The Okanagan Sun’s post-practice rallying cry should tell you about their attitude heading into today’s game against the Vancouver Island Raiders.
After head coach Jamie Boreham exhausted his players with intricate wind sprints (yes, wind sprints can be intricate) to conclude practice Thursday night, they huddled in the dwindling dusk, raised their arms and screamed: “3-2-1—run the Island!”
Yup. Run, pass, block, kick … the Sun (2-1) will need everything in the arsenal this afternoon to get back into the win column.
They’re hoping to erase last weekend’s frustrating 16-13 home loss to the Westshore Rebels and keep pace with the league leaders. But there may be fewer tougher tests this season than today’s 2 p.m. tilt against the Raiders.
Not only did they have to leave Friday for Nanaimo and the early afternoon kickoff.
But once the game starts, they’ll then have to find ways to stop the B.C. Football Conference’s second-highest scoring offence.
“We don’t look at them as individuals, but they’re a strong team all around,” free safety Mitch Walz said after practice on Thursday. “They have a good quarterback, good receivers. We’re going to prepare like we do every single week and just focus on us and do our thing.”
The Sun will also be without defensive leader Conor Richard. The linebacker is out with a concussion, and Boreham said he’s week-to-week. Richard was voted the No. 1 player in the Canadian Junior Football League’s preseason rankings.
Linebacker Cory McCoy, who was the BCFC defensive player of the week in Week 2, was himself hobbled by injury against the Rebels.
He practised Thursday, and Boreham said he would be a game-time decision.
It’s a lousy way to hit the road after a loss, Walz said.
“There was more of a sense of urgency, definitely,” he said of the week. “The guys were just trying to get on the right track. It was tough losing at home, but you’ve got to face adversity. We’re just trying to rally as a group and move on to the next week, take it week by week.”
While the Sun defence remains among the best in the BCFC (35 points allowed in three games), the Raiders (1-2) represent a stress test.
Quarterback Cole McGarvey is the league’s top rated passer. He’s completed nearly 58% of his passes with five touchdowns and three interceptions.
Receiver Mike West has caught 16 of those throws. He’s averaging 13.8 yards per catch and leads B.C. with five majors, or one more than teammate Jared Braun.
Running back Andre Goulbourne is the V.I. rushing leader with 172 yards from three games, good for a 5.2-yard average.
The list could go on, because V.I. has plenty of weapons.
But Raiders coach Curtis Vizza expects the Sun will be a stiff test for his group, too.
“The Sun is a great team,” he said on Friday afternoon. “They have a big offensive line, and they cover the field really well. … I’m expecting a team that goes start to finish.”
Vizza, in his first season as head coach, said he’s looking to exploit any “small holes” the Sun defence offers.
“If we don’t find those, it’s going to be a long day for us,” he said.
The Raiders don’t have as many “small holes” on their side. It’s more like gaps. Or, if you’re an optimist, consider the Raiders like a fast-breaking basketball team. It seems like they play for the last shot, and that’s it.
The Raiders have allowed 98 points this season, nearly 33 per game.
That should give Sun quarterback Alex Douglas, today’s projected starter, a chance to eclipse memories of last weekend’s 8-for-18 performance. He threw a late touchdown to Malcolm Miller, but also two interceptions.
Boreham said Ethan Newman could also get snaps under centre.
The coach doesn’t see downside to having two quarterbacks share time. He said QBs at this level can gain from watching defences from the sidelines.
“There’s benefit to two guys being able to get onto the field and benefit that they work well with each other,” said Boreham.
“We’ve got two completely different defences between last week and this week, so we’re hoping that we clean up our execution and get on the same page.”
Winning the turnover battle and capitalizing on scoring chances will likely tell the tale today.
The Sun missed two field goals last weekend, scores that could’ve turned a loss into a win. The Raiders lead the league with eight interceptions, but have thrown six of their own.
“Every time our offence gets into position to score points, we need to put points on the board,” Boreham said. “Whether it’s field goals or missed handoffs or dropped passes stopping us from scoring, it’s points we’re not putting on the board. If we’re not putting points on the board, we’re making life tough on ourselves to win football games.”
SUN SPOTS — You can watch today’s game on BCFCTV.com for $10. … V.I. QB Cole McGarvey was Week 3 offensive player of the week. He went 17-for-27, throwing for 406 yards, five touchdowns and two interceptions in a 47-17 victory over the Kamloops Broncos (0-3). … The Westshore Rebels are still enjoying their win in Kelowna. DB Maleek Womack was defensive player of the week (one sack, two interceptions, four tackles, a knockdown). Rebels P/K Kyle Clarke was special teams player of the week (3-for-3 field goals, 244 yards on 5 kickoffs). … Also this week, the Langley Rams (3-0) host the Westshore Rebels (3-0) to decide first place. The Valley Huskers (0-3) are in Kamloops to face the Broncos for last place.