Unstoppable. Undefeated. Champions.
The Vernon Panthers not only captured their first senior provincial football title in history in Vancouver Saturday night but in defeating Abbotsford’s Robert Bateman Timberwolves 48-12 at B.C. Place Stadium, they may have gone down as the best AA team in history.
Running back Charles Lemay left no doubt that he was the Most Valuable Player in BC, scoring five touchdowns in the first half; including a 95-yard run on the first offensive play from scrimmage. He would later score on rushes of three, six and six yards, and hauled in a 36-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Thomas Hyett to make it 34-0 Panthers at the half.
“This was just another one of a number of amazing performances by this team. Every time we faced a new opponent in the playoffs, I thought we would be tested,” said VSS head coach Sean Smith. “However, these guys were clearly heads and shoulders above their competitors this year. Charles had a great individual day, but it’s easy for teams to stop a single player. Our strength was that all 11 players on the field executed at such a high level in all aspects of the game that we were next to unstoppable. We scored on every offensive possession and were only scored on one time in the first half of our three playoff games this season, and that was against top-five ranked teams.
“This group of young men was so focused on being the best they could be and it showed on the field week after week.”
The Panthers would go on to score two more times in the second half with Caden Danbrook and Zack Smith hauling in touchdowns from 15 and 55 yards away. Hyett proved why he was AA’s top quarterback, going 14 of 19 for 312 yards including two touchdown passes. Smith was his favourite target with six catches for 167 yards to go along with the touchdown.
“Our game plan defensively was to put our resources into shutting down their passing game (which was their strength),” said Coach Smith.” It put a lot of pressure on our defensive line and middle linebacker (Drew MacKenzie) to shut down their rushing attack and generate pressure in the passing game. They did that and more.”
Trey Defoor led all defenders with five quarterback sacks and four tackles while Liam Reid added three more sacks from his defensive end spot.
“Our front four made the difference in this game,” said Smith. “They harassed their quarterback all game generating 10 sacks and it allowed us to intercept two balls.”
Lemay was named the game’s Most Valuable Players with 219 yards of offence (166 rush, 53 receiving) to go along with two tackles and two interceptions on defence.
Liam Alder was named the game’s top lineman.
“That was about as rough a first half as I think I’ve ever been a part of,” said Bateman head coach David Mills. “Everything that could have gone wrong did go wrong, and Vernon came out firing on all cylinders. I don’t think we were quite ready for it.”
Mills praised the play of the Panthers and Lemay.
“Full credit to them for the win,” he said. “Maybe there were a bit of jitters from our guys, but Vernon has been there before and they have more experience. We knew he [Lemay] was the most outstanding player in the province and he showed what he was all about today.”
It’s the first-ever provincial senior varsity football championship for any Vernon school, coming off 2017 when Smith guided VSS to the B.C. junior varsity championship, the first provincial school football title in the city’s history.
“This was a season that will be very hard to replicate,” he said. “We outscored our AA opponents 326-26 this season and our closest playoff game was a 36-point win. This group was not only talented but had the work ethic (both on the field and in the film room) and desire necessary to be champions.
“They set the bar higher not only for Panther football but AA football in the province. I’m so proud of them. I received so many congratulatory messages from ex-players, parents and coaches who are part of the Panther football family. We’ve been close to winning a championship a few times and to finally get a senior title was a great feeling.
“This first senior title is for all of our former players and coaches to share as they were the foundation that got us here.”
The Panthers will lose a large chunk of their roster to graduation, but Smith is confident the 2019 Cats will be in title contention.
“The players we are going to lose don’t grow on trees, but we won the junior title last year and I’m hoping with the same group returning we can make another title run.”
It was a good day for Okanagan football Saturday at the dome as the Kelowna Owls won the AAA Junior Varsity provincial championship, defeating the Belmont Bulldogs of Victoria 38-12.
— with files from the Abbotsford News