With one of the country’s top running backs at their disposal and a supporting cast of ex-CIS players, the Westshore Rebels have suddenly become a power in the B.C. Football Conference.
On Saturday, the defending champion Okanagan Sun (2-0) will look to defuse Jamel Lyles and the Rebels (2-0) as the BCFC’s two remaining unbeaten teams square off at the Apple Bowl. Kick off is 7 p.m.
Lyles, a B.C. native who played last season with the University of Manitoba Bisons, has 338 yards rushing, a 7.9 yard average and three major scores in Westshore’s first two games.
While shutting Lyles down entirely is probably unrealistic, Sun head coach Ben Macauley said his club can limit the damage with some solid, straightforward football.
“The onus is going to be on us to be fundamentally sound,” said Macauley. “They’re more experienced and physical than they’ve been, but there’s not much to their scheme, so we really just need to be good at blocking and tackling.
“(Lyles) is a very smooth and dynamic runner and he can beat guys one on one,” Macauley said of the 5-foot-11, 215-pound running back from Surrey. “As long as we limit the big plays, and keep our offence on the field for some good long stretches, then we’ll be going in the right direction.”
In addition to the high-stakes battle for top spot, Saturday’s game should feature some added flair with the return of Shane Beatty.
Now an assistant coach with the Rebels, Beatty parted ways with the Sun at the end of last season after three years as the team’s head coach in Kelowna.
Whatever emotions ensue from the return of the impassioned, sometimes irascible Beatty, Macauley said it will be important for his players to stay on the task at hand.
“The main thing for the kids is that they focus on playing the game,” said Macauley. “As soon as coaches start thinking they’re part of the game, then that’s a problem.
“There will likely be some mixed emotions about Shane coming back to town. I’m not sure what to expect, but I don’t see our guys being focused on that. Players win games, not coaches, so it’s our job to convince the players that all that’s going to matter is what happens on the field.”
More than half the Sun’s current roster played for Beatty last season, including veteran defensive back Beck Fullerton.
The fourth-year product from Winnipeg plans to welcome the former coach back to Kelowna, then concentrate on the business at hand.
“I respect him as a coach, whatever happened before with Shane and the organization is in the past,” said Fullerton. “I’ll shake his hand, wish him luck and go out and play the game.”
After a pair of wins over weaker opponents to start the season—Chilliwack and Kamloops—Macauley knows the Rebels—with first place on the line—will present the Sun with their stiffest challenge yet.
Still, with the season just three weeks old, Macauley said the Sun will focus more on improving than the consequences of winning or losing.
“This isn’t the national championship,” Macauley said of Saturday’s game. “It’s a chance for us to get better and if we’re improving, then we’re getting somewhere.
“We see them two more times this year, so this is only one battle. We just need to look at getting better every week.”
Elsewhere in the BCFC this weekend, the Langley Rams (1-1) will play host to the Kamloops Broncos (0-2), while the Valley Huskers visit the Vancouver Island Raiders (1-1).