For 59 minutes and 48 seconds, Malcolm Miller and the Okanagan Sun delivered on a promise to play their best this season.
But when your opponent is the undefeated, defending champion Langley Rams, 12 seconds on the clock is 12 seconds too many.
It was a harsh lesson as the Sun lost 14-10 on Sunday afternoon at the Apple Bowl in B.C. Football Conference play.
“We come out, we execute, we just have trouble finishing the whole game,” said Miller, whose 49-yard touchdown run opened the scoring. “We’ve just got to come out and finish the whole 60 minutes.”
Sometimes it seems Canadian football is built for finishes like the one fans saw Sunday afternoon.
For nearly the entire game, the Sun (2-3) controlled the play. After stuffing the Rams’ opening drive, the Sun took over at Langley’s 54. Miller took the Sun’s first handoff and pushed through for five yards, but was hit hard.
It didn’t slow him down. The Brampton, Ont., native took the next handoff, brushed off a glancing blow as he broke over the right side. He shrugged off some would-be tacklers on his charge all the way to the end zone.
Isaac Wegner kicked the convert and the Sun led 7-0 just after the two-minute mark.
It was the game’s only major score until some final Langley heroics, and was nearly enough for the Sun to engineer the upset.
Instead, the Sun couldn’t find the end zone either and left space for the Rams (5-0) to barge through.
“You can say what you want to say, but the Okanagan Sun deserved to win that game,” Langley coach Howie Zaron said.
“The good news for us is that we just probably took our first punch on the chin and didn’t handle it very well, but, like I said, we did come out with the two points, so we’ll take it.
“I’d rather win ugly than lose pretty.”
Yes, it was ugly. The Sun should have put Langley away, but couldn’t capitalize on their chances while letting the Rams off the hook with missed tackles, blown coverage or bad penalties.
Slippery turf, drizzle and humid conditions limited scoring, too, and so did a penalty parade through the middle of the game.
Early in the fourth, Langley quarterback Colby Peters completed a pass to Liam Stewart only to have it reversed on a hold. A delay of game penalty followed a three-yard run.
Peters then ran for 14 yards, until another holding penalty. That was too much for running back Andrew Pocrnic, whose complaining landed him an objectionable conduct penalty and suddenly Langley was facing second-and-42 from deep inside its end. They had little choice but to concede a safety. The free two points made the score 10-8 for the Sun with 12:32 left to play.
That should have been it for the Rams since they had to kick the ball back to the Sun.
The Okanagan took that kickoff to the 42-yard line and started to march. Miller and Kelton Kouri dragged the Sun to the Langley 26-yard line before they were stopped. That’s OK, a 33-yard field-goal attempt followed – until an illegal substitution penalty. Wegner missed the ensuing 43-yard try and Sebastien Reid ran it out of the end zone. Not only did he save a point, but he rushed to the 37-yard line to erase any gains the Okanagan had made.
Even then, the Sun couldn’t capitalize on interceptions from Nate Adams and Jonah Williams on the next two Langley drives and punted to the Rams with 3:43 to play.
The Sun held the Rams at their 44-yard line and forced a Langley holding penalty to make it second and 18 with 58 seconds to play.
Remember about letting Langley off the hook? Well, quarterback Tristan Secord-Yanciw (who started, was pulled at halftime, and returned in the fourth) completed a Hail Mary pass to Reid Jensen for 18 yards. Secord-Yanciw ran a keeper to the Sun 33. A nearly perfect 17-yard draw play to Pocrnic wasn’t even the killer.
It was a dead-ball foul on the Sun for unnecessary roughness that put the ball on the one-yard line with 12 seconds to play. Secord-Yanciw fell into the end zone behind the left side of his line to end the game.
Sun coach Jamie Boreham was missing some key pieces, he said. Star linebacker Conor Richard continues to recover from a concussion, and the Sun lost two starting wide receivers to injury. That is a lot to overcome, Boreham said.
“It ended up being a bit of a rough week,” he said.
“This is the growth of a young team. … Young teams need to learn to win. When we learn to win we’re going to find out how good we can be.”
The Sun and Rams meet again in three weeks.
Pocrnic, who paced the Langley offence all afternoon, said his team is “grateful” to be leaving with the win. He suggested the victory exposed deficiencies they will look to correct moving forward.
“Hopefully that humbled us,” Pocrnic said.
And you won’t catch the Rams underestimating teams – especially the Okanagan – anymore.
“We’re definitely going to bring a lot more intensity,” he said. “They’ve definitely gained our respect. We’ll treat them accordingly.”
SUN SPOTS -- Official statistics are not available from the league after games. ... Elsewhere Sunday, the Vancouver Island Raiders beat the Valley Huskers 47-16. The Westshore Rebels blanked the Kamloops Broncos 45-0. ... Langley (5-0) remains a game ahead of Westshore (4-1) in the standings. The Raiders (3-2) are next followed by the Sun (2-3), Huskers (1-4) and Broncos (0-5).