word, which we probably shouldn’t publish.

They were scenes that usually follow championship victories, but the Kamloops Broncos won neither the Canadian Bowl nor the Cullen Cup on Saturday at Hillside Stadium.

The 18-7 triumph over the Westshore Rebels of Langford, a fellow bottomfeeder that dropped to 1-7, was the Broncos’ first win since Oct. 7, 2017, a victory that snapped a 27-game losing streak and prevented a third consecutive winless season.

“To be honest, I think the future of the team was on the line tonight,” said Cummins, who broke off a long touchdown run to give Kamloops a 9-7 lead in the third quarter.

“The future of recruiting, the future of excitement around a program, it all came together today to keep this team together, to keep faith in our coaching staff and our players.”

Cummins seemed to be suggesting the win might have saved the beleaguered franchise.

“I think so,” Vankoughnett said when asked if Cummins was right. “I honestly think so.”

The season started as Broncos’ seasons do, with bravado and the pledge to prove to the league they are not the same old Broncos.

First-year head coach Vankoughnett, on the eve of the campaign, told KTW the plan was to intensely and aggressively win football games and reach the playoffs.

“We definitely aren’t the same football team,” he said. “There’s no way we go 0-10 again this year. We are going to go out there and kick somebody’s butt on Saturday.”

The 2021 campaign was nightmarish, perhaps the worst of them all — and that’s saying something.

A mandatory vaccination policy implemented by the league in September was enough to prompt the exodus of several Broncos who refused to get the jab.

Kamloops, which was in desperate need of ticket sales and sponsorship dollars after the cancelled 2020 season, was limited to three home contests this year, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and with an assist from Interior Health and its flip-flopping capacity rules.

The Broncos, who have worked hard to rid themselves of disrepute away from the field, were marred by a Week 2 incident that led to the departure of offensive co-ordinator Stephen Schuweiler.

Multiple interview requests fell on deaf ears.

The club eventually released a statement: “We cannot discuss matters of team discipline outside of our organization as they may contain private and confidential information that we are not at liberty to share for obvious reasons. The team will not make any further statement.”

Meanwhile, ugly losses were piling up and the team lost its starting quarterback Matt Wilson, who played most recently in the Sept. 25 defeat to Westshore on Vancouver Island.

The Broncos were outscored 311-61 in 2021 and were shut out in three consecutive games, most heinously in an 87-0 embarrassment at the hands of the Okanagan Sun on Oct. 9 in Kelowna.

“To go 0-3 with a couple lopsided scoreboards really was tough on our locker room,” said Vankoughnett, whose defence was a bright spot, most notably in the final three weeks of the season. “We lost a couple players and then just everything going on behind the scenes made the start of the season really tough.

“But you know what? These guys rallied.”

Linebacker Raffaele Caligiuri made the Broncos’ season-defining play late in the third quarter on Saturday, a pick six that put Kamloops up 15-7.

“We didn’t want it. We needed it,” Caligiuri said. “We needed to get this win.”

Grzegorczyk, the club’s bell-cow running back, carried much of the load in the second half and helped Kamloops into field goal position in the fourth quarter, enabling kicker Scott Poelzer to add three more points with 1:52 remaining on the clock.

Cummins, a receiver/slotback by trade who, prior to this season, last played quarterback for his six-man high school team in Saskatchewan, took the final snap of 2021 under centre in victory formation and appealed to the crowd and the sideline before kneeling.

The Broncos (1-7) stormed the field, winners of one, their first in more than four years.

“To come together at the end and get the win meant all that much more because of how much we went through,” Cummins said. “I love these boys.”

Perhaps next year, when hope springs anew once more, the Broncos will no longer be the same old Broncos, changed for the better by a win they had to have on a frigid night at Hillside Stadium.

Grzegorczyk sure f-ing hopes so.

“It was one of the best games we’ve ever played and, f—k, we’re so happy we broke that losing streak,” he said. “We had to. This was the break. It’s been pretty hard, especially on morale, on the boys.

“We had to do it. Everything was on the line. We had to win. It meant so f-ing much.”