A 33-20 loss to the Langley Rams on Aug. 2 was still fresh in the memory banks of every single player with the Okanagan Sun.
Coupled with the prospects of taking over sole possession of first place in the B.C. Football Conference, there was more than enough motivation for the home side on Saturday night at the Apple Bowl.
The Sun overcame an early deficit, then rolled to a convincing 31-10 victory over the rival Rams to push their season record to 5-1.
With the Sun offense sputtering at times to find its groove, the defence and special teams kicked stepped up to the table, as Okanagan won for the fourth straight time to forge two points ahead of Langley for top spot.
“It was a really important game and a great team effort for us,” said defensive co-captain Brennan Van Nistelrooy. “To bounce back after what happened last time against them and win like we did, was huge. Our goal was to get first place back and we were able to do that.”
It was an inauspicious start for the Sun as Rams linebacker Ethan Schulz scooped up a Dillon Fortune fumble and rambled 25 yards for a touchdown to make it 7-0 Langley.
That’s when the Sun’s special teams took over, led by Robbie Yochim’s 50-yard punt return for a touchdown to tie the game. Soon after, Van Nistelrooy scored a 40-yard major on a fake punt late in the opening quarter for a 14-7 lead—and the tide had pretty much turned for good.
“Coach (Shane) Beatty said we’re going to face adversity, it’s how we respond to it that matters,” said Van Nistelrooy. “This time it happened to be right off the start, but it’s a long game, we stay composed and did a good job of coming back.”
The Sun defence gave up less than 200 yards on offense and forced seven turnovers—five on interceptions and two on downs.
Dexter Janke had two picks for the Sun, his second setting up a Cam Bedore to Lerone Robinson seven-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter.
Before the end of the half, Kasey Russell pounded his way into the end zone from two yards out to make it 31-7 and effectively put the game out of reach.
With four straight wins and a grasp on first place, the Sun’s confidence is growing with each week. Still, with four games remaining prior to playoffs, Van Nistelrooy said the work is far from over.
“It’s nice to have confidence, but we have to stay humble at the same time,” Van Nistelrooy said. “Teams can come out and surprise you if you’re not prepared, so we need to just focus on the next game ahead of us.”
On the downside of Saturday’s win, all-star defensive end Jonas Gering missed the second half with a knee injury and could miss two to three weeks of action. However, the Rutland grad is grateful the injury wasn’t more severe.
“It could have been worse, so I’m happy about that,” said Gering. “I’ll be back soon.”
The Sun will meet the Vancouver Island Raiders for the third and final time this season this Saturday afternoon in Nanaimo.
Okanagan has won the first two meetings by a combined score of 102-20.