The first major milestone has been reached by the Westshore Rebels.
On a B.C. Football Conference weekend holding numerous playoff implications, the Langford-based club clinched top spot and home field advantage for the post-season with a 38-29 victory Saturday over the Rams in Langley.
The win was the second for the Rebels over Langley this season and left Westshore (7-1-1) with a three-point lead over the Rams and the Okanagan Sun (both 6-3) with only this Saturday’s (Oct. 1) game against Kamloops remaining.
“This was a great weekend where the kids really came together,” said Westshore head coach J.C. Boice, noting that his team played extremely well on both sides of the ball.
The highlights came in a number of places.
On offence there was receiver Nathaniel Pinto, who turned a last-minute play call deep in the Rebels end into a touchdown pass reception that went 109 yards, a new Canadian Junior Football League record.
Jamel Lyles was his usual slippery self in the backfield, piling up 184 yards rushing and running for four touchdowns. With 1,446 yards for the year and a game against also-ran Kamloops set for this Saturday at Westhills Stadium, he has a chance to beat Matt Medwick’s all-time BCFC rushing record of 1,592.
And quarterback Ashton MacKinnon, protected by a mostly unyielding offensive line that gave him all kinds of time to throw, had his “most efficient” game yet according to the coach, completing nine of 16 passes for 199 yards with no interceptions, while rushing for 113 yards.
But it was on defence that the Rebels really made an impact, forcing Rams quarterback Stephen Legare to hurry his throws often, intercepting four of those passes and limiting Langley to just two touchdowns. Rebel defenders Leon Metchie, Bryce Mosley, Brody Uddenberg and Jailen Goodson picked off Legare passes.
The home team got into the red zone a number of times, but often had to settle for kicked points – the Rams’ Tiernan Docherty finished with five field goals on the night.
“Our defensive backs had their best game of the season and they were going against a very, very hot Langley team that throws very well,” Boice said. “Plus our defensive front four got to Langley’s quarterback early and got inside his head.”
Westshore led 21-19 at halftime and increased that lead to 31-19 after three quarters. Kyle Clarke kicked five converts and had one 22-yard field goal for the Rebels.
The win also confirmed that the Rebels will play the Vancouver Island Raiders in the opening playoff game. The meeting promises to be an emotional one, with the memory of the teams’ 25-25 tie in Nanaimo still fresh in the players’ minds. Boice pointed out that his team had two touchdowns called back in that game and were frustrated to come away with a tie.
“While there is respect there (for the Raiders club) … we want to establish ourselves as the elite program of the Island,” he said. “It’s a chance to pin our ears back, flex our muscles and go out there and show what we can do … Our kids are pretty excited that we get to open up the playoffs against them.”
The Raiders, who play the winless Valley Huskers next weekend but can rise no higher than fourth place, posted a huge 14-8 home win over the once-mighty but now mortal Okanagan Sun on Saturday in Nanaimo, a win Boice said he predicted before the game.
“We broke the Sun,” he said of the Rebels home win over Okanagan earlier this month.
The Sun went on to be absolutely humbled 58-2 by the defending Canadian Bowl champion Saskatoon Hilltops in a inter-conference game before losing for a third straight time, to the Raiders.
In the meantime, Kamloops is coming to town. The plan is to rest some key starters and give other players opportunities to step in and gain some experience, Boice said, but training will be no less intense than usual.
“We’re going to continue to put the hammer down and make sure the practices are intense and that we continue to come out sharp.”
Game time Saturday is 4 p.m. at Westhills Stadium, when the Rebels will salute veterans and local heroes. Visit westshorerebels.com for ticket information and other details.