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Sun regroup following loss to Hilltops

Click to play video: 'Okanagan Sun regroup following massive loss to Saskatoon Hilltops' Okanagan Sun regroup following massive loss to Saskatoon Hilltops
WATCH ABOVE: The Okanagan Sun looking toward two more regular season games and hope their loss against the Saskatoon Hilltops doesn't hurt their chances of getting into the playoffs. – Sep 21, 2016

The Okanagan Sun knew Saturday’s game against the Saskatoon Hilltops would feature a steep learning curve but it turned out to be a harder lesson than they expected with a 58-2 loss.

“I don’t think we put our best foot forward in that game,” Sun General Manager Jay Christensen said at practice in Kelowna, Tuesday evening. “We came out a little bit shell-shocked in the first quarter.”

READ MORE: Saskatoon Hilltops cruise to 53-16 win over the Edmonton Wildcats

Christensen said the Hilltops, of the Prairie Junior Conference (PFC) of the Canadian Junior Football League (CJFL), proved the leadership of long-time coach Tom Sargeant is a recipe for success.

“Sargeant is a fiery coach. He keeps them fired up.”

The Sun GM said despite the loss, his team is where it needs to be heading into the playoffs.

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“The guys were disappointed on Saturday night but came back with a new purpose to work harder and be better,” Christensen said.

Head Coach Ben Macauley takes responsibility for the loss as well.

“We had a game plan and we didn’t execute it,” Macauley said. “There were some things, areas [where] we came up short as coaches in preparation. There was a lot of distraction with the signing of new players and adding new players last week.”

The Sun acquired Rashaun Simonise, a young Vancouver man who was cut from the NFL’s Cincinnati Bengals at training camp this summer. Simonise is believed to be a top prospect for the CFL unless his efforts in the junior league pay off and he returns to the U.S.

“My goal is to get better from that this week, from the coaching end,” said Macauley. “There was a lot of distractions and it’s my job as a coach to limit those and keep the guys focused and clearly I didn’t do a good enough job of that.”

Macauley said their fans may have expected to see the Sun team from last year, a group that went 12-0 for the season and won a spot at the Canadian Football Championship last November where they met the Hilltops in Saskatchewan but ultimately lost.

“We knew we were going to be in tough against them from the get-go and I think a lot of people have high expectations of us returning to the same form we were in the national championship last year. We had a huge turnover on our roster, 45 to 46 new guys. A lot of those guys are new to the team or new to junior football.”

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The Sun coach said this year’s team doesn’t compare quite yet.

“We’re not there yet, but we certainly have the athletes to do it and the attitude to do it.”

Christensen doesn’t regret taking on the team from the prairie league, a game all other teams in the B.C. Junior Football Conference turned down.

“I think it was a great decision, from my football perspective, to play,” he said. “I think it was great for the league.”

The Sun’s GM is disappointed the rest of the league didn’t embrace his vision for the regular season inter-league game or help the Okanagan team with new rules that would have prevented the score from impacting their standings, which are now 6-2 going into the last two games of the season.

“We put some options forward to have it not necessarily hurt us in the standings. But again, from a league perspective, they couldn’t get by that. But whatever, we’ll play and we’ll play them head up. Hopefully it doesn’t cost us a playoff game down the road,” said Christensen.

The Okanagan Sun head to the coast to play the Vancouver Island Raiders Saturday and return home for their final match against the Langley Rams Sunday, Oct. 2 at the Apple Bowl.

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