Morning Star Staff/Black Press Sports
There was snow on the turf in Vancouver, but, in the end, it turned out to be a Rainey forecast for the Vernon Panthers.
Quarterback North Rainey ran for a five-yard touchdown, which came after he picked off a pass playing defence, then threw a clinching 37-yard touchdown strike to Nathan Vogt with three minutes left to lift the defending champion John Barsby Bulldogs of Nanaimo to a 34-16 win over the No. 1-ranked Panthers in the B.C. AA Subway Bowl high school varsity football semifinal Saturday afternoon at UBC Thunderbird Stadium.
“We all played for each other and we were playing till the last play,” said the 6-foot-3, 195-pound Rainey. “Not playing for the score, just playing our hearts out.”
The Bulldogs rallied from a 16-6 second quarter deficit by forcing three Panthers turnovers, including a couple in the final quarter with Barsby leading 22-16.
“Unfortunately, a snow storm hit Vancouver on Friday night and blanketed the field with six inches of snow. We rely on a lot of speed and cutting and it severely limited what we could run offensively,” said VSS head coach Sean Smith.
“They run a wing T offence and I think it played right into their hands as they could mash us down the field. Having said that, Barsby was the better team on the day and deserved the win. They made plays when they needed them (through the air and on the ground) and we couldn’t.
“They converted a lot of third and long and fourth down opportunities which kept drives alive and we couldn’t find any rhythm on offense in the second half. We turned the ball over more times today than we did all season combined, and you can’t do that if you want to beat the best.”
VSS opened the scoring on the snowy tundra of Thunderbird Stadium on the game’s first drive when quarterback John Garvie hit Zac Kronbauer with a four-yard pass at 4:13.
Levi Nicholas scored on a two-point convert run to give VSS an early 8-0 lead, an edge that held up after one quarter.
After Barsby pulled to within two points, Nicholas rumbled 55 yards for a major, and Garvie ran in the two-point convert to give VSS a 16-6 lead.
Two touchdowns in the final seven minutes of the half helped Barsby to a 22-16 lead at the break.
“We got off to a great start as we scored on our first drive and had a 10-point lead midway through the second quarter,” said Smith. “However, we had a lapse to end the half and they scored twice in a short period of time to take a six-point lead.
“The score stayed that way pretty much the whole second half. We had the ball with five minutes to go at midfield, trailing by six. A touchdown would have given us a pretty good shot at winning, but we couldn’t punch it in and that was the game.”
Garvie finished the day 9-for-14 for 98 yards, a touchdown and four picks.
Karson Patommel ran the ball 12 times for a team-leading 65 yards while Kronbauer churned out 23 yards on six carries.
Nicholas had three catches for 66 yards while Josh Hyer added a pair for 17 yards.
Carson Labreque led the Panthers defence with 10 tackles, Patommel had nine, Chase Larsen added eight, Kronbauer had seven and Nicholas had six tackles and one interception.
Bulldogs’ coach Rob Stevenson said his team put pressure on the Panthers and wore down an opponent that hadn’t trailed at halftime all season.
“That was a place they’d never been. They were out in deep water getting fatigued and the rest took care of itself,” said Stevenson.
Rainey finished 10-for-14 passing for 191 yards. Cole Virtanen had 19 carries for 110 yards and two touchdowns and Trentyn Anderson had 23 carries for 97 yards and a TD.
Defensively, Rainey and Vogt had two interceptions each and Hill made seven tackles.
“I saw tenacity, I saw guys executing the playbook, trusting one another with their assignments and an outstanding team effort defensively, special teams and the offence was very efficient,” added Stevenson.
The Panthers, who were undefeated prior to Saturday, were trying to become the first-ever Vernon team to reach a B.C. high school football final.
“We had a great run with these boys,” said Smith. “The seniors have lost two games total in two years and both were elimination games in the provincial quarterfinals and semifinals, which is a testament to their work ethic and dedication to football.
“They have set the bar higher for future Panther teams. Right now we are all very disappointed as we didn’t realize our goal of winning it all. However, I’m very proud of their accomplishments and was very fortunate to coach such talented and committed young men.”
Smith praised the work of assistant coaches Tim Thorpe, Dave Tetrault, Keith Johnston, Jeff Collins, and Mike Riva (first aid) who played a huge role in preparing the Panthers for battle each week.
Barsby will play the Mission Roadrunners in Saturday’s Subway Bowl final at B.C. Place.