The Okanagan Sun rode the arm of Keith Zyla and three defensive touchdowns as they opened defence of their BC Football Conference title in Chilliwack Saturday.
Zyla, who played the second and fourth quarters, threw touchdown passes of 31, 74 and 64 yards in a 56-14 shellacking of the Valley Huskers in the opening game of the season for both teams.
After a shaky offensive start, Zyla took over from Foster Martens and hit Shamar Donelson from 31 yards out on his first play from scrimmage to put the Sun up 14-0.
Nathaniel Anderson took his next pass, on the Sun's next series, and went 74 yards down the left sideline, to put the Sun up 21-0.
Zyla closed out the scoring with a 64-yard strike to Liam Wishart. He finished the game 4-4 for 174 yards and three touchdowns.
The Sun shook off a slow start with five majors in the second quarter in building up a 42-7 lead at the half.
"It was a real sloppy start. Slow to get going," said first-year head coach Ben Macauley, still wet after being doused with the water bucket at the end of his first career win.
"I think it was first-game jitters. This unit has only been together for two weeks now. Some of it is to be expected."
First-year quarterback Foster Martens started the game and had a hard time moving the Sun offence for much of the first quarter.
His only success came late in the quarter when he capped off a three-play, 54-yard drive with a beautifully designed 26-yard scamper.
"The system we have favours Keith a little more...but we weren't giving Foster a whole lot of time to throw the ball and giving him the right plays to be successful.
"We have to do a better job of that as a coaching staff. Foster is a tough and smart guy and he knows where he goofed up in places. He's going to come out and have a better performance next week if he's getting some playing time."
The defence also got into the act in a big way, picking off Huskers quarterback Noah Falconer three times, returning all three for touchdowns.
Defensive backs Jamie Turek (40 yards) and Beck Fullerton (70 yards) both returned interceptions from the secondary, but it was lineman Elias Rodriguez's scamper that still resonated through the stadium after the game.
The 6'3, 250 pounder grabbed a ball, tipped at the line of scrimmage, and rambled 70 yards the other way.
That one could be an expensive one of the coach.
"I made a deal with the defensive line that if one of them scored, I was going to take them out for dinner. All he said to me when he came back was Asian Pear buffet, so it looks like I'm going to the buffet this week," said Macauley.
Kasey Russell rambled five-yards for the other Sun touchdown.
Of concern to the coach was the number of penalties his team took during the contest. The team was flagged 17 times for 175 yards. Fifteen of those penalties were assessed during the opening half.
"The stuff we can't tolerate are the personal fouls and things like that," said Macauley.
"Mental errors happen, but not decisions to make bad plays."
Defensive lineman Jonas Gering didn't make the trip to Chilliwack with a knee injury, while running back Abdi-Nasir Abdi played just briefly during the opening two series before leaving the game.
The Sun will travel to Kamloops next Saturday before hosting the Westshore Rebels in their home opener Saturday, Aug. 6.
The Okanagan Sun will get a chance to hit for real when they start to defend their BC Football Conference championship Saturday night in Chilliwack.
The season marks the first time in 11 years the Sun will enter a season as defending champions.
It also marks the debut of head coach Ben Macauley, who took over the job when Shane Beatty and the club parted ways. Beatty has landed in Victoria as an assistant coach with the Westshore Rebels.
Is the new coach feeling any butterflies heading into his first test at the junior level?
"I've got too much stuff to do to really sit and think about it," said Macauley when asked the question of nerves.
"I'm pretty much booked right up until we get in the car. Maybe at that point it might start hitting me, but I'm going to be driving, so that should keep me pre-occupied. I typically stay pretty level-headed, but I'll tell you how I feel after not sleeping tonight (Friday)."
While the coach may be level-headed, his players are probably feeling different emotions ... the desire to hit someone in a different coloured uniform.
"That's pretty much bang on. I think there's some anxiety about what to expect.
"We have a lot of new faces, and I think guys are a little bit nervous about how we are all going to work together and how that will go – but that's pretty normal."
The Sun kick off with an opponent they have traditionally never had much of a problem with. Over the years, the Sun have never lost to the Valley Huskers on the field, amassing a perfect 30-0 record.
The Huskers were handed one victory when a season-opening win three years ago was taken away when the Sun were found to have used an ineligible player.
Last season, the Sun beat the Huskers twice, by a combined 130-3.
"The difference between the clubs is they have nothing to lose and we have everything to lose. We have the target on our back," said Macauley.
"Whether we are a different team or not, there are certain expectations here to perform at a certain level."
You can expect most, if not all, of the 50-man travel roster to see action Saturday, including all three quarterbacks.
Macauley said his top two pivots, second-year Sun Keith Zyla, and first-year Foster Martens, will see action.
He hopes to name a starter before game two next weekend in Kamloops.
As for the opener, Macauley said Martens, who played at the University of Manitoba last season, will likely get the start, but said by no means does that mean he has the inside track on the starter's job.
He hopes to allow each quarterback to play a full quarter before giving way to let them get in a rhythm.
Macauley said there will be a rotation at every position as well.
"The rest of the groups are looking at some sort of a rotation as well. I wouldn't expect to see anyone stay in there for a period of time.
"Guys still aren't quite in game shape yet. The rigors of the game, depending on the weather and temperature, we want to keep guys fresh."
Defensive end Jonas Gering, who returned to the club this week, may miss Saturday's opener after tweaking his knee.
The Sun play in Kamloops next Saturday before their home opener Aug. 6 against Beatty and the Westshore Rebels.
As training camp melted into practice, some questions remain as the Okanagan Sun get ready to defend their BC Football Conference title.
One of the main questions, who will replace Cam Bedore behind centre?
Training camp didn't answer that question and practice, leading up to Saturday's BCFC opener in Chilliwack, likely won't either.
Second-year pivot Keith Zyla and newcomer Foster Martens both showed well during camp, according to first-year head coach Ben Macauley.
"That will continue to be worked on this week," said Macauley following the conclusion of camp on the weekend.
"We plan on having both guys take reps against Valley next weekend, and hopefully, our third quarterback will get some playing time. I think both guys showed a lot of strengths, and whether one guy stands out, we'll have to look at the film and see."
Macauley said he was impressed with the leadership of both players.
A platoon of sorts is nothing new for the organization, at least not early in the season.
Last year, both Bedore and Josiah Joseph shared duties last season before Bedore became the go-to guy at the position.
Zyla 20, saw mop-up duty in five blowouts last season. He completed five of 14 passes for 194 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.
But it was his running ability that was most impressive. Zyla ran the ball 12 times for 84 yards.
Martens, also 20, spent the last three seasons at the University of Manitoba. He backed up former Sun QB Theo Deezar with the Bisons. Martens threw for 247 yards and three interceptions in limited action.
"I'm OK with it (rotation) to a degree. I'm not typically a platoon kind of guy.
"I like to have no questions, no distractions during the week. But, in this kind of situation, both guys are so efficient and so liked by teammates, I don't think it will be an issue either way."
Macauley expects to push for a starter to be named following the opener in Chilliwack.
The Sun also have big shoes to fill in the secondary and at receiver with the graduation of several key players from last year's BCFC champions.
Macauley said he believes the team will be strong at both positions, at least in the starting group.
He said the team needs to challenge the second string to step up during practice this week to eliminate the drop-off between the first two units.
The Sun added of pair of high-profile talents near the end of camp.
Lineman Quinn Horton, a late cut of the CFL's Calgary Stampeders and linebacker Conor Richard have joined the club.
Richard, a native of Tennessee, has dual citizenship, making him eligible for the BCFC.
Horton, who played at Simon Fraser a year ago can play on both the offensive and defensive lines.
Macauley said he envisions Horton playing both lines, although he expects him to see the bulk of his time on the offensive line.
The Sun open with a pair of games on the road before hosting the Westshore Rebels in their home opener Aug. 6.
The Okanagan Sun have added a beast to their defensive and/or offensive line.
The Sun Tuesday night announced they have signed Quinn Horton, an outstanding defensive lineman, who plied his trade with the Simon Fraser University Clansmen a season ago.
Horton was an eighth round draft choice of the Calgary Stampeders earlier this year, but was released following training camp, making him available.
At 6-3, 289 pounds, the big-bodied Horton led the Clan defence in 2015 with 22 solo tackles, 8.5 for a loss and 1.5 sacks. In his junior year, Horton was named first-team Great Northwest Athletic Conference.
“Quinn comes in with a goal of returning to the CFL and in the process, battling for a national championship," said Sun head coach Ben Macauley.
"He was one of the top players in the GNAC conference and is physically dominant in the trenches. He checks all the boxes: size, talent, strength, and high quality of character.”
Macauley said Horton can dominate on either the offensive or defensive line.
Horton, and the rest of his teammates are in the middle of training camp in preparation for the upcoming season.
The club will conclude training camp with a scrimmage Saturday, before beginning preparations for the season opener July 23 in Chilliwwack.
More than 70 players will take the field when Okanagan Sun training camp opens Saturday at the Apple Bowl.
The week-long camp will culminate with a scrimmage July 16.
The 55 players who make the grade will begin preparing the following week for the season opener July 23 in Chilliwack.
Rookie head coach Ben Macauley will be put to the test right away as he looks to fill holes at key positions.
Five quarterbacks will be in camp vying to replace Cam Bedore, who graduated after last season.
Macauley will also need to fill big shoes in the secondary due to the graduation of CFL draft pick Brennan Van Nistelrooy and the departure of Matt McConnell to the CIS ranks. In all, 12 defensive backs will be in camp.
“We are going to put our heads down for 10 practices in the first week," said Macauley.
"When we look up, I expect to be a lot further ahead of where we are now. All of the hype and hashtags don’t mean anything if you can’t block and tackle. Those are things we are going to work hard on. We are talented, but can’t afford to be sloppy.”
Macauley was hired in February after the Sun and former head coach Shane Beatty parted ways. Beatty has since surfaced with the Westshore Rebels.
Macauley is the club's 16th head coach.
The Sun are coming off their first BCFC Cullen Cup championship in 11 seasons and an appearance in the Canadian Bowl after a perfect 10-0 season.
They fell 38-24 in the national final to the Saskatoon Hilltops.
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