The Okanagan Sun and Westshore Rebels clash Saturday afternoon at 4PM in Langford for the Cullen Cup BCFC championship. This will be the 5th meeting in the title game between these teams with the Sun holding a 3-1 edge.
This season is a tale of two very different teams as the Rebels and its high octane, run first offense over -came what can best be described as an average defense on route to first place. Conversely the Sun offers up a stifling defense but an offense that has been inconsistent this season.
We asked three BCFC head coaches, Jerome Erdman of the VI Raiders, Khari Joseph of the Langley Rams and Brad Yamaoka of the Kamloops Broncos to give us their views on how these teams match up in each category. The three coaches had the option to call a position ‘even’.
4 of the 5 BCFC all- stars take the field in this game as the Rebels Aarmin Purewall and Christian Krause along with Michele Vecchio and Quinn Horton of the Sun protect their respective quarterbacks.
Both offensive lines will be facing equally tough defensive lines which makes this position as critical as ever on this day according to Brad Yamoako.
“Both offensive lines are very good. The big thing is Westshore has those backs behind theirs that I think gives them an edge here. They don’t need to get as big a push as the Sun does. But they match up very well.”
Raiders head coach Jerome Erdman echoes the sentiment often heard from Rebels running back Jamel Lyles in singing the praises of the Rebels group.
“They (Rebels), are very, very good up front. Lyles and Campbell make things happen but the holes they have to run through are impressive usually.”
The Sun have been platooning the duo of pocket passer Foster Martens and Keith Zyla, who is more willing to use his feet, all season.
Martens seemed to have earned the confidence as the starter the last two games of the season and had a masterful performance in game 10 against the Rams to lock down a home play-off game. (12/18 for 264 yards and 3TDS). That said, the Sun don’t hesitate to go to Zyla if the offense stalls.
The Rebels Ashton Mackinnon shared his duties with Scott Borden until the mid-way point of the season when Borden left the club. That he finished 5th in conference passing yardage and still was selected as the all star quarterback is a testament to how dangerous this 6’7 monster can be. He finished 6th in rushing as well, making him even more of a problem for the Sun defense.
Jerome Edrman sees a big advantage for the Rebels in what MacKinnon brings to the table.
“The read zone, he’s so good at it. Even if the Sun slow down Lyles, there is no guarantee with MacKinnon in there doing what he does.”
Is there any question what team is stronger here or can we just skip to receivers?
Jamel Lyles 1st in conference 1604 yards, Trey Campbell 3rd @ 605 yards and MacKinnon with 458 are in the top six for the Rebels. As every coach who faces the Rebels will say, you can’t stop Lyles, merely hope to limit him the best you can. The problem is, even if you do that Campbell is there in the wings if you focus too much on Lyles. Then there is MacKinnon who is very dangerous as an option quarterback.
This game is all about the Rebels rushing attack in the eyes of Kamloops coach Brad Yamaoka.
“The Sun did a pretty good job against the Rebels this year. If they can largely limit them there they will be in good shape. If they stop it they win the football game, but that’s easier said than done.”
A question that can be asked is if the Rebels respect the Sun abilities against the run too much. Lyles averaged over 18 carries a game this season yet had just 23 for 199 yards in two games against the Sun. Campbell didn’t carry the ball at all in the first meeting in Kelowna.
If the Rebels run game has been a wealth of riches, the Sun is by comparison a soup kitchen. The player expected to lead the way, Abdi-Nasir Abdi was lost to injury before the season. His replacement, Brendan Hansen sits 5th in rushing with 518 yards but was injured in week 9 against the Raiders and there is no word on his return. Fullback Kasey Russell is a bruising back with 209 yards and a 5.1 average.
The Rebels and Sun running game are worlds apart.
The Rebels receiving core took on a whole new dimension when the club signed Nathaniel Pinto out of York University prior to week 4. Despite missing 3 games the diminutive speedster was a conference all-star and finished 5th in yardage with 644. He is always a threat to take his catch to the end zone as his 29.8 yard average and 8 TDS on just 22 receptions will attest to. Kain Melchor (20 REC, 410 yards & 5TDS) is the only other Rebel in the top 20 in the conference statistically.
Pinto wasn’t on the Rebels roster the first time these teams met. In the rematch in Victoria he had a huge game with 4 catches for 149 yards and a TD.
While the Sun don’t have any all-stars, their group is arguably the deepest in the conference, led by Liam Wishart (7th in the conference with 39 REC/548 yards/5TDS). Shamar Donelson sits 12th with 22 catches for 425 yards & 2TDS.
Three more Sun receivers round out 18-20 in the conference. Rashuan Simonise, formerly of the Calgary Dinos and Cincinnati Bengals (12/265/1) was a week 8 arrival, Nathaneal Anderson (16/241/1) and Kyler Mosley (19/222/0).
The Sun passers have a lot of targets and in Simonise, the scariest deep threat in the CJFL. If weather conditions are good and this collective group plays to its potential against an average Rebel secondary it can be as dominant in the air as the Rebels are on the ground.
Two powerful groups as we discussed above that will be smashing heads with strong offensive lines so this will be a battle of wills. The Sun led the conference in sacks with 28, the Rebels were third with 22.5
While Kent Hicks is the all-star for the Rebels, Byron MacKinnon matched Hicks 5.5 sacks on the year. Matt Pastro with 27 tackles will also be a challenge for the Sun offensive line.
For the Sun, all-star Jonas Gering leads the way with 31 tackles and 4.5 sacks. Cory McCoy is the Sun sack leader with 6 on the year.
Layne Hull of the Sun is the BCFC outstanding defensive player, an honor he captured in last years national championship game as well. But don’t sleep on Eli Haynes who is a physical presense and garnered all star consideration as well.
For the Rebels, Adam Masur (33 tackles) is the playmaker of the linebackers. But make no mistake, this defense will go as far as the 4 and 5 defensive line sets take it. Opposing teams have been able to exploit this area all season long as their best linebacker, Shaun Robinson left the team after week two. They would love to have him back for this game.
The Sun secondary is a talented group, led by all stars Beck Fullerton and Conor Richard with 6 and 4 interceptions respectively. They are loaded with play makers in Jamie Turek, Tye Kitzman and Raquille Cespedes.
The Westshore Rebels defense has taken some criticism on these pages this season, but they are not without talent of their own. Brody Uddenberg, Juslain Makambo and Bryce Mosley among them. While they sit dead last in the conference with 281 passing yards against per game on the season they played with an impressive bend but don’t break mentality in both games against the Sun this season. That will go a long way this Saturday.
The Rebels set the tone in the semi-final against the Raiders two weeks ago when Lyles took the opening kick-off for a touchdown and the Sun will likely look to keep the ball out of his hands. Conversely, Raquille Cespedes took a missed field for to the end zone for the Sun the first time these teams played. Throw in Rashaun Simonise for the Sun and there is some star power fielding kicks on both sides.
In a novel concept, the Sun have a punter punting in Kealey Heintz, who has a 32.8 average on the season. For the Rebels, defensive lineman Kent Hicks himself has a 34.1 average. You have to wonder if we will see the big man pull the ball down to rumble for a first down this game.
The Rebels Kyle Clarke wasn’t called on for field goals often as the prolific offense found the end zone more often than not, but when he was he never missed at 7 for 7. Clarke kicked field goals so seldom two of our coaches actually couldn’t remember if the Rebels even had a field goal kicker.
For the Sun, Kealey Heintz proved to his club in the semi-final that they can count on him to make a critical kick under pressure as he went 4 of 4, including a 34 yarder in overtime.
Huge story line here as we all know Westshore defensive coordinator Shane Beatty was head man of the Sun the past three seasons before they parted ways. The Rebels JC Boice is deservedly the coach of the year and is well known as an offensive mastermind, specifically in mentoring quarterbacks on both sides of the border. Former Rebels head coach John Cardilicchia joined the staff as special team coordinator this year. There is nothing he hasn’t seen in junior football; this isn’t his first go around in a BCFC championship game.
The Sun have a rookie head coach in Ben Macauley and rookie offensive coordinator with Mike Wolthuizen although former Sun head coach Jay Christensen joined the staff in a mentorship role a few weeks back. Rookie or not, Macauley received accolades from the three coaches for the work he did with the Sun. Sun defensive coordinator Nathan Mollard has done an outstanding job on that side of the ball.
Obviously the biggest intangible is home field advantage for more than one reason. The road trip and hotel the visiting Sun will deal with is one thing. The Sun also play on natural grass, so the turf will be another advantage for the Rebels.
Of course expect a very pro Westshore crowd to be making noise to assist Rebels.
Yamaoka feels the Sun have an advantage here from playing in the last two conference titles as well as a national championship last year.
“I think the Sun players largely know what to expect. That will be a big thing before the game. Of course the Rebels can make that not matter.”
Langley Rams head coach Khari Joseph goes a step further;
“I think the Okanagan Sun have a calmer demeanor on the bench and that carries over to the field. I find they play more consistent. Westshore is more up and down…they do really good things and they do some really bad things. I just think Okie stays more consistent.”
“This is the classic great run game against the stout defense. I don’t think the Sun stops it, but can they slow it down? And penalties…Westshore takes a lot of penalties. You can’t afford to do that in a championship game. That can be a real shot in the foot for them.
If they can run the ball and keep their composure I think they win but I just don’t know if that’s going to be the case. This is going to be a tight but, but I think relatively high scoring…in the high 20’s.
“I think Okie is a better all-around team but Westshore’s strength is that running game and I don’t know if Okie can limit it. When you add the quarterback into the mix, it’s pretty formidable.
“Usually I’m pretty good on predictions but this one is too close. I’ll pass.”
“This year has been an anomaly, you never know. If I had to pick someone, I’ll say Okanagan by 7.”
“Okanagan. I think overall they are a better team. Offense, defense, special teams. I think they are better.”