Story and images by Erich Eichhorn ( ISN )
September 10th, 2016 Langford, BC ( ISN ) – For the first time in twenty-four regular season games the Okanagan Sun had the misfortune to taste what it is like to be on the losing end of a football game, as the Westshore Rebels avenged an earlier season loss to the Sun pulling out a clutch, last minute win to take a 29-23 victory and muddy the first place standings in the British Columbia Football Conference.
QB Ashton MacKinnon, the Rebels designated starting field general after sharing duties all season with the newly departed Scott Borden, would find Nathanial Pinto down field on a desperate third and 12 yard strike with less than two minutes to go to set up Jamel Lyles for the game winning, rushing TD from 20 yards out with 42 seconds remaining, in what must have seemed an eternity for players and fans. If the win wasn’t enough, the Rebels would need at least 2 more points to pull even with Okanagan in the standings. MacKinnon, called upon again to find a recipient for the extra point, would fire the ball on a rope to Nate Skeet over the middle to complete the victory.
The Rebels would fall behind 10-0 in the first quarter, giving up a Sun’s Foster Martens 20 yard TD strike while the Rebels defense adjusted to the balanced attack of the Okanagan team. Holding the visitors to an additional late field goal, the Rebels would keep the margin close to start the second frame.
A conceded safety would put a mark on the board for the Rebels in the second quarter. The Rebels defense would continue to ratchet up in the second, putting pressure on Martens to deliver the ball. Forced to kick the ball away, the Sun would put the ball in the hands of the conference’s leading rusher Jamel Lyles who would run it back to the Sun’s 26 yard line. The Rebels, still unable to crack the Sun’s defense, would settle for a Kyle Clarke field goal with a minute left in the half. Okanagan would go to the locker room at halftime holding a 10-5 advantage.
The Sun would insert back up QB Keith Zyla into the game in the second half for Martens who would leave the game with what appeared to be a lower body injury suffered on an earlier tackle. Both sides expecting an offensive push coming out in the third quarter would spar defensively as both sides would make big plays on the ball. The Rebels would finally crack the end zone on a 24-yard scamper by Jamel Lyles, his first TD of the game, giving his team their first lead in the game 12-10. Not to be denied an answer, the Sun would press down field only to be held up again by a surging Rebel defense, settling for another field goal and a one point, 13-12 lead.
With five minutes to go in the third quarter, Rebels QB Mackinnon after exploiting the Sun’s defense using his legs to gain yards to open the second half, would start to find his touch, throwing a 64 yard TD pass over the top to Nathaniel Pinto with five minutes to go in the third and putting his team up 18-13.
The Sun would answer to end the quarter on the legs of Zyla, who, taking advantage of field position courtesy of two concurrent Rebel penalties for thirty yards, would run it in on a keeper from the three-yard line to regain a 20-18 lead to end the quarter.
The final quarter, and quarter of dramatics, would see the Rebels defensive line refill their lunch boxes and get to work, holding the Sun in the quarter to a single field goal. The Rebels secondary, questioned for their play in past games, would come up big in downfield coverage, as the Sun’s QB Zyla would look to put some distance on the scoreboard with big yards through the air. Perhaps looking to the air once too much, the Rebels would intercept the ball on the Sun’s 44-yard line. The Rebels stopped by the Sun’s defense on a third and two yards would elect the safer bet, kicking a field goal to take a 21-20 lead. The Sun would get one final chance at a potential game-winning TD with 4 minutes remaining, but be turned aside a third time in the red zone by an aggressive Rebel defensive line led by Kent Hicks. Settling for the field goal, the Sun would take a two-point lead 23-21.
If a game could be defined in a two-minute time frame then what the Rebels would accomplish in the final two minutes would be just that. Rebels MacKinnon, faced with a 3rd down and twelve yards to convert from the Rebels side of centre would air our the ball to Nathaniel Pinto who would pull down a miraculous catch in coverage to march his team up field to the Suns twenty yard line with forty-two seconds remaining, setting up Jamel Lyles for the game winning TD. Lyles, the focus of the Sun’s defense all game, would take the ball from the back field virtually untouched to record the winner. MacKinnon would throw a laser to Nate Skeet on a post route to score the extra point and the game final 29-23 win.
In a post game interview with Rebels head coach JC Boice, one comment summarized simply he and his teams feeling about the game, “ It’s a good day to be a Westshore Rebel.”
Coming into Westhills Stadium, the Sun were undefeated in seven games while the Rebels sat one game behind them in second place, needing a win by at least seven points to claim first place in the conference standings. Winning by exactly six points evokes a tie breaker formula since the Rebels lost by six points in their first meeting in Kelowna in game three of the early season.
With three games remaining, the Rebels will look to finish out the season without a loss, keeping their sights set on the Cullen Cup Conference Championship and the Canadian Bowl.
The Westshore Rebels travel to Naniamo next weekend to take on the VI Raiders at Caledonia Park. Game time 2:00 pm.
** Stats not available at submission deadline