Sun in BCFC driver’s seat

Under rookie head coach Ben Macauley, the defending champs top the B.C. Fooball Conference with a 6-0 record

Eli Haynes (middle)

As expected, Ben Macauley’s first season as a head coach in the B.C. Football Conference hasn’t been exclusively, 100 per cent smooth sailing.

Still, when it comes to the Okanagan Sun’s spotless 6-0 record so far in 2016, Macauley  has absolutely no complaints.

“If you would have told me in May or June we’d still be unbeaten at this point, I don’t think I would have believed you,” said Macauley, whose club has a bye this week. “Not that I don’t think we have the talent or the players to do it, but it’s really hard to put together a run like this, as tough as some of the teams in this league are.

“We’re pretty happy with where we’re at,” he added. “We could be doing some things better, but as a team we’re doing a lot of things the right way, and that’s encouraging.”

Despite a spotty performance by their offence Saturday in Langley, the defending champs made it six straight wins with a come-from-behind 15-10 verdict over the hometown Rams (4-2).

With the Sun trailing 10-7 in the fourth quarter, the lights went out at McLeod Athletic Park, causing a 20-minute delay. When power was restored, Keith Zyla scampered 23 yards for a touchdown to put the Sun ahead to stay.

But the story for the Sun for the second straight week was the stifling performance by the defense. The Sun, which held the Rams to 250 yards offence, hasn’t yielded a touchdown in two full games.

Tye Kitzman led the way with a pair of interceptions against Langley, as Okanagan played a punishing brand of football.

“It was the most physical game we played yet, there were big hits all over the field, our guys were beasts out there,” said Macauley. “Kitzman, (Conor) Richard, (Beck) Fullerton, (Layne) Hull…the physicality they played with was really impressive.

“We pride ourselves in not giving up the big play,” he added. “(Defensive coordinator) Nathan Mollard has done a great job, getting our guys to trust the system. The players have done a great job sticking to it.”

Fifth-year defensive lineman Jonas Gering, who had five tackles against Langley, said the Sun defense is growing more stalwart with each week.

“I think we’re definitely starting to hit our stride,” Gering said. “I don’t think we’ve reached our full potential yet, but we’re getting there. It’s nice to see guys making plays at the right times. It’s bend but not break for us, and that’s great to see.”

With the loss of no fewer than 10 starters from last year’s roster, including all-Canadians Brennan Van Nistelrooy, Kyle Kawamoto and Cliff Crews, the Sun had some significant holes to fill this season.

Macauley said the success the team continues to have in 2016 is a testament to team depth, and the commitment and leadership of the players.

“Some of the guys hadn’t been in this position until this year, but they’re stepping up and showing the effort and showing the leadership we hoped we’d see,” he said. “You can’t really teach that, it has to come from within and we have a lot of players who are doing just that.”

With bumps, bruises and a few nagging injuries piling up, Macauley said the bye week comes at a good time for the Sun.

Okanagan returns to action Saturday, Sept. 10 in Victoria against the Westshore Rebels (5-1).

It kicks off the final and most demanding stretch of the year for the Sun, who will also play the national champion Saskatoon Hilltops, followed by the Vancouver Island Raiders—in Nanaimo—and the Langley Rams to wrap up the regular schedule on Oct. 2 at the Apple Bowl.

Even with a 6-0 record and the inside track on another BCFC regular season crown, Macauley is confident his club will take nothing for granted and simply focus on one challenge at a time.

“We’re at the point where I don’t have to say anything about that at all, the guys all know how important it is to our organization,” he said. “Those home playoff games, if we can get some of them, will be a real sense of pride for the club.

“We can’t take our foot off the gas, we know that and we’ll continue to take it one step at a time.

“There are some unspoken rules with the veterans on this team on what’s expected and how we go out and play the game.”

The Sun’s next home action on Saturday, Sept. 14 at the Apple Bowl will be a rematch of last November’s Canadian Bowl in Saskatoon.

The Sun will battle the Hilltops in a 7 p.m. kick off.