Westshore Rebels quarterback Ashton McKinnon does hius best to elude a pair of Okanagan Sun tacklers during their game last weekend. McKinnon and his 'mates host the Vancouver Island Raiders in the home opener at Westhills Stadium in Langford this Saturday (Aug. 1) at 7 p.m.

UPDATE: Rebels keeping chin up heading into BCFC home opener in Langford

Game experience will be key for young Westshore squad

Westshore Rebels players got a football education in their opening B.C. Football Conference game last weekend.

Head coach J.C. Boice and his staff have been doing their best this week to focus on the positives which came out of the old-fashioned schooling laid on their team by the Okanagan Sun – a 78-7 loss – as they prepare for Saturday’s (Aug. 1) home opener against the always-tough Vancouver Island Raiders.

Boice pointed out that the young Rebels team has 42 first-year players on the roster, indicating there’s bound to be a learning curve.

“It’s their first year of junior football, their first long travel trip. But every one of those kids got playing time,” he said. “One of the positives was that the kids never quit, they never lost their composure and they stuck together the entire time.”

Having watched game film this week to see where they were out-performed, the players “still believe in themselves and still believe they can make adjustments,” Boice said.

While the fitness level of his team was not an issue against the Sun – they played an extremely physical team and came away with no injuries, he said – their execution was inconsistent. At a coaches meeting Monday night, the group confirmed their belief in the system the head coach has laid out, and vowed to keep working to develop the young players. “This is a long-term build and we’re going to keep the hammer down on that,” Boice said.

Last weekend’s game saw a fired-up Sun defence throw some extremely sophisticated stunts at the Rebels and throw them off guard almost immediately.

Okanagan scored early and often, turning a 40-0 first quarter lead into a 50-0 advantage by halftime and putting on a clinic, spreading the ball around on offence and stifling the Rebels on defence. Nine different players scored touchdowns for the Sun in the win, including Kory Nagata, who went over twice and led the Kelowna squad in rushing on the day with 89 yards.

Using a unique rotating three-quarterback system designed by Boice, the Rebels could not get untracked against the Sun’s smothering coverage. Incumbent starter QB Hunter Lake completed six of nine passes for 44 yards and ran for a team-leading 42 yards, scrambling when he couldn’t find an open receiver.

Talyn Davies and Ashton McKinnon also saw reps under centre, with McKinnon eventually seeing the most time at the position. He finished with 92 yards passing, connecting on seven of 19 attempts.

It was Lake, however, who found Alex Wright – a converted quarterback from Sooke who seems to be finding a niche at receiver – for the Rebels’ only touchdown in the third quarter. The score was the culmination of a sustained 80-yard drive, another of those positives Boice plucked from the game.

Defensively, Westshore’s Cody Wist hauled in two interceptions, while Jordan Goertzen led the way with six tackles.

Previewing tomorrow’s game, the Raiders have yet to lose to their fellow Island team since the former Victoria franchise packed up and moved to Nanaimo in 2005. Not only that, the Raiders upset last year’s national championship runner-up Langley Rams in last weekend’s season opener, 22-14.

“The Raiders beating Langley is a big deal,” Boice said. “They came out and played a great football game. That ups the ante for us.”

Adding a subtext to the game is the fact Rebels’ defensive quality control and D-line coach Doug Hocking, widely believed to be the top contender for the vacant head coaching job in Nanaimo in the off-season, chose instead to join the Rebels’ staff.

Saturday’s contest, with a 7 p.m. kickoff at Westhills Stadium, is the red-and-white game. Fans are encouraged to wear their Rebels gear or anything red and white to show their support for the team.

editor@goldstreamgazette.com

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