Morning Star Staff
There will be no anvils, no ACME products and no gimmicks to try and stop these Roadrunners tonight.
Instead, the Vernon Panthers will have to play a sound game for 48 minutes as they host the fourth-ranked Mission Roadrunners in an opening round of 16 B.C. AA High School Senior Varsity Football playoff game at 6 p.m. at Greater Vernon Athletics Park.
“Mission is a perennial AA football powerhouse. They are always there at the end of the season (lost in the final last season) and are very well coached,” said Panthers head coach Sean Smith.
“From watching game film we know they are very physical, strong at the point of attack and will take advantage of us if we aren’t filling gaps and playing within our game plan.
“Defensively, they play very sound on the back end and will be very tough to pass on. We will have our hands full. Having said that, my boys are playing their best football of the year, and if we are on top of our game, we could upset them. Playing a top-ranked team like this will be a good test to see where this group fits in.”
The Roadrunners went 3-2 in the B.C. AA Eastern Conference, and are coming off a 19-0 loss to conference champion G.W. Graham Eagles of Chilliwack
The Panthers enter tonight’s game having blitzed the Fulton Maroons 52-0 for the team’s fourth city championship title in five years (didn’t have a senior team one year), and an unbeaten regular season in the Okanagan Conference (4-0). VSS senior teams have yet to lose a conference game in four straight years.
Vernon players dominated the conference awards, led by double winner Ben Hladik who was named most outstanding defensive player and most outstanding Grade 11 player.
“Ben has dedicated himself to being the best football player he can be,” said Smith. “He is not only a very big, strong presence on the field, but is also the smartest defensive end I’ve ever coached. He is great at anticipating and getting his hands up to deflect passes but can also stuff the run and shed blockers.”
Hladik was one of seven Panthers to pick up year-end hardware.
Running back Levi Nicholas – called “the most dynamic player in the league” by his head coach – was named the most outstanding offensive player. Zach Hyer was named all-star defensive back (No. 1-ranked). His brother, Josh, was the top-ranked all-star tight end. Justin Haverkamp was named all-star defensive back (No.2-ranked behind Zach Hyer). Tyler Riva was chosen all-star defensive end (No. 1-ranked) and Jessie Bielski was selected all-star offensive lineman (No.3-ranked).
“I am very proud of what these boys have accomplished as Panthers,” said Smith. “They have dedicated themselves in the weight room and did a lot of off-season training which had a huge effect on their performance on the field.
“I felt that we had some other players that were also deserving but couldn’t get everyone on the list. Hopefully they will be there next season.”
Proceeds from tonight’s 50/50 draw will be given to the family of former Panthers all-star Liam Wear, whose father, Neil, was recently diagnosed with cancer.
Neil Wear is a former Panthers coach and Vernon teacher who now lives at the coast.
“He is undergoing chemotherapy which will make it very difficult for him to work his construction job, putting huge financial strains on the family,” said Smith.
Liam Wear played four years with the Panthers.
Meanwhile, the Vernon Panthers’ junior varsity season ended Thursday morning in Kamloops.
The Duchess Park Condors of Prince George advanced to the B.C. quarterfinals with a 25-17 round-of-16 win over the Panthers.
Charles Lemay and Bradley Hladik had touchdowns for VSS while Dylan Huber added a field goal at Hillside Stadium.