The head coach of the Okanagan Sun called it an old-fashioned butt-kicking.
The B.C. Football Conference called it a losing decision to even play the game.
But after a 58-2 loss to the Saskatoon Hilltops on Saturday night at the Apple Bowl, the Okanagan Sun say they are moving forward and will learn from the loss to Saskatoon Saturday night, despite being questioned by its own league, who on Monday labelled the Sun losers in a column distributed to media around the province.
“We stand behind the decision to play an inter-conference game, even in hindsight and the fact that maybe we could have gotten a win against Valley instead,” said Sun head coach Ben Macauley. “If there is a disagreement from that from our league standpoint, maybe that is something that they need to address. People need to make decisions when its decision-making time, not complain in hindsight.”
The Sun and Valley Huskers were the only two of the six BCFC teams to agree to play an interlocking game with the Prairie Football Conference instead of playing each other. The Huskers also lost, 35-0 to Winnipeg, and remain winless on the season.
The loss for the Sun dropped them to 6-and-2 and into second place in the BCFC and that prompted the BCFC media relations department to pile on, to use a football term.
“The Sun agreed, perhaps even offered to take on a schedule massively more difficult than their BCFC counterparts had in playing the Saskatoon Hilltops rather than the Valley Huskers,” wrote the BCFC in a weekly column entitled winners and losers and penned by former Sun media relations director Blake Roberts, now working for the BCFC. “Making a decision that they felt was good for the league overall was admirable. But in doing so, they put their own coaches and players in a difficult position. Had they played the Valley Huskers they would today be sitting at 7-1. Instead they are 6-2, in second place and likely travelling come playoff time.”
Sun president Bill Long said the Sun decided to take the game to push their league ahead, despite the fact it was determined the game would count as a regular game in the standings.
“This concept was too important for the CJFL, and the BCFC, to reject outright without at least giving it a try,” said Long “Yes, there could be ramifications for the current year…but that is not the point. You have make plans for the long term, and what is for the betterment of the league. This is what we did. I would do it again. If I did not think that the team and organization were strong enough to withstand a loss, I would have made a different decision.”
Macauley, who took the blame for the loss on his shoulders following the game, said hosting the game was about playing tougher competition, not planning for future home games down the road.
“I think we have to try and get better any chance we can,” he said. “I think the reasons behind not playing would be from marketing standpoint. Is it better to have home playoff games? Is that in jeopardy? Maybe. But that’s not my thing to worry about as a coach. Last year we had some 70-point wins against Valley. Is that making our players better? I don’t think we get better football-wise unless we play better teams.”
The meeting between the Sun and Hilltops was a much-hyped affair as the Saskatchewan club travelled to B.C. for an interlocking game for the first time in CJFL history. Heading into the weekend, much was made of a Sun player signing and the franchise took part in a scholarship breakfast. Macauley said it was a culmination of things that kept the club from being ready for the game.
“We didn’t prepare the way we should have,” said Macauley. “Myself as a coach and the rest of our staff, we let some other things become more important than our preparation and it showed. We weren’t ready to go and you can’t get away with that stuff against a very good team.”
Macauley also said his team, including the coaching staff and players, can learn a lot from the loss. He addressed his players on Monday as the team began another week of practice.
“We talked about now we are going to see what kind of character we have,” he said. “It’s really easy to jump on a winning train. Everyone wants to be part of that. But who’s really willing to get through some adversity and work through the lows to get back to the highs again.”
The Hilltops put up 433 yards of total offence in the game and held the Sun to 193 yards, 135 of which was gained in the second half, with the game out of reach.
Macauley says players were emotional after the loss and he praised the crowd at the Apple Bowl for sticking it out to the end, despite the lopsided score.
“The crowd was great,” he said. “They were there to the end and we owe a big thanks to the home crowd. They stuck it out and they never got down with us. We’re in a really good community for support. Of course they want us to come away with a win, but the players got support from them. It was just too bad we didn’t play better.”
The Sun travel to Vancouer Island this weekend to meet the VI Raiders.