It wasn’t a complete tire fire.
That might not sound like much, but it’s something for the Kamloops Broncos, who fell 55-6 to the Okanagan Sun of Kelowna in front of about 600 spectators at Hillside Stadium on Sunday.
Okanagan (1-0), almost always among the best junior football teams in the country, carried a 38-0 lead into halftime after capitalizing on special-teams gaffes and good field position, the latter provided in part by an anemic Kamloops offence.
“Special teams really hurt us,” Broncos’ head coach Brad Yamaoka said. “We preached to the guys that special teams is a huge part of this game. We are going to be looking at that.”
Kamloops finished the game with 38 yards of net offence, five first downs and 15 punts, while Okanagan compiled 418 yards of net offence, 22 first downs and seven punts.
The Broncos (0-1) started well on defence and the game was scoreless until the home team’s rookie starting quarterback, Reid Vankoughnett, threw a pick six, with Okanagan defensive back Tye Kitzman jumping a route and rumbling about 50 yards to paydirt with 2:33 remaining in the first quarter.
Mistakes are expected from the 18-year-old pivot and that was one of them. The game never seemed too big or fast for Vankoughnett, who became more comfortable with each quarter and received very little help from a crew of receivers that dropped too many balls.
Kamloops offensive co-ordinator Jesse Neufeld called a conservative game in the first half, aiming to ease his signal caller into his first junior football tilt.
He took the reins off Vankoughnett a little more in the third and fourth quarters.
“We’ve got to make plays for him and get his confidence up,” Yamoaka said when asked about well-thrown deep balls that slipped through receivers' fingers.
Vankoughnett was 4-for-22, throwing for 27 yards and one interception; Andrew Pocrnic led Kamloops’ rushing attack, with 31 yards on 11 carries; and Matt Wight was the Broncos’ top receiver, his one catch going for 18 yards.
The second quarter was disastrous for Kamloops.
Sun quarterback Jakob Loucks found Kelton Kouri with a short pass, which the running back took to the house to make it 13-0, dancing through the Kamloops secondary with ease.
The Broncos’ special-teams mishaps began shortly after Kouri’s major, with a pair of punt-team blunders leading to Sun touchdowns.
Within a span of two minutes, Loucks and running back Jesse Amankwaa punched over the goal line. Successful converts made it 28-0.
“There were probably eight or nine minutes where we were really bad,” said Kurtis Mutschmann, who was a bright spot on Kamloops’ defensive line.
“We had some mistakes on special teams that really screwed us over, especially our punt team.”
Kamloops’ second first down of the contest came with 10 minutes remaining in the second quarter, when Vankoughnett scrambled to move the chains.
The rare positive offensive moment did not provide a spark.
Kouri’s second touchdown, a short run, was set up by Malcom Miller.
The receiver rumbled for a big chunk of yards after a reception near midfield, realizing the Broncos’ defenders had lost contain and bolting around the edge to bring the Sun deep into the red zone.
There was a moral victory for the Broncos before the half, a goal-line stand that kept the Sun from adding to their 38-0 lead. Casey Powell made an important tackle that led to a turnover on downs.
“Credit to Kamloops,” Sun head coach Ben Macauley said. “They kept coming. They have a bunch of talented young players.”
Macauley insisted he did not take his foot off the gas in the second half, but the Sun pulled key starters and replaced them with second- and third-string players.
Okanagan kicker Isaac Wegner, whom the Broncos tried to woo to Kamloops, showed off his big leg with 9:59 left in the third quarter, booting a long field goal to make it 41-0.
What was indubitably Kamloops’ highlight of the sizzling-hot night (it was about 34 C) came next.
Defensive lineman Damian Person noticed the Sun were using a replacement guard, so he bull-rushed and managed to get to the quarterback, who was back-pedalling inside the Sun’s red zone.
“We were just trying to make big plays, so our teammates could rally around it,” Person said. “I managed to get the strip-sack. It just shows we never gave up.”
The ball hit the turf and bounced to Mutschmann, a Kelowna product.
“It was a dream,” Mutschmann told reporters after the game. “The ball is there all of a sudden and I was like, oh, what, is this happening right now? You pick it up and it’s just, ‘Don’t fall. Don’t fall.’”
He remained upright and scored the Broncos’ only touchdown of the game. The Sun led 41-6 after Kamloops could not make good on a two-point conversion attempt.
Special teams (which were a tire fire) promptly quelled any Broncos’ momentum.
Conor Richard of the Sun returned the ensuing kickoff for a touchdown, showboating along the way to make it 48-6.
The visitors tacked on a rouge and Mahler hit Cole Stroud for a touchdown pass to round out the scoring.
“We’ve got to learn from it,” Yamaoka said. “If we go out and do the same things next week, it’s going to be a very long season.
“They’re a good football team. It’s not like we came in here and lost to a team we should have beat. They’re good.”
Kamloops will travel to Nanaimo this weekend to play the Vancouver Island Raiders, who will be champing at the bit to prove a 33-31 loss to the Valley Huskers in Chilliwack on Sunday was an anomaly.
Okanagan will square off against the Westshore Rebels in Langford this weekend. The Rebels edged the hometown Langley Rams 19-16 on Saturday.
The Broncos' next home game is slated for Saturday, Aug. 18, when the Rebels come to town. Game time is 6 p.m.