A sure sign football season is right around the corner – the Okanagan Sun open their annual spring camp this weekend.
More than 100 players are expected in town for the two-day camp on the field adjacent to the Apple Bowl.
Camp runs Saturday and Sunday, culminating with an intersquad game Sunday at noon at the Apple Bowl.
A number of key holes will have to be filled this season, following the graduation of Zac Ironstand, Dexter Janke, Alex Bradley, Landon King, Ron Mwamba and team MVP Robbie Yochim.
"With 53 kids coming back, we're trying to find another 30 kids to join the program and hopefully lead us to that 2015 championship," said head coach Shane Beatty.
He believes there will be competitive battles at all positions, but is most interested in seeing the defensive line and how it shakes out.
Returns Jonas Gering and Lucas Machado have the inside edge after an extensive off-season training routine, but coach Beatty and staff have a number of talented players coming in from across Western Canada.
He is also excited about the talent at both defensive back and receiver.
As usual, a large contingent of players from Winnipeg will be in town this weekend, mixed with players from Alberta, Saskatchewan, the Lower Mainland, Northern B.C. and locals.
Players will register today before taking part in meetings Saturday morning.
Monday is National Signing Day, meaning teams can begin signing players. Beatty said he hopes to hold a few players in town to sign commitment papers.
The Sun open the 2015 season at home on Saturday July 25 against the Westshore Rebels.
Former Okanagan Sun defensive back Dexter Janke will begin his professional football career in Alberta.
Janke, who played last season as a 22-year-old rookie, was taken with the last pick of the fifth round, 44th overall by the Calgary Stampeders in Tuesday's CFL draft.
The Edmonton native intercepted three passes and recovered a fumble last season while amassing 14 tackles.
He also returned 11 punts for 91 yards and nine kickoffs for 296 yards.
Prior to joining the Sun Janke spent a year at the University of Saskatchewan as a running back.
He suffered an ACL tear in his left knee in Saskatchewan, the injury he suffered twice previously in high school.
He transitioned to the defensive backfield with the Sun.
Janke will head to Calgary for the start of rookie camp May 29.
The BC Football Conference will return to a balanced schedule in 2015.
It's the first time the league has featured a balanced schedule since it went to a three-year tiered system following the 2011 season.
For the past three seasons the top three teams played each other three times while the bottom three did the same. It was an effort to try and create a competitive balance and eliminate some of the mismatch blowouts the league is sometimes known for.
The new schedule means each team will play the other five teams in the league twice, once at home and once on the road.
The Okanagan Sun will open the 2015 regular season at home on Saturday, July 25 against the Westshore Rebels.
They will close out the season on the road in Kamloops Oct. 3.
Unlike other seasons when the Sun have had long stretches both at home and on the road, the 2015 schedule has a more favourable breakdown of home and away games.
“I love the balanced schedule! I truly believe the league will be much better this year," said Sun head coach Shane Beatty.
"Victoria will be much better with JC (Boice) as the head coach and Doug Hocking as the defensive coordinator. Kamloops will be much better with Brad Yamaoka and the addition of Todd Graham. I'm stoked to get going and I look forward to opening with Victoria."
The Sun's 2015 schedule breaks down as follows:
- Saturday July 25 vs. Westshore Rebels - 7 p.m.
- Saturday, Aug. 1 @ Valley Huskers - 7 p.m.
- Saturday, Aug. 8 @ Vancouver Island Raiders - 4 p.m.
- Saturday, Aug. 15 vs Langley Rams - 7 p.m.
- Saturday, Aug. 22 vs Valley Huskers - 7 p.m.
- Saturday, Aug. 29 @ Langley Rams - 7 p.m.
- (Labour Day Bye)
- Sunday, Sept. 13 vs. Vancouver Island Raiders - 1 p.m.
- Sunday, Sept. 20 vs. Kamloops Broncos - 1 p.m.
- Saturday, Sept. 26 @ Westshore Rebels - 3 p.m.
- Saturday, Oct. 3 @ Kamloops Broncos - 7 p.m.
The Sun finished atop the BCFC standings in 2014 with a 9-1 record.
They beat the Vancouver Island Raiders in the semi-final before falling 23-19 in the championship game to BC champion Langley Rams.
Click here for information on 2015 season tickets.
The Sun will hold spring camp May 29th to 31st.
Three members of the Okanagan Sun have been named to the CJFL all-Canadian offensive team.
Offensive linemen Michele Vecchio and Cliff Crews were both named to the squad along with running back Alex Bradley.
Bradley led the BCFC with 77 carries, 672 yards, 5 touchdowns and an average of 8.7 yards a carry.
In all, six players from the BCFC and seven from the Prairie Football Conference were named to the all-Canadian offensive squad.
- Cliff Crews – Okanagan Sun
- Ben Hodson – Saskatoon Hilltops
- Terry Thesen – Saskatoon Hilltops
- Michele Vecchio – Okanagan Sun
- Braiden Watson – Winnipeg Rifles
- Marshall Cook – Vancouver Island Raiders - 64 catches*, 1,084 yards* and 9 touchdowns
- Kurt Goodrich – Winnipeg Rifles (second consecutive year) – 50 catches*, 723 yards and 6 touchdowns*
- Brad Quartel – Edmonton Wildcats - 45 catches, 819 yards and 3 touchdowns
- Derek Yachison – Kamloops Broncos - 49 catches, 765 yards and 5 touchdowns
- Alex Bradley – Okanagan Sun - 77 carries, 672 yards, 5 touchdowns and an average of 8.7 yards a carry helped him win the 2014 rushing title.
- Wayndel Lewis – Saskatoon Hilltops - 130 carries, 1,063 yards*, 8.2 yards per carry and 9 touchdowns on route to his PFC rushing title
- Liam O’Brien – Vancouver Island Raiders - 171 completions, 2,842 yards*, 20 touchdowns*, a completion percentage of 64.5% and an efficiency rating of 113.1%
- Jonathan Heidebrecht – Edmonton Huskies – 14-14 in field goals, longest of 49 yards, 100%
*led the CJFL
The all-Canadian defensive team will be announced Thursday while the CJFL Major Award winners will be announced on Friday during the Canadian Bowl Banquet of Champions.
The Canadian Bowl between the BCFC champion Langley Rams and PFC champion Saskatoon Hilltops kicks off Saturday at 1 p.m. in Langley.
Two mistakes - one mental and one physical - in the dying minutes spelled the end of the Okanagan Sun season one game away from a chance to play for a national title.
The Langley Rams took advantage of a roughing the kicker penalty by Sun defensive back Ron Mwamba and, two plays later, scored the game winning touchdown and a 23-19 win in the BCFC title game before a raucous crowd at the Apple Bowl.
The Rams appeared to have tied the game on Steve Thomas' 21 yard field goal, however, the penalty moved the ball to the Sun six giving the Rams a chance to win the game outright.
Two plays later, offensive MVP Nathan Lund shook a couple of would-be tacklers and sprinted around the right end for a five yard, game winning touchdown.
The Sun, with 31 seconds left, marched the ball down the field but a potential game winning drive ended at the Rams 10-yard line.
"I love you man...I love ya," says Sun coach Shane Beatty of his conversation with Mwamba after the game.
"I can't get mad at him for that, no. He made a play and tried to block the kick to win the game and it never happened."
Minutes earlier the Sun had a chance to all but wrap up a trip to the national final against the Prairie Conference champion Saskatoon Hilltops.
Leading 18-16 and facing a third and inches from the Rams 18 with 2:58 to go in the game, the Sun were called for illegal procedure, forcing them to kick a field goal rather than try to get the first down and at least run down more of the clock.
Thomas Huber's 31 yard field goal sailed wide left increasing the lead to three and giving the Rams the ball on the 35 yard line.
They marched down the field for the winning score.
In the final analysis, the Sun lost this game because of their inability to convert excellent field position into touchdowns.
On four different occasions, the Sun had the ball inside the Rams 20 yard line - twice with first downs inside the 10 - and managed just three field goals and a single.
"There's the real turning point in the game. In the first quarter we have the ball inside their 30 three times and inside their 10 twice and we only came away with six points," adds Beatty who admitted the difference in the game was coaching.
"They out coached us all over the field. They outcoached us, they outplayed us, they were more physical. They were just better than us today."
The Sun led 6-0 after one quarter on a pair of Thomas Huber field goals from 15 and 26 yards out.
They were able to bottle up the Rams offence until later in the opening quarter when the Rams balanced running and passing game finally got untracked.
Jacob Patko finished off one drive with a five yard run six minutes into the second quarter then, four minutes later, on their next possession Lund ran in from 15 yards out to increase the lead to 14-6.
The score could have been much worse had it not been for Robbie Yochim's interception at the at the Sun five to snuff out a Rams drive just before half time.
The Sun again came out strong in the second half and cut the deficit to three after a safety and a 15 yard Huber three pointer.
Again, the Rams got the offence going late in the third quarter, however, on the first play of the fourth quarter, Patko fumbled on the Sun nine against ending a potential scoring drive.
On the next play, Alex Bradley found one of the few big holes he would see all day an, seconds later found himself in the end zone.
The 101 yard touchdown gave the Sun an 18-14 lead.
The teams traded singles before the events of the final three minutes unfolded.
The difference in the game was the Rams ability to move the ball over large stretches of the game effectively mixing in the pass and the run.
Lund wound up with 105 yards on 17 carries while quarterback Jordan McCarty finished 14-27 for 235 yards and an interception.
His favourite target was Malcolm Williams who made several key grabs including a sensational grab on the game winning drive. Williams caught six passes for 133 yards.
While the Sun did manage nearly 400 yards in total offence, 160 of those yards came on Bradley's run and 59 receiving yards on the final drive with the Rams playing a deep prevent defence.
Quarterback Cam Bedore was a pedestrian 10-19 for 74 yards and one touchdown, but in his defence, Bedore found himself scrambling for his life a good portion of the afternoon. He was sacked four times for 28 yards in losses and was stuffed behind the line of scrimmage on three other occasions.
Rams head coach Jeff Alamolhoda says the difference was the Rams emotion.
"If we could play at a high emotional state without having lulls and peaks and we could be consistent throughout the game, we felt we were going to be victorious and at the end of the day we were," says Alamolhoda.
He says the game plan was to come in and run the ball, something Alamolhoda says allowed them to get the passing game more involved later in the game.
"We put them off their game a little bit by running the ball so then we were able to come out in the second half and keep them at bay with the run but then start getting the big plays with our big play receivers. And they did come through."
The Rams will host the Hilltops Nov 8 in the national title game.
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