On third and long, and with his team staring at a late-game deficit and a second consecutive loss to the Okanagan Sun, Westshore Rebels receiver Nathaniel Pinto watched as quarterback Ashton MacKinnon left the pocket and scrambled to his right.
“Scramble rules. I just turned over to the sideline, he threw it up and I made a play on it,” Pinto said.
The first-year Rebel’s game-changing grab with less than a minute remaining in the fourth quarter set the Rebels up for Jamel Lyles’ game-winning rushing touchdown and propelled them toward a signature 29-23 win over the previously undefeated Sun.
A two-point convert, made with a huge catch in the corner of the end zone, gave the Rebels (6-1) the six-point margin they needed if they finish tied with the Sun atop the B.C. Football Conference standings. The Sun (6-1) beat the Rebels by six in their previous meeting – head-to-head points for and against is the first tiebreaker to determine which team places higher. So, the teams’ remaining three games will likely determine who finishes first.
Rebels head coach JC Boice was thrilled with the result and the play that led to the winning score.
“A 6’7″ guy threw it to a 5’7″ guy,” he said. “(Ashton) did a good job at extending the play … Pinto got behind the defender and you saw the result. Big, big play.”
Boice added, “It’s a great day to be a Rebel. I’m incredibly proud of these kids and this coaching staff.”
While Lyles and fellow running back Trey Campbell have been the stars on offence this season, it was MacKinnon and Pinto’s turn to produce this week.
“Football’s the most unselfish game. It’s all about the team. It’s all about everybody and not just one person. If a coach asks me to block, I’m going to do that all game if he needs me to, but if he needs me to make a play, I’m going to step up,” said Pinto.
The offensive game plan was a classic case of what Boice calls “taking what the defence” gives them.
“We knew that they were not going to let us win with Jamel and Trey,” he said. MacKinnon attacked the Sun’s stout defensive front on the ground, piling up tough yardage on option and bootleg plays, and managed to find some success through the air. In addition to the late-game bomb, he found Pinto for a 71-yard TD at the start of the second half that helped get the Rebels’ offence going after a sluggish opening 30 minutes.
The Sun led 10-0 after the first quarter and 10-5 at halftime, but the Rebels came out firing in the third quarter, scoring a touchdown early and converting it to make it 12-10. The teams traded scores through the third and fourth quarters, but it was a Kealey Heitnz field goal that gave the Sun a 23-21 lead with 1:45 to go that forced the locals to go to work.
MacKinnon split most of the quarterback snaps with Scott Borden leading up to tonight’s matchup, but took every snap from behind centre in the rematch against Okanagan.
“Ashton’s been the guy that’s really, really wanted it. Credit to him,” Boice said.
The Westshore defence once again showed its prowess, limiting the Sun to just a handful of meaningful drives and making big plays when needed. The Rebels managed an interception, a punt block and a couple of sacks late in the game that each gave the team a momentum boost.
The Rebels travel to Nanaimo this Saturday for another challenging game, against the arch-rival Vancouver Island Raiders. Westshore is on the road again the following week to face the always-tough Langley Rams, before closing out the regular season with a home date against the Kamloops Broncos on Oct. 1. Visit westshorerebels.com for more information.