For all that’s gone awry this season, time has yet to officially expire on the Okanagan Sun.
Win or lose in the B.C. Football Conference semifinal this weekend in Nanaimo, Sun GM Jay Christensen said the club still has an opportunity to write a positive conclusion to an otherwise bleak and disappointing campaign.
“I just want to see them go out there have fun, play hard, and play with some enthusiasm and energy,” said Christensen. “The season itself, no one was happy about it, the record was what it was.
“But that’s the beauty of playoffs. You really do get to start from scratch. Football is supposed to be fun and we didn’t see a lot of that the last few games. Of course we want to win, but as much as anything I want to see the guys play well.”
Team president Paul Carson will lead the Sun into battle Saturday against the Vancouver Island Raiders, their longtime rivals and six-time BCFC champs.
Carson has taken over the coaching duties on an interim basis after the club dismissed first-year head coach Gavin Lake on Monday.
Under Lake, the Sun went 3-7, including 1-4 at home.
Based on their regular season, it’s no surprise the Sun are considered heavy underdogs this weekend against the Raiders.
Still, perhaps Okanagan’s two best games came at Caledonia Park—a 30-29 loss on Aug. 18 and a 32-30 defeat on Sept. 29. Only missed field goals on each occasion prevented Okanagan from winning both games
Fifth-year receiver Ben White fully expects his Sun teammates to put up another formidable fight on Saturday.
“We’ve basically put everything in the past, what’s happened is forgotten and we’re all just focusing on one game right now,” said White, 22, who caught 17 passes for 323 yards and four touchdowns this season. “We definitely feel like we can play with them and we need to have that mindset. We keep reminding everyone not to think of the year, but the fact we have to be confident and go in there and play hard.”
White, one of seven Sun players who will be moving on at season’s end said, despite taking their lumps this season, a sense of pride remains in the club’s locker room.
“Either way, we want to show we’re a competitive team, we’re a top team and we’re not just going to roll over,” White added. “We’ve had a good week at practice and we’re going to try and enjoy this time as much as we can.”
Along with White, Bobby Davis, Curtis DeMelo, Sean Mason, Blake Butler, Steven Shott and Sheldon MacDonald will all graduate from the Sun program and, to a man, all would like to extend their junior careers by another few weeks.
From the Raiders’ perspective, head coach Matt Blokker expects the Sun to be emotionally-charged and ready to play football.
“I think their organization made a decision to have something for the team to rally around,” Blokker told the Nanaimo News Bulletin. “They’re going to be full of emotion and they’re going to be excited and feel it’s a new year, it’s a whole new thing and the guy that did all the wrong was their head coach and now he’s gone.”
The Raiders and Sun will kick off the BCFC semi-final Saturday at 1 p.m. at Caledonia Park.
Despite a less than stellar season as a team, four Sun players have been recognized for their outstanding individual play in 2012.
Defensive lineman Steven Doege, defensive backs Blake Butler and Robbie Yochim, and receiver Tommy Howes have been named to the B.C. Football Conference all-star team.
For Doege, the Rutland grad was named an all-star for the third consecutive year. The 6-foot-3, 245-pound Doege had a BCFC-leading 12 sacks, along with 34 tackles, 10 assists, two fumble recoveries and 122 defensive points.
Butler, an OKM grad his fourth season, amassed 11 tackles, 10 assists, three knockdowns, five interceptions and 55 points.
Yochim, the third-year DB out of Rutland compiled 30 tackles, eight assists, three knockdowns, one blocked kick and one fumble recovery.
Howes, the four-year veteran from Winnipeg, caught 34 passes for 539 yards and four touchdowns.