Following the franchise’s first B.C. Football Conference championship win since 2003, head coach J.C. Boice enjoyed a “five-minute” celebration before he started to get ready for the Canadian Bowl.
Such is the nature of being at the helm for the Rebels’ national title hopes, which will see Boice’s group take on the Prairie Football Conference champion Saskatoon Hilltops this Saturday (1 p.m., at West-hills Stadium).
It’ll be a tall order for the BCFC representatives, as the Hilltops have won five of the last six national titles and thrashed the BCFC powerhouse Okanagan Sun by a 58-2 count in an inter-conference matchup earlier this season.
History doesn’t favour the Rebels’ chances, as the club was downed by a 59-0 score to the Hilltops in 2003 championship game.
For the Rebels to pull out a win, it’ll require an excellent 60 minutes of football, rather than just the powerful final 30 that has been their signature through much of the 2016 campaign.
Against the Sun in the Cullen Cup, the Rebels started strong and had a bit of a second half lull, the opposite of their usual script.
“I think we were really prepared for that game. I think you saw the full potential of what the Rebels could be on both sides of the football,” Boice said.
Offensively, the Hilltops have multiple ways to gain yardage, and running back Logan Fischer is likely the best back the Rebels’ defence will have faced all season – aside from going up against their own Jamel Lyles in practice.
“Him and Jamel are neck and neck … he’s a tough, tough kid. He’s not as fast as Jamel but he’s really, really tough,” said Rebels assistant coach Shane Beatty.
Quarterback Jared Andreychuk isn’t to be forgotten about either, as the pivot is fresh off a three-touchdown performance against the Calgary Colts in the Prairie’s title game.
Beatty got a good look at the Hilltops last season when he was the head coach of the Sun, who fell 38-24 in last year’s Canadian Bowl.
“It’s going to be a formidable challenge, you saw what they did to (Okanagan) … I feel it’s going to be a great matchup in the trenches,” Beatty said.
Being able to keep seven men in the box will be a key for the Rebels defensively in an effort to slow down the Saskatoon rushing attack.
That’ll be contingent on the play of a Westshore secondary that’s coming off its best game of the season and has earned the praise of the coaching staff of late.
“I told those kids when we first started the year that weeks 8, 9 and 10 are when we should be playing our best … We’re getting there. They’re starting to understand it and they’re understanding my craziness and my tempo. I love that about those kids. I’m really proud of them,” Beatty said.
A variety of blitz packages can be expected from the Rebels defence. As well, they’ll attempt to disrupt Andreychuk as often as possible and make him uncomfortable in the pocket.
Offensively, Lyles and running mate Trey Campbell will be counted on to take the pressure off of quarterback Ashton MacKinnon, who rebounded from an up and down game in the semifinals against the Vancouver Island Raiders to be named the Cullen Cup’s top offensive player.
An ascending receiving group featuring Nathaniel Pinto and Kain Melchior will have their hands full against the Hilltops’ secondary, but Boice is confident in their ability to win routes and get open for MacKinnon.
“I think if they line up and play man to man, that plays into our favour. I think our kids can run pretty well. I think (Saskatoon) are very athletic and they’re well-coached, but I don’t think they’ve seen a team with the speed that we have,” Boice said.
The Rebels coach expects the Hilltops to show a lot of different fronts and a variety of blitz packages, while playing an aggressive style of defence that will force (Mackinnon) to make quick, sound decisions.
“They’re a cover zero team. They put seven guys in the box and they put everyone man to man and they try and get to your quarterback in a hurry,” Boice said.
Following his conversation with the Gazette, Boice was planning to get right back into preparing for the Hilltops.
If the Rebels should pull off a win on Saturday, the only film Boice may choose to watch that night will be of his team’s victory celebration.