Prior to the season, head coach Shane Beatty had a very definite list of expectations for his Okanagan Sun.
On Sunday, the Sun (8-1) saw to his first major goal by clinching the club’s first B.C. Football Conference regular season crown since 2009.
Buoyed by two kick off returns for touchdowns by Robbie Yochim and a smothering defensive effort, the Sun downed the rival Langley Rams 37-20 at the Apple Bowl to claim home field advantage throughout the BCFC playoffs.
“It means everything, it means everything to the kids and the administration of our team,” Beatty said of the title-clincher. “These kids believe, they believe in each other…I’ve never been around a tighter group of kids, it’s phenomenal and just a great feeling. It’s going to galvanize us for the rest of the year.”
Still, as much as finishing first is a feather in the cap of everyone involved, Beatty said there is more work to be done and more to the Sun than just wins and losses.
“This is one step along the way, we’ve got a lot more we want to accomplish before we’re done,” Beatty said. “We want to beat V.I. in the semifinal, beat the Rams in the final, and get to the national championship.
“But more than wins, our goal was to establish a family,” Beatty added, “to welcome players here, to establish the best junior program in the country. I think we’re well on the way to doing that.”
Robbie Yochim, who scored three touchdown on punt returns a week earlier, electrified the Apple Bowl on Sunday against Langley with kick returns of 105 and 95 yards for majors.
The fifth-year defensive back out of Rutland said the first conference title in his tenure with the Sun is a credit to both the coaches and his teammates.
“Coach Beatty has definitely brought us together as a team,” said Yochim. “He’s grown the program, and I’ve definitely noticed a change in the last two years. The guys have done a great job, this team is like family and we’re all in this together.”
Following the game, Sun and Rams players all gathered at the 32-yard line—the number worn by the late JT Fernandez—to honour the memory of the 21-year-old Sun linebacker. Fernandez passed away unexpectedly on Sept. 18.
“JT is never far from our hearts and we love him,” said Sun defensive back Matt McConnell. “We play for him every time we step on the field.”
The Sun have one more order of regular season business to take care of—a meeting with the Kamloops Broncos on Sunday, 1 p.m. at the Apple Bowl. With some bumps, bruises and injuries to players like Jonas Gering, Brennan Van Nistelrooy and Cam Bedore, and a game with no implications in the standings, Beatty will use opportunity to rest a number of his starters for the playoffs.
As far as preparing for Kamloops in a game with little importance, running back Alex Bradley said the Sun needs to resist the temptation to look too far ahead.
“We still have to treat it like any other week, we have to come ready to play,” said Bradley, who scored on a 50-yard touchdown run against the Rams. “We have to show who we are before the playoffs start.”
Following Sunday’s game with the Broncos, the Sun will have Thanksgiving week off to rest and heal up for the BCFC playoffs.
The Sun will host the V.I. Raiders in the conference semifinal on Saturday, Oct. 18.