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Westshore Rebels, Okanagan Sun set to battle for BCFC title

BCFC final goes Saturday afternoon at Starlight Stadium
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Gerren Hardisty and the Rebels host the Sun for the BCFC championship on Saturday. (ADRIAN LAM, TIMES COLONIST)

The Okanagan Sun are the defending champions. But this B.C. Football Conference season has belonged to the Westshore Rebels, who are 11-0 in regular season and playoffs, heading into today’s Cullen Cup league championship game against the second-seed Sun at 3 p.m. at Starlight Stadium in Langford.

It’s a flip of last season when the Sun went undefeated on their way to the Canadian Bowl national championship, defeating the Rebels 38-0 along the way in the BCFC Cullen Cup championship game at the Apple Bowl in Kelowna.

Revenge, however, isn’t in the Rebels’ vocabulary.

“The past is the past. We’re focused on the now,” said Rebels running-back Gerren Hardisty, who was a part of that drubbing last year in Kelowna.

“This is just another game, although the rewards are bigger.”

They certainly are. The BCFC champion will represent the league in the national junior football championship Canadian Bowl. It is the BCFC’s turn in the rotation to host the Canadian Bowl, which it will do Nov. 11, with today’s Cullen Cup champion to play the winner of a national semifinal between the champions of the Prairie and Ontario junior football conferences.

That means either the Rebels or Sun will host the 115th Canadian Bowl at Starlight Stadium or Apple Bowl, respectively, next month

The Sun defeated the Regina Thunder in last year’s Canadian Bowl played at Mosaic Stadium in the Saskatchewan capital and the Langley Rams of the BCFC were national champions in 2021 with a 37-0 blanking of the host Beefeaters in London, Ont. The last time the BCFC hosted the Canadian Bowl in 2019, the Rams were edged 11-6 by the ­Saskatoon Hilltops in Langley.

The Rebels last won the ­Cullen Cup league title in 2016 after which they were beaten 37-25 by the Hilltops in the ­Canadian Bowl that year at ­Starlight Stadium. The ­Vancouver Island Raiders were in the Canadian Bowl in 2013 and 2010, both losses to the Thunder and Hilltops, respectively. The V.I. Raiders won the Canadian Bowl in 2006, 2008 and 2009 led by eventual CFL star and four-time Grey Cup-champion Andrew Harris.

The Rebels were also in the 2003 Canadian Bowl but lost to the Hilltops and a potential first national title for the club looms large as the prize.

“That’s the end goal — to win the national championship and do something that’s never been done before by this club,” said Hardisty.

That is two games away, the first of which is this afternoon. Westshore and Okanagan met only once this season. The Rebels beat the Sun (9-1 in regular season and playoffs) 52-23 in August to hand Okanagan its lone setback of the year.

The Rebels are likely again to attack from the air with league-leading passer Te Jessie looking to the top-two leading BCFC receivers Kieran Poissant and Cairo Berry. Jessie and Poissant were already known commodities, having earned invites this year to B.C. Lions training camp with Poissant dressing for two exhibition CFL games. It’s Berry who has been the revelation as the breakout offensive player of the year.

But it’s the legs of league ­second-leading rusher ­Hardisty and change-up Westshore running-back Malik ­Gagne-Smith that has kept opposition defences guessing and made the play-action passes so successful for Jessie.

“It has allowed us to keep ­possession with sustained drives all season,” said Belmont ­Secondary Bulldogs-graduate Hardisty.

Now all he wants is to rush into the Canadian Bowl.

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com