Quarterback Nick Wenman and the Okanagan Sun pushed their record to 5-0 with a convincing win Saturday in Nanaimo. -Image: Greg Sakaki/Black Press

Sun hits midpoint in driver’s seat

Okanagan leads the league at 5-0 after a dominant first half of BCFC season.

On paper, the Okanagan Sun is in precisely the same position as it was at the midway mark of the 2016 season—unbeaten and standing alone atop the B.C. Football Conference.

But the way the Sun has arrived at its 5-0 start this summer is even more encouraging for head man Ben Macauley and his coaching staff.

“I’d say we’re ahead of where we were last year,” said Macauley. “Last season we probably won some games that we maybe shouldn’t have. This season, I don’t think you could say that, I think we’ve been deserving of all of them.

“It’s nice to be 5-0 and the good thing is, we still don’t feel like we’ve played our best yet. We’re starting over the second half at 0-0.”

Spearheaded by the defense—with a miserly 50 points allowed in five games—Macauley said all three areas of the club have stepped their game up significantly from 12 months ago.

Combined with an extra year of football wisdom for the coaching staff, Macauley said the level of play, both mentally and physically, is up all across the board.

“Our defense has been really good, week in, week out,” he said. “There’s been huge improvement in our special teams, and even though our offense has had its struggles at times, it’s still miles ahead of where it was last year. We’re also more experienced as coaches, and we’re trying to get better every week.”

Macauley called the effort of the Sun defense “smothering” in Saturday’s 45-11 drubbing of the Vancouver Island Raiders in Nanaimo.

Macauley pointed to Conor Richard, Shaun Robinson, Eli Haynes (nine tackles) and Cole Klughart (2.5 sacks) for turning in particularly solid efforts on defense.

“The Raiders couldn’t get anything going, they barely got over midfield,” Macauley said. “Our defense gave the offense a short field to work with most of the game.”

Richard and Aldrich Berrios—with his fifth interception in the last two games—each returned picks for touchdowns.

Offensively, Liam Crane caught a pair of touchdown passes from Nick Wenman to lead the attack, as the Sun blew open a 21-11 game early in the fourth quarter with 24 unanswered points.

While he said there’s still plenty of fine-tuning to do in the season’s second half, Macauley likes the buy-in from his players and their willingness to play for each other.

“It’s really a team mentality, with all 12 guys on the field working towards the same goal,” he said. “There are always 8, 9, 10 guys around the football, multiple guys making big blocks on offense, and we’re getting lots of big plays on special teams.

“The guys are buying in and it’s really been a group effort. Some guys have been standing out individually for sure, but everybody is getting in on the act. It seems like every game, there’s someone different stepping up big for us.”

With the Sun now into a bye week, Macauley said it’s the ideal time to recuperate and reload for the final five games of the regular season.

“It’s really good for us to gave a break, a good chance for the guys to take some time and recharge their batteries for the second half. We’re very cognizant about not burning the guys out, so this will be welcome. It also gives us a chance to plan for how we’re going to improve every week as the season progresses.”

The Sun (5-0) sits a game up on Westshore (4-1) and two ahead of VI (3-2) at the midpoint of the season.

Okanagan will return to action Sunday, Sept. 10 against the Raiders. Kick off at the Apple Bowl is 1 p.m.