—By Marissa Tiel
Second-year quarterback Matt Mahler found his junior football footing Saturday night as the Okanagan Sun beat the Westshore Rebels 25-9 to clinch the top spot in the B.C. Football Conference.
The Sun finished the regular season with a 7-2-1 record to stay atop the standings, clinching home field advantage for the Cullen Cup playoffs. It’s the team’s first regular season championship under head coach Ben Macauley, who began leading the program in 2016.
“I’m really happy for the team that we could get that and I’m excited for building on that in the future as kind of the standard,” Macauley said. “We want to be the first-place team and we had to go through some adversity to get it this year.”
The Sun got off to a slow start this season, winning just two of their first five games. Their two losses came against the Valley Huskers on Aug. 18 and against the Langley Rams on Sept. 8. They tied the Westshore Rebels at their last matchup in the summer.
Veteran running back Kelton Kouri feels like the team is coming together at just the right time.
“We’ve got a lot of young guys on our team, a lot of new starters,” he said of the offence. “I think after mid-way through the season, they knew what to do. They know how to run their jobs and I think them just doing their jobs right and everybody just coming together.”
The Sun lagged in the first half against the Rebels on home field at the Apple Bowl. They got four points from two conceded Westshore safeties and one point from a wide 30-yard Isaac Wegner field goal. Westshore kept it close with a field goal to make it 4-3 heading into the break.
When the home team came out after halftime, they had a renewed energy, with Kouri scoring the team’s first touchdown on their first possession. They got the conversion to make it 12-3.
The Westshore Rebels looked to keep things close in the fourth quarter with a touchdown of their own, but linebacker Conor Richard broke through the Rebel line to block the kick, his sixth of the season, tieing a BCFC record.
Then Mahler connected with Kouri for a long 90-yard touchdown pass.
“Oh, I almost dropped the snap,” said Mahler after the game. “Kelton Kouri, he probably deserves MVP of this game, just down the middle and turns his head around and I just put it in the playmaker’s hand and he went and did his job.”
Kouri caught the pass mid-stride and kicked into second gear, evading the Rebels defense on his way to the end zone.
“He made a great catch,” said Macauley. “I didn’t know he was as fast as he was to finish that play, but it was an excellent effort by him.”
It was a slow end to the fourth quarter as Rebels tempers boiled over following two quarterback sacks in a row by the Sun.
“I don’t think it was anything that was too crazy,” said Macauley of the action. “Some of their guys weren’t happy that we were getting the pressure on the quarterback and getting sacks and it’s a tough thing emotionally for them. They know their season is coming to an end as well, so I’m sure that played a role in it, but at the end of the day, we have to be able to keep our composure.”
With the victory, the Sun cement their home field advantage heading into the playoffs next weekend.
They will face Chilliwack’s Valley Huskers in one of two Cullen Cup semifinals on Sunday. The other semifinal will see the Rams take on the VI Raiders.
The Sun will take some time to recover this week before getting their heads ready for playoffs.
“This is kind of the final phase of the season and nothing is promised past next Sunday, so we’re going to have to come to work and it’s going to be a big mental game for us,” said Macauley. “We know we’ve got athletes and talent. So it’s going to be about being smart and playing football that is just winning that mental game between the sidelines rather than just beating someone up.”
The Sun host the Huskers at 1 p.m. on Oct. 21 at the Apple Bowl.
To report a typo, email: