Morning Star Staff
The Kelowna Owls won the first-ever junior varsity football game played at the new Vernon Secondary School.
But not without a fight from the host Panthers.
The Owls – the largest AAA division school in B.C. – scored a pair of late touchdowns to subdue the AA Panthers 25-13 Thursday afternoon.
It was the first JV game for a VSS team since the Panthers lost the B.C. AA semifinal to Parksville’s Ballenas Whalers, 34-20, in 2013. The team played all of its home games that year at Fulton Secondary while the new VSS field was being constructed.
“The Junior Panthers are made up of 27 Grade 8-to-10 players, of which 12 have never played football and eight more have very limited past playing experience,” said Vernon head coach Ed Huber.
“So to come out and play the KSS team made up entirely of Grade 10 players made me feel really good about the upcoming regular season.”
The Panthers’ offence hit the field first and looked good with a 40-yard drive going, but the Owls club took an early 6-0 lead after an interception was returned for a touchdown.
Not to be shaken, VSS took the ball back, drove another 65 yards and ended up scoring on a 15- yard swing pass from quarterback Dylan Huber to fullback Sam Knox. Huber converted the touchdown, giving the Cats a 7-6 lead.
In the first half, the VSS defence dominated the KSS club with excellent team tackling and good pass coverage. Only late in the first half did KSS start to move the ball with a nice executed 50-yard drive ending with a 30-yard TD pass play.
The Owls led 12-7 at the intermission.
The second half started with KSS slowly moving the ball up the field grinding out three fourth-down conversions. Led by Landon Hampshire (three tackles, three sacks), Brad Hladik (two tackles, three sacks), Trey Defoor (four tackles, one sack) and Garrett Black Thomas (one interception), the Panthers’ defence was able to stop Kelowna.
Early in the fourth quarter, Vernon mounted an 80-yard drive capped with a 10-yard TD run by Hladik. Leading 13-12 with seven minutes remaining, Vernon allowed a punt return touchdown and long touchdown pass.
“I was very pleased with the aggressive nature of the club, and I believe a lot of the rookies will be making great contributions in the next few weeks,” said VSS defensive coordinator Tim Thorpe.
Offensively, workhorse running back Charles Lemay carried the ball 21 times for 151 yards while Riley MacGillivray added 21 yards on five carries.
The Panthers host the Valleyview Vikings from Kamloops in their final exhibition game Wednesday, before taking on cross-town rivals Seaton Sonics in the regular season opener Oct. 6 at MacDonald Park.