The Okanagan Sun didn't have to look far to find their new head coach.
Ben Macauley, who spent last season patrolling the sidelines for the KSS Owls, has been named the 16th coach in Sun history.
He replaces Shane Beatty, who stepped away after three years at the helm. Beatty led the Sun back to the national final this past season, losing out to the Saskatoon Hilltops.
Macauley led the Owls to a 4-2 regular season record in his lone season as coach. Overall, including exhibition and playoffs, the Owls went 9-3.
They beat No. 1 ranked Argyle 27-7 In the high school post season before bowing out in the quarterfinals to eventual champions Mount Douglas 51-13.
A former tight-end, Macauley was recruited by the USC Trojans, playing a season with their junior college program at Glendale College in California. However, multiple shoulder injuries ended his playing career.
“I’m excited work with a local, community-run team,” said Macauley.
“I have enjoyed my time getting to know everyone in the organization over the time I’ve been here (in Kelowna). This organization is a strong and proud one, and I’m honoured to be given the opportunity to take them to the next level.”
Sun president Bill Long said the organization is thrilled to have Macauley on board.
“He was on our radar right from the outset, and we actually interviewed him five years ago for a previous opening. We could see the potential then, but he just needed some more experience," said Long.
"He is exactly the type of person we want as a head coach – knowledgeable about the game, a man of integrity and character, and has the same vision of where we need to go not only as a team, but the entire organization.”
According to Long, the Sun received a dozen applications in just two days without having to post the position.
“We were very impressed by the quality of candidates we received from all across Canada, and even from an NCAA coach. It’s a testament to how coveted it is to coach in the Okanagan, and we were very flattered by that.”
Macauley says his top priority will be to contact all of the players eligible to return for the 2016 season. He will also take part in winter workouts at the CNC on Sundays, then sit down with the coaching staff and fill in the vacant spots.
A shocker from within the Okanagan Sun organization.
Just two months after leading the BCFC club to its first appearance in the national championship game in 11 year, Shane Beatty is stepping away from the organization.
In a news release Wednesday, the club announce it and Beatty have mutually agreed to part ways.
The announcement ends Beatty's three-year run as head coach of the football team. During that time, Beatty amassed a 27-3 regular season record, including a perfect 10-0 mark this past season.
He was named the Canadian Junior Football League's coach of the year in November.
Beatty helped turn around a Sun program that had floundered and lost its way prior to his arrival. The club struggled to keep up with the rest of the league on the field while operating with a revolving head coaching door.
When Beatty was hired in March 2013, he became the sixth head coach in as many years.
"We've got a lot of great things to say about Shane and the job he did. He came in and did exactly what we asked him to do, which was take a program that was struggling and get us back on our feet," said Sun GM Jay Christensen.
"He did that, but the long-term direction of the team is different between the board and Shane, and unfortunately it came to a point where we needed to part ways."
Beatty said it was a mutual decision.
"We had a great three years here. I loved the team, loved the kids, and we made some big strides," said Beatty.
"I'm really proud of these guys. But, we sat down at the end of the year and just couldn't come to a mutual agreement."
Beatty said he has put out some feelers with other teams in the BCFC, saying Kamloops could be an option.
He spent about 20 years coaching in the United States before returning home to coach the Sun. He hopes to stay in the province to coach.
Beatty does hope to continue training several members of the club through his role as a personal trainer.
Meanwhile, the Sun are again in the process of looking for a new head coach, the 16th in the team's 35-year history.
Christensen said the team will try to secure a head coach as soon as possible.
Big plays by the offence and timely stops by the defence were the difference as the Saskatoon Hilltops beat the Okanagan Sun 38-24 in the Canadian Bowl Saturday afternoon.
The Hilltops, trailing by four, found the end zone twice in a span of 2:09 late in the third quarter to take a lead they would never relinquish.
Quarterback Jared Andreychuk hit Tyson Sawatsky with a 74 yard bomb. That came two plays after a 75 yard touchdown was called back after the Hilltops were flagged for offside.
After a two-and-out by the Sun offence, the Hilltops again marched the length of the field on just two plays. Andreychuk and running back Logan Fischer connected on a long gain before Fischer found the end zone from six yards out.
The scoring outburst gave the Hilltops a 31-21 lead, a hole the Sun could not escape from.
The Sun led 20-17 at the half and had two great chances to extend the lead early in the third.
With the Hilltops in punt formation, the snap went over the head of punted Brett Thorarinsson. Cord Delinte fell on the loose ball at the nine.
Cam Bedore threw incomplete on first down and was able to gain six to the three yard line on second. However, a third down gamble went incomplete turning the ball over to the Hilltops.
Following a change of possession, the Sun took over at the Hilltops 34 but were unable to get a first down. The Sun managed just a punt single to take a 21-17 lead.
Thomas Huber hit a 42 yard field goal in the fourth quarter to cut the deficit to seven but didn't threaten the rest of the way.
The Hilltops closed out the scoring when Andreychuk hit Evan Turkington from 31 yards out with less than two minutes to go.
"It was a fun game to watch," said Sun GM Jay Christensen.
"They had a span of five minutes where they were able to score on a long pass, then they got a long gain on a swing pass where we took a bad angle on the receiver."
Christensen agreed the turning point came early in the third quarter when the Sun had chances to sore but came away with just the single point.
"We had a chance to get up a significant amount of points. It could have been a different game. Before those other opportunities, we were moving the ball and, if we had completed a couple of passes..."
The Sun got the biggest break of the opening half when Layne Hull blocked a Saskatoon punt, scooped up the loose football and rumbled into the end zone in the dying seconds of the half.
After the missed extra point the Sun took the 20-17 lead into the locker room.
Kory Nagata on a two yard run and Kyle Patchell on a 17 yard strike from Bedore scored the other Sun majors in the opening half as they battled back from a 10-0 first quarter deficit to lead at the half.
The Hilltops got a 10 yard touchdown pass from Andreychuk to Turkington in the first quarter and a two yard run from Fischer on a third-and-one call in the second quarter.
Thorarinsson also hit a 45 yard field goal tom open the scoring.
"They have great athletes. They've been here a number of times," Christensen said of the Hilltops.
"In games like this there are plays you have to capitalize on. We gained a lot of experience. We have a lot of players who will be coming back next year. This will help them if we are fortunate to get back here again next year."
Christensen said he was proud of what the team was able to accomplish this year, going a perfect 12-0 until Saturday's national title game.
Hull, who is one of those players expected back in 2016, was named defensive player of the game. He had the blocked punt and touchdown to go along with an interception.
The loss was the Sun's 10th straight at a prairie venue.
It's a good thing Shane Beatty does care too much for history - at least not history involving Okanagan Sun sojourns to the Prairies.
Because, history is not on his side.
Over the 35 year history of the franchise, the Sun have made nine trips to the prairies for either a Western Canadian or national championship. They are 0-9, losing six Western Canadian championship games and three national title games.
Three of those losses came in Saskatoon where the Sun will be today as they face the Prairie champion Hilltops in the Canadian Bowl.
"We're not the same team," said Beatty when asked about the franchises lack of success on the Prairies.
"We're confident, we're fast and we're playing good football right now. It's going to be fun."
Many of those games were played in typical frigid October/November conditions. Saturday will be anything but.
The forecast calls for sunshine and temperatures hovering near 9C.
"Not so bad. We'll be in good shape."
Beatty expects this game to be won where most playoffs games are won, in the trenches where both teams boast multiple all-Canadians.
The Hilltops feature two offensive and two defensive all-Canadian linemen while the Sun had one on each side of the ball in offensive lineman Cliff Crews and defensive lineman Jonas Gering.
This one definitely will," said Beatty when asked it the game would be won in the trenches.
The game will also be a contrast in offensive philosophy and make-up.
The Hilltops are a run first team while the Sun like to set up their running game off the pass.
"They want to run the ball. They think they can run it down our throats and we have to stop it," said Beatty.
"They are pretty confident. They've been in this game (five of the last six years) so it's our job to stop them and shut them down in the run. If they think they can run the ball then we're going to get after them."
He said if the defence plays disciplined and smart like they usually do, he's confident in their ability to stop the Hilltops vaunted running game.
"And, we're adding a few wrinkles for them. We'll be alright."
Offensively, Beatty said he expects to see more pass that run but adds it does need to have some balance.
Cam Bedore is expected to see most of the time under centre as he has throughout the post season.
In two playoff games Bedore torched defences for 629 yards and six touchdowns. He also ran the ball for 135 yards and a pair of scores.
He threw for more than 1,700 yards and 21 scores during the regular season.
As for the opposition:
"Very well coached. Great running game. O-Line is excellent. Running back is a stud. They have a couple of big receivers (71 and 73). Number 11 is really good. Defensively they are big inside. The D-Line is really good.
"We are going to attack them with speed. We're big up front too. We just have to stay disciplined and play fast."
The Sun are looking for their third Canadian Bowl while the Hilltops are seeking their ninth since the turn of the century.
Saturday's game kicks off at 11 a.m. Pacific Time.
Statistically speaking, there's not much to choose from between the teams that will face off in the Canadian Bowl, Saturday in Saskatoon.
The Okanagan Sun were a perfect 12-0 during their run to a BCFC title, while the Saskatoon Hilltops lost just once in 10 games en route to the Prairie Football Conference championship.
The Sun averaged 48.8 points per game, allowing a mere 10.8, while the Hilltops averaged 38.3 points, allowing 17.1.
On the ground, the teams were nearly dead even – the difference was through the air.
In 10 regular season games, Sun quarterbacks Cam Bedore and Josiah Joseph passed for 3,179 yards and 30 touchdowns, while Hilltops quarterback Jared Andreychuk passed for 1,577 yards and 18 touchdowns in eight regular season games.
While numbers may be close, the Hilltops have one big advantage heading into Saturday national championship game – experience on the biggest of all stages.
The Hilltops are reigning national champions and are winners of four of the last five. Many veterans on the team have been a part of multiple national championship teams.
The Sun are in the national final for the first time in 11 years. No one has national championship experience.
"Does that help? Yeah, I think it does. It help my coaches that have been around ... we've heard it all, we've seen it all," said Hilltops head coach Tom Sargeant.
"Fortunately for us, we've been able to put a team on the field and do what we expect to do. We set high goals each and every year, and it was no different this year. I'm anticipating us to coach our best game of the year, our players to play their best game of the year and we'll see where that takes us."
Sargeant said 16 fifth-year players decided to return to the team rather than pursue other opportunities.
"They came back to represent the Saskatoon Hilltops and hopefully be in the game they are going to be in Saturday."
Quarterback Andreychuk is looking to guide Saskatoon to a second straight title, and Sargeant said his experience is invaluable.
"At the end of the day, the quarterback is the most important position on the field. When you have a player that has been bell-tested, has the confidence and the belief of playmaking, what to do and how to do it, life gets a little simpler.
"You're not going to rattle Jared. He's just as gifted running or throwing. He's been that proven quarterback since he was 12 years old. He's only 21 – he's got another year next year."
While Saskatoon has the national championship experience, Sargeant said he respects the ability of the Sun.
"I see a very physical, well-coached football team that's got some high-calibre athletes. You see athletes all across the board. You can tell they recruit well," said Sargeant.
"It's two good organizations matching up again. It should be one heck of a ball game."
The two teams got to the national final in different ways. The Hilltops are a run-first football team, while the Sun, for the most part, had much more success on offensive with a pass-first philosophy.
While the Sun were stingy against the run all season, Sargeant doesn't expect his team to stray from what got them here.
"The way I coach, what I believe in, we're going to be physical, we're going to ground and pound, and we'll see where that takes us. Defensively, we know what they're going to do and they know what we're going to do.
"I believe it comes down to will and what you want. When we win, it's usually because we're running the ball better than the other team and we're stopping the run better than the other team."
The one advantage the Hilltops will not have is weather.
The forecast at kickoff is for sunny skies and temperatures around 8C.
Saturday's game begins at 11 a.m. our time.
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