The Vernon Panthers came one play short in their bid to become the first Interior team to ever qualify for the B.C. Junior Varsity football championship, losing 21-16 to the host Abbotsford Panthers Wednesday at rain-soaked Moaut Field.
Down five with five minutes remaining, the Panthers faced a fourth-and-five from the Abby 20-yard line. QB John Garvie (7-of-15 for 58 yds, 1 TD) threw to the end zone to a streaking Zac Kronbauer (5 receptions for 85 yds, 1 TD), but the pass was well defended and knocked to the ground.
Abbotsford finished 1-7 last season with a roster predominantly comprised of Grade 9 athletes. They meet the Mission Roadunners next Saturday at B.C. Place for the provincial title.
“To play where the B.C. Lions play, it’s unbelievable,” marveled Abby quarterback Grayson Marquardt, who rushed for all three Panthers’ touchdowns. “I’m kind of at a loss for words. But we’re ready for it, I think.”
Abby coach Rick Funk said earning a B.C. berth was a just reward after taking their lumps last year.
“They got beat up physically, they got beat up on the scoreboard, and they never gave up hope for one minute,” Funk enthused. “All their bruises became badges, and this year it’s paid off.”
Abbotsford took over the ball and ran for three straight first downs to take the clock down to 30 seconds before VSS could stop them. With no time outs remaining, Vernon failed to move the ball.
“I am more proud of our boys after this loss than I was following our quarterfinal win last week,” said VSS coach Sean Smith. “We took a lot of punches from a very tough, physical, top-ranked team and gave ourselves a chance to win it at the end.”
Abby opened the scoring in the first quarter on a 60-yard quarterback run. Vernon responded with the only score of the second quarter on a 15-yard strike from Garvie to Kronbauer.
After a two-point conversion by Levi Nicholas, VSS took an 8-7 advantage into the half. Abby came out strong in the third quarter, scoring on their first two possessions to take a 21-8 lead.
“We were depleted on defence as we had to leave two defensive starters at home due to illness, and had three more go down in the game,” said Smith. “It took our replacements a while to get acclimated to the speed of the game. Once we made the necessary adjustments, the boys settled down and shut them down for the rest of the half.”
Levi Nicholas and Justin Haverkamp led the Panthers with 12 tackles apiece. To end the third quarter, Nicholas took a four-yard toss to the end zone and Kyle Ryder caught the two-point convert.
“This one is going to sting for a while, but the consolation is that we know we can compete with the top teams in the province. If this group continues to dedicate themselves to getting better, I am confident they will have another shot at a championship before they graduate.
“I’d like to thank my assistant coaches (Jeff Collins, Tim Thorpe and Dave Tetrault) for their commitment to Panther football. The success of our program (two straight B.C. semifinal appearances) is a result of their dedication and hard work.”