The Westshore Rebels went into the Canadian Bowl as decided underdogs and left with their heads held high despite a 37-25 loss to the Saskatoon Hilltops on Saturday afternoon.
“I’m proud of these guys. It’s a great testament to the game of football and what it can do in young man. It was a great game,” said Rebels head coach JC Boice following his team’s season-ending defeat.
Rebels defensive lineman Kent Hicks that the Rebels were in tough against their prairie counterparts but was pleased with how the team played in a losing cause.
“We knew that they’re physical. We knew that they’re fast. We knew that they’re the top dogs for a reason…we have a young team and we knew what we had to do but we just came up short,” he said.
Up against the two-time defending CJFL champs, the Rebels stayed within striking distance through the first 30 minutes and even led briefly in the second half.
After a successful goal line plunge from quarterback Ashton MacKinnon made it 19-16 for the Rebels, the HIlltops returned the subsequent kick for a momentum-shifting score.
Soon after, a HIlltops drive appeared to reach an end just inside Rebels’ territory, but a costly penalty on third down gave Saskatoon another chance and they cashed in for another major.
Those two plays proved to be the difference in a game that offered little separation between the two teams.
“There were some costly mistakes. We’ve got to continue to mature as a program,” Boice said.
In the first half, the Hilltops looked poised to impose their will on the Rebels with a punishing ground game, but three Westshore turnovers, including a long interception return by lineman Byron MacKinnon, kept the Rebels right in it.
Credit the Hilltops, who managed to keep their cool despite their own frustrating mistakes.
Hilltops rusher Logan Fischer was named the game’s top offensive player, gashing the Rebels’ run D for big plays throughout the evening.
Quarterback Jared Andreychuk, playing in his final game of junior football, was thrilled to go out with another national title.
“This year, coming in, the outlook was a little cloudy. We (lost) a lot of fifth year guys last year and people had their doubts, but we’re here again. That just (speaks to) the resiliency of the players and the coaching staff,” he said.
“For me, it’s unreal going out that way.”
The few thousand fans in attendance at Westhills Stadium on Saturday were a good example of how far the Westshore Rebels program has come just a year removed from another 2-8 season.
The Rebels took their first B.C. Football Conference championship in over a decade and the success of the season was not lost on the players, staff and front office.
“It’s amazing. It’s great to have the support…I think the community really jumped on us and supported us through it, win or lose,” Hicks said.
The success led to an attendance spike of 300 per cent from a year ago.
“That’s an amazing feat in itself,” said team president Doug Kobayashi.
“The players have just been phenomenal for us, good coaches, and all the volunteers that have just jumped in this year…it’s a culmination of everything.”
While he was optimistic when the season got underway in July, Kobayashi says he didn’t think the Rebels would come this far and this fast.
“I used to say this to (Boice), ‘how about we under promise and overachieve,” he said.
There’s little doubt the Rebels did exactly that in 2016.