The last time the Okanagan Sun was in the B.C. Football Conference final, Jeff Mock was a raw, 18-year-old rookie with his whole junior career in front of him.
Little did the Mt. Boucherie grad know at the time, the Sun would have to wait four more years for another crack at B.C. junior football’s ultimate prize.
This weekend, the 22-year-old linebacker and the Sun are finally back on the big stage, as they prepare to host the Langley Rams Sunday in the Cullen Cup game. The winner will secure a place as the host of the Canadian Bowl next month.
In 2010, when the Sun came up short in a last-minute heartbreaker against the Vancouver Island Raiders, Mock was sidelined with a neck injury and didn’t play. But for Mock, the loss pained him considerably more than the injury.
“It was a crappy feeling,” Mock recalled of the 19-16 loss in 2010, “especially sitting there on the sidelines and seeing it end that way. I don’t want to feel that way again.”
Now, four years later, Mock and four of his current teammates who were on the 2010 club—Robbie Yochim, Armand Bokitch, Ben Simmons and Landon King—are back to try and make amends by winning the Sun’s first BCFC title in 10 seasons.
“It’s great to be getting another chance, especially for the guys who are in their last year,” said Mock. “I always knew we’d get back to this game. There’s so much tradition with the Sun, you just knew it would happen. Now we need to go out and get the job done. I’m looking forward to it.”
Like Mock, Landon King was watching from the sidelines back on that crisp October day in 2010. Based on the team the Sun had assembled then, the veteran defensive back thought it was just going to be the first of many trips to the BCFC final.
“That was an unreal team and we thought we would only build from there,” said King. “But then (the team) went thorough some changes and things didn’t turn out the way we wanted the next couple of years.
“But as good and close as that (2010) team was, there is even a different feel with our team this year. We have a lot of confidence and we’re having a ton of fun playing together. We’re like family.”
Title games special
Offensive line coach Ray Wheatley is among a handful of coaches who was on the Sun staff back in 2010.
Serving with the team in various capacities for the last 25 seasons, few people in the organization know better than Wheatley how fleeting and intermittent success can be in the junior game.
Other than a national title in 2000, and BCFC titles in 2001 and 2004, championships have been hard to come by for Okanagan teams over the last 15 years—making each and every trip to a title game a unique experience.
“It doesn’t matter what playoff game it is, a semifinal, or the final, whether you’re on the road or at home, it’s always difficult getting there and it’s a challenge getting to the next game after that,” said Wheatley, who is also the team manager. “When you do make it to these games, it’s pretty special.
“You appreciate it when it happens, and hopefully you leave everything you have on the field.”
As far as the overall quality of Sun teams is concerned, Wheatley rates the 2014 version as one of the top five most talented clubs he has seen in his more than two decades.
But as much as skill, size or speed are assets, he credits team chemistry with the club’s success this season.
“You can tell when a team is coming together,” Wheatley said. “It takes me back to 2000 when we won, the team was very tight-knit. I’ve seen the same thing with these guys the last five, six weeks of this season. It all started last year, it was really like a family was being built. And it’s been growing ever since.”
So while the Sun are united, confident and strongly favoured against the Rams, they still have a game to play against a formidable rival on Sunday—a fact that’s not lost on Landon King.
“Anything can happen in one game, Langley is a very good team, too, and they always play us tough,” added King. “It’s all about execution and if we play the way we can, then we should be OK. We feel good about the way we’ve been playing coming in.”
Kick off against the Langley Rams in the BCFC final Sunday is 1 p.m.
The winner will host the Canadian Bowl Saturday, Nov. 8 against the Prairie Football Conference champs.
Sun defensive lineman Zac Ironstand has been named the BCFC’s defensive player of the week. Ironstand, in his third and final season in the Okanagan, had three sacks and two solo tackles in the Sun’s 47-16 semifinal win over the Vancouver Island Raiders last Sunday at the Apple Bowl.