Rebels lineman Kent Hicks celebrates with the Cullen Cup following the team’s championship win over the Okanagan Sun. Joel Tansey/News Gazette staff

Champions: Westshore Rebels cool off the Okanagan Sun to earn BCFC title

The Rebels got off to a dominant start and hung on for a 32-21 win over the Okanagan Sun on Saturday night at Westhills Stadium

All season the Westshore Rebels have been known as a dominant second half team.

On Saturday night, with the Cullen Cup resting neatly on the sidelines, the Rebels reversed the script, pummelling the visiting Okanagan Sun into near-submission while jumping out to a 32-0 lead.

The end result – a 32-21 win and the franchise’s first B.C. Football Conference championship since 2003 – left the Rebels’ quarterback and the game’s top offensive player nearly speechless.

“It’s pretty nice…that’s all I got,” a grinning Ashton MacKinnon told reporters immediately following the win.

For head coach JC Boice, who accepted the league’s coach of the year honour at halftime, the win over the Sun was the culmination of months of work put in by both the players and the coaching staff.

“I’m very thankful to be here with these guys. (Everyone) worked this year. This is a fun win,” Boice said.

Assistant coach Shane Beatty, who led the Sun to a BCFC title a year ago, was visibly emotional as he took part in post-game handshakes with Okanagan.

“I still love those kids and you see the love they have for me so it’s pretty tough,” Beatty said, adding, “(It’s) a great victory. I’m proud of the Rebel organization. I’m proud of JC and I’m so happy.”

From the start, the Rebels gave the Sun a steady dose of running back Jamel Lyles, and the league’s rushing champion got Westshore in front with a 14-yard touchdown scamper to open the scoring in the first quarter.

The Rebels added a field goal before MacKinnon began to make his mark on the game, finding receiver Tyvon Blake for a 39-yard strike early in the second quarter.

MacKinnon threw a 10-yard score to Birhanu Yitna before the half was over and the Rebels cruised into the locker room with a 25-0 lead.

MacKinnon threw for his third score of the game on the Rebels’ opening drive of the second half to give Westshore a 32-0 lead.

Touchdowns from Keith Zyla, Shamar Donelson and Kyler Mosley gave the Rebels a scare, but that was as close as the Sun would come to defending the Cullen Cup.

“They did exactly what we thought they were going to do. They finished the game strong and they fought. They didn’t let up,” Lyles said.

Big plays from the defence were a key for the Rebels, as each time it appeared the Sun were building something, a game-changing turnover shifted the momentum back in their favour.

“I’ve been telling everybody all year long that our defensive backs are coming on…you saw it tonight. They played outstanding football,” Boice said of a unit that hauled in multiple interceptions.

“I’m just proud of these kids. They balled out. They never quit. It was amazing,” Beatty said.

The turnover theme emerged early when Byron MacKinnon striped the football from a Sun rusher and 290-pound defensive lineman Kent Hicks rumbled for 57 yards on the return to set up a Rebels field goal.

“You know, I got gas. Big man got gas. I had to (drag) someone for a bit but I tried my best and I just wanted to win it for my team,” Hicks said.

The Rebels will take some time to savour their B.C. title, but it’ll be business as usual when the team returns to the practice field this week in preparation for the Canadian Bowl.

That contest will take place Nov. 12 at Westhills Stadium at 1:00 p.m.

The Rebels will host the Saskatoon Hilltops, who won the Prairie Conference with a 43-31 win over the Calgary Colts on Sunday in Saskatoon.

joel.tansey@goldstreamgazette.com

Twitter: @joelgazette

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