The VSS Panthers go into the provincial senior AA football playoffs Friday night undefeated and ready for yet another road game.
VSS closed out the Interior Conference regular season by taking down the Fulton Maroons 17-8 in a rain-drenched city championship tilt Saturday at Grahame Park.
Because Vernon does not have an artificial turf field in place yet (required for playoffs), the Panthers (8-0 overall) travel to host the Seaquam Seahawks (No. 4 South Seed) of Delta at Hillside Stadium in Kamloops (7:30 p.m. kickoff).
“We’ve had to host playoff games in Kamloops for years so it’s nothing new,” said Cats’ head coach Sean Smith. “Playing in Vernon would be a huge advantage, but we’ve been without a home field (due to new school construction) for three-plus years so the boys have become accustomed to being road warriors. We’ve been able to have some success against coast teams off the past two years, so we’ll give it our best shot.”
Fulton drove 50 yards, capped by a Tye Kitzman touchdown pass to Davron Polok A successful two-point convert put the Maroons up 8-0 early.
Panther signal caller John Garvie engineered a touchdown drive of his own, finding receiver Ty Thomas on a 20-yard pass. The extra point got the Panthers within one to end the quarter.
The second quarter saw a number of possession changes, with a field goal by Cat kicker Zac Kronbauer being the only score.
“We got off to a slow start,” said Smith. “The Fulton coaching staff had their boys ready to play and we came out flat and didn’t play assignment football. We made a couple of crucial coverage errors on the first drive that we, thankfully, cleaned up for the rest of the game.”
Garvie’s arm struck again in the third quarter, hitting Andy Hladik on a deep corner route to put the Cats up by nine. Despite numerous red-zone chances, VSS couldn’t score in the fourth quarter.
“We controlled the ball in the second half, but couldn’t punch it in despite numerous chances,” said Smith. “Our defence did a fantastic job picking them off three times and recovering two fumbles. We won the turnover battle which was a huge difference maker.”
Grade 10 cornerback Zach Hyer continued to impress on the outside, registering two interceptions, and was in position to make a third. Linebacker Josh Froom led all Panther tacklers with eight while Grade 10 Linebacker Justin Haverkamp added six and Braydon Lodder and Hladik four each. Chase Larsen and Hyer each scooped one fumble recovery.
Garvie was 6-for-9 passing for 77 yards, while Hladik recorded two catches for 35 yards. Karson Patommel rushed 16 times for 79 yards, while Kronbauer had 16 touches for 63 yards
“Congratulations to VSS on their undefeated season and their second city championship in three years,” said Fulton head coach Mike Scheller. “They have proven themselves the class of the city and they are solid in all three phases of the game. Their coaching staff has done a great job.”
Scheller felt the 3-3-2 Maroons were close to their best Saturday.
“Our kids played tough and competed all game, and I think we did a good job of executing our game plan. In the end, VSS made the plays when they had to, and we did not. If a ball was 50/50, they won it. Tipped passes went their way, and their playmakers made plays when they had too.”
Scheller praised middle linebacker Trevor Feeney for being an “absolute warrior” and also gave props to defensive end Carson Deboer, Kitzman, who also played safety, Polok and receiver Max Chapman.
“Our o-line has been undersized all year, but Brett Shaigec, Deboer, Lucky Banga, Romello Coufal and Trent Smith all blocked their hearts out today.”