Westshore Rebels look to cool off Rams

You don’t have to gaze to the heavens to find the answer as to why the defending-champion Langley Rams are 6-0 this season in the B.C. Football Conference.

Just keep your eyes on the ground.

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“They have run the ball down everybody’s throat,” said Westshore Rebels head coach Shane Beatty.

The second-place Rebels (5-1) meet the Rams in a showdown for first place today at 4 p.m. at Westhills Stadium.

More to the point, Andrew Pocrnic of the Rams has run the ball down everybody’s gullet. The Langley back leads the league by a Fraser Valley mile with 673 rushing yards this season with nine touchdowns. Those are the kinds of numbers another running-back named Andrew used to put up in the BCFC when Andrew Harris came out of the Vancouver Island Raiders to become the most prolific Canadian pro running back in CFL history with the B.C. Lions and Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

Pocrnic told the Aldergrove Star he is from a Croatian family, where the other sport named football is most passionately followed, especially during the breathless run to the final of the 2018 World Cup in Russia. But he grew up in Saskatoon and could hardly not be influenced by the green passion there for the Roughriders in the CFL brand of football. So he gravitated to the brand of football that allows you to carry the ball, which he does well.

“We can’t allow [Pocrnic] to run like he does,” said Beatty.

“We’ve got to swarm him like sharks smelling blood around him.”

The Rams are 14-0, dating into last season, heading into today’s key contest at Westhills. It will be their second consecutive trip to the Island following last weekend’s 28-3 Langley victory over the V.I. Raiders (3-3) at Caledonia Park in Nanaimo as Pocrnic ran for 143 yards and two touchdowns.

That is impressive, but so is the Rebels’ showing this season.

“We were 1-5 at this point last season,” added Beatty.

A big reason for the turnaround has been the play of Rebels quarterback Shawn Lal. The towering pivot out of W.J. Mouat Secondary in Abbotsford uses his six-foot-five frame well to look over the lines and leads the BCFC with 1,493 passing yards and 12 touchdown tosses.

“Shawn is a terrific kid and so level headed and composed,” said Beatty.

Lal has spread the ball around effectively with receivers Brycen Mayoh, Jeffroy Ojong, Nathan Falito and Hayden Crothers all go-to targets.

It was Crothers’ turn to shine last weekend as he hauled in seven catches for 191 yards and two touchdowns as Lal passed for 333 yards and three touchdowns in a 27-15 victory over the Valley Huskers of Chilliwack at Westhills Stadium.

Rebels running back Zachary Lubin keeps the opposing defences honest and is second in league rushing with 402 yards on 80 carries after piling up 109 yards on 14 rushes last weekend against the Huskers.

But the Huskers (1-5) are not the Rams.

“Langley is a great team,” said Rebels bench-boss Beatty.

“They have been the peach of the league so far, until [today]. We know it’s a monumental task awaiting us but our kids are really excited and ready to go.”

One thing nobody expects again, considering Langley’s penchant for the ground game and ball control, is a high-scoring aerial dogfight like the first time these teams met this season in Langley with the Rams prevailing 40-30 on Aug. 24.

Beatty said he considers that game an anomaly.

“I expect more of a smash-mouth game [today],” he said.

This is a potential preview of the BCFC Cullen Cup playoff championship game, to be played Nov. 2 or Nov. 3, so home-field advantage could be at stake today.

The BCFC champion hosts the Canadian Bowl this season and will meet the winner of the national semifinal between the Prairie Football Conference and Ontario Football Conference on Nov. 16. The annual powerhouse Saskatoon Hilltops are favoured for the national crown. Pocrnic, who played in U Sports for the Carleton Ravens, is from Saskatoon and would like nothing more this fall than to have a run at his hometown Hilltops in a Canadian Bowl final in Langley.

But the Rebels’ defence believes it will have a thing or two to say about that before this junior football season runs its course.

The Raiders (3-3), meanwhile, are in Kamloops today to take on the winless Broncos (0-6) at Hillside Stadium.

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com

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