Morning Star Staff
The most unlikely of plays turned out to be the difference as the Vernon Panthers grounded the Mission Roadrunners 7-0 under the lights Friday night at Greater Vernon Athletics Field.
The B.C. Varsity Senior AA Football League quarterfinal game was scoreless midway through the first quarter with Mission attempting a 30-yard field goal. The kicker mishit the ball, barely clearing the line.
Mission players started leaving the field believing that the play would be whistled dead. However, Levi Nicholas picked up the ball and returned it 80 yards for the game’s lone scoring play.
“These two teams were about as evenly matched as you’re going to find,” said VSS head coach Sean Smith. “We both played very sound defence and struggled to move the ball on offence. I told the boys in my pregame this would come down to a few big plays. If we made more of them, we’d win.
“However, I would have never guessed that a bizarre play like that would be the only big play in the game.”
The Panthers now battle the Langley Saints (No. 1 Southern Conference, No. 4 B.C.) Saturday, 10 a.m. at B.C. Place.
Ben Hladik led the Cats in three categories: rushing for 39 yards, hauling in a seven-yard reception and making seven tackles to go along with a fumble recovery.
While the VSS offence struggled for a good portion of the game (170 total yards), some key drives in the second half chewed up a big chunk of the clock and limited the number of possessions for the Roadrunners which proved to be the difference.
“For the third week in a row, our defence has followed our game plan to near perfection,” said Smith. “We had a couple of errors covering in the flats, but other than that, we bottled them up and didn’t allow them inside our red zone all game. Zach Hyer continues to shine as a corner. He made a tackle in open space just prior to the touchdown return that was a game changer. First-time starter Carter Weir (filling in for an injured Liam Boyd) was also solid.”
A quintet of Panther defenders all had multiple tackles: Hladik (7), Justin Haverkamp (7), Tyler Riva (7), Josh Hyer (6 + 1 sack) and Zach Hyer (6).
Langley, like VSS, went 4-0 in the regular season. The Saints smothered the Ballenas Whalers of Parksville in first-round playoff action Friday.
“Langley is a team that has come out of nowhere and are doing great things this year,” said Smith. “I haven’t got a chance to break down their film as of Saturday morning but I know they have a balanced offensive attack and have beat some top level teams.”
In other Friday night playoff games, the Prince George Polar Bears bounced the Robert Bateman Timber Wolves of Abbotsford 19-0, the Carson Graham Eagles of North Vancouver ambushed the Hugh Boyd Trojans of Richmond 35-12, the Abbotsford Panthers rocked the Pitt Meadows Marauders 58-8 and the Holy Cross Crusaders of Surrey blitzed the Windsor Dukes of North Vancouver 28-6.
The VSS-Mission game drew a large crowd and $616 was raised from concession and 50-50 for the Neil Wear family. Neil, a former Vernon teacher is battling cancer in Vancouver.
Neil’s son, Liam, is a former Panther all-star. Neil is undergoing chemotherapy and unable to work his construction job.
“I would like to thank all of those who contributed as well as Tim Horton’s for donating the hot chocolate and coffee,” said Smith, of the fundraiser. “Anyone else who would like to contribute can drop it off at VSS or contact my wife Kulwinder Smith at the school.”
Meanwhile, the junior varsity Panthers lost 25-17 to the Duchess Park Condors of Prince George in provincial quarterfinal action Thursday morning at Hillside Park in cold and windy Kamloops.
VSS were playing without seven of their normal starters due to sickness, injury and vacations, including quarterback Thomas Hyett.
Big plays in the first half killed the Panther defence as they allowed touchdown plays of 30, 60, 80 and 90 yards in the half, including one on the first and last play of the half. Tailback Colburn Pearce, who had a seven-TD game earlier this season in Prince George, led the Condors both ways.
“The defence was playing four new starters on the day and in the second half once they figured out their scheme the Panther D did not allow the Condors another point,” said Panther head coach Ed Huber.
The Vernon offence drove the ball inside the 20 five times and once to the one-yard line only to come away with a 35-yard field goal by Dylan Huber.
Down 25-3 at half, the Cats mounted a comeback and the defence came out fired up and stopped the powerful Condor running attack in a quick four plays.”
The Panthers caused a fumble and took the ball over on the 50. Pass plays from Huber to Dakota Becker and Jaden Steinke brought the ball down to the five where power back Charles Lemay took it in.
Huber later threw a great corner route to Brad Hladik on a pass play drawn in the sand for a 25-yard TD.
The two-point convert attempt was good as Huber and Hladik hooked up on the same play.
VSS attempted a short kick with 90 seconds left but the Condors recovered.
“A great season was had by all,” said Huber. “Somewhat of a rebuild year as the junior team was a causality of last year’s teachers’ strike.”