The Westshore Rebels are off to the Cullen Cup, securing their way to the B.C. Football Conference final by way of a thrilling last-minute 34-29 win over rival Vancouver Island Raiders on a windy, cool and wet Saturday evening at Westhills Stadium.
Westshore will play host to the Cullen Cup against the winner of today’s second semi-final between the Langley Rams and defending champion Okanagan Sun on Oct. 29 at 7 p.m.
It will be the first Cullen Cup final in Victoria.
Jamel Lyles ran in from two yards out with 23.4 seconds to go to clinch the win after Nathan Berg had crashed in from the one yard line with 2:20 remaining as the Raiders secured a 28-26 lead.
“We worked too hard in this off-season to go home early. We wanted to go 1-0 this week and we did,” said Rebels quarterback Ashton Mackinnon, who ran in for a pair of one-yard touchdowns in the second half.
“We've been a second-half team this whole season. We adjusted well. All these guys stayed focused, composed and poised. No one lost their cool and we came back and rallied.”
The win comes after three 2-8 seasons for the Rebels, who had struggled mightily until this season when they rattled off a B.C. Football Conference best 8-1-1 record and the No. 1 ranking in the country.
“It’s the biggest turnaround season I’ve ever been a part of. I’m glad to share it with these guys and the next one is the Cullen Cup,” said Mackinnon, who struggled through most the game, but somehow found a way in the last two minutes.
He had completed just 1-of-8 passes in the first half with two interceptions in a sloppy affair.
The evening began with a bang though as Lyles took the opening kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown.
It fizzled out quickly, however, as the teams were tied 12-12 at the half with little offence.