Jamel Lyles (22) and the Westshore Rebels host the first-place Okanagan Sun this Saturday at Westhills Stadium in a game that could well determine first in the B.C. Football Conference.

Jamel Lyles (22) and the Westshore Rebels host the first-place Okanagan Sun this Saturday at Westhills Stadium in a game that could well determine first in the B.C. Football Conference.

Westshore Rebels get another chance to cast shadow over Sun

Upstart junior football squad eyes first place; key showdown here on Saturday

The Westshore Rebels have played six games in 2016. In five of those contests, their powerhouse offence has exceeded 40 points.

The one exception? A 27-21 loss to the first-place Okanagan Sun at the Apple Bowl in Kelowna.

The Sun (6-0) will be the opponents for the Rebels (5-1) this Saturday (Sept. 10) at Westhills Stadium as head coach JC Boice and his resurgent group look to continue their push up the British Columbia Football Conference (BCFC) standings.

Even though the first matchup with Okanagan was little more than a month ago, Boice believes the Rebels have made great strides in their maturity since then.

“We are a young team, but we were a particularly young team then. It was our first big road trip,” he said.

The Sun shone right out of the gate in that Aug. 6 contest, taking a 20-7 lead at the half.

“They’re a good football team. They don’t make a lot of mistakes, they’re very good in the trenches, they’re very good on both sides of the ball, they’re just very complete,” Boice said.

“What you saw them do was capitalize on our mistakes.”

The Rebels found more success in the latter stages of the contest, getting rushing touchdowns from quarterback Ashton Mackinnon and running back Jamel Lyles.

Mackinnon, who also threw for a TD in the contest, took the majority of the snaps under centre that game, but he and fellow pivot Scott Borden have had a fairly even timeshare of the job since.

The passing game is an area where Boice knows his team needs to improve. Both QBs have been careful with the football, throwing just three interceptions between them. But they haven’t had to win games for the Rebels because of the club’s prowess on the ground.

Eventually, the passing game might be called upon to do more than set up the run, and Boice, a QB coach by nature, is doing what he can to get his quarterbacks ready with the extra time the Labour Day bye week gave him.

“I spent a couple of intense throwing sessions with our quarterbacks. We’re going to do that a couple more times [this week]. Going into the prep for Okanagan, I’m going to be working with the quarterbacks more specifically. While we don’t plan to throw it more, we do plan to execute better when we do throw the ball. I expect Ashton and Scott to rise up to that opportunity,” Boice said.

Rebels passers will need to continue to be protective of the ball against Okanagan, as the Sun have picked off enemy quarterbacks 15 times so far this season, eight more than any other team in the league.

Defensively, the Rebels continue to impress, especially against the run where they’ve allowed just a single rushing TD this season. They haven’t had as much success against the pass, but Boice is confident that improvement is just a matter of time.

“Our defensive backs are incredibly young, they’re all 18 and 19 year-olds playing against 21 and 22 year-olds. They get better each week … they’re getting more comfortable in our scheme and in our system,” he said.

With the end of the BCFC regular season rapidly approaching, the Rebels are still in the hunt for first place and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, but a win against the Sun will be essential to keep that hope alive.

Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Saturday at Westhills Stadium.

joel.tansey@goldstreamgazette.com