The last chapter in a storybook season for the Westshore Rebels was written Saturday afternoon as they took on the Saskatoon Hilltops in the 109th Canadian Bowl at Westhills Stadium in Langford.
Unfortunately for the Rebels and their fans, that final chapter did not result in the storybook ending they were hoping for as the Prairie Football Conference champions handed Westshore their first home loss of the season by a final of 37-25.
The Rebels (8-1-1 regular season) earned their berth in the Canadian Bowl with a 32-21 victory over the Okanagan Sun in the BCFC Championship.
Westshore was led all season by a ground game spearheaded by Jamel Lyles (187 carries for 1,604 yards and 15 touchdowns) while quarterback Ashton MacKinnon threw for 1,218 yards, 10 touchdowns and six interceptions.
Saskatoon meanwhile (8-1 regular season) punched their ticket by beating the Calgary Colts 43-31 in the Prairie Conference final.
The Hilltops were led this season by quarterback Jared Andreychuk (121-203 for 2,008 yards, 22 touchdowns, seven interceptions) while Logan Fisher carried the load on the ground running for 631 yards and eight touchdowns on 106 carries.
A capacity crowd filled Westhills Stadium, where the Rebels were 7-0 this season, for the first Canadian Bowl ever hosted at Westhills Stadium.
Saskatoon had no interest in following the Rebels script early on, finding the endzone in three plays on their first drive of the game to give themselves a 7-0 less than five minutes into the game.
Starting at their own 10-yard line did not phase the Hilltops who continued to move the ball efficiently on their second drive. Marching the ball quickly into Westshore territory, Saskatoon looked poised to add to their lead before Brandon Gandire intercepted a pass from Andreychuk in the endzone to keep it a one score game.
Saskatoon quickly regained possession but Andreychuk was again picked off, this time by Byron MacKinnon, who ran it back for a touchdown in the opening quarter’s final minute.
A deep strike from Andreychuk to Jason Price began the second quarter and set up the Hilltops second major one play later as Saskatoon reclaimed a 14-7 lead.
The BCFC Champions responded with an effective drive utilizing the ground game with Jamel Lyles as well as through the air, resulting in a Kyle Clarke field goal to trim the lead.
Lyles had success running the ball for 141 yards on 16 carries on Saturday.
The Rebels struggled to keep Saskatoon’s running game under wraps throughout the first half but continued to take advantage of untimely Hilltops turnovers, recovering a fumble in the endzone at the end of a lengthy drive that had Saskatoon on the verge of finding pay dirt once again.
The Rebels were unable to move the ball out of the shadow of their own goalposts and elected to concede a safety, growing the Hilltops lead to 16-10 with under five minutes remaining before halftime.
A safety charged to Saskatoon late in the half brought the score to 16-12 at the break.
The Rebels scored on the opening drive of the second half, led by big plays through the air and on the ground by MacKinnon and a big run from Lyles, to take their first lead of the game, 19-16. MacKinnon called his own number, punching the ball across for the major.
The lead and the momentum were short lived however as the ensuing kickoff was run back for a touchdown by Joshua Ewanchyna.
Andreychuk and the Hilltops closed the quarter by finding the endzone again after orchestrating a five-minute drive, staking themselves to a 30-19 lead entering fourth quarter.
Saskatoon used the passing game and the rushing attack to move the ball with success throughout the game. Andreychuk threw for 220 yards through the air while Logan Fischer ran for 202 yards on 28 carries.
Fischer was named offensive player of the game.
Westshore was formulating a response in the Hilltops end in the opening moments of the final quarter, but a costly interception thrown by MacKinnon snuffed out the opportunity.
MacKinnon passed for 181 yards, completing 12 of 24 attempts on the game.
With time becoming a factor and the Rebels still trailing by 11, they dipped into their bag of tricks, converting on third down with a pass on a fake punt to extend a drive but were unable to come up with points on the possession.
Saskatoon put their stamp on the game with a touchdown pass from Andreychuk to Price to open up an ultimately insurmountable 37-19 lead, their largest of the game, with less than four minutes remaining.
The Rebels added a late score and looked to be putting more together after Jamal Lyles was later sprung on a long run that put the Rebels deep in Hilltop territory with less than 90 seconds remaining, trailing 37-25.
Westshore however was unable to climb the mountain. They would turn the ball over on downs, allowing Saskatoon to run out the final minute and secure the 109th Canadian Bowl title.
The victory is Saskatoon’s third consecutive Canadian Bowl championship as CJFL National Champions and their sixth in seven years.
Despite the loss, the 2016 season was a resounding success for the Westshore Rebels, setting a franchise record for regular season wins with eight, home wins with seven, and reached their first Canadian Bowl since 2003.
Game stats available at www.westshorerebels.ca