Morning Star Staff
The Vernon Panthers won their third straight Interior Varsity AA Football League title Saturday afternoon by stuffing the South Kamloops Titans 21-7 at Panther Field.
Offensive weapon Levi Nicholas put on an MVP-like performance on both sides of the ball, rushing for 185 yards with three TDs. He also had two interceptions.
“Big-time players make big-time plays in big-time games,” said Panther head coach Sean Smith. “Levi was that big- time player for us today in a game with the title on the line.”
The Panthers scored on their first two drives against the previously unbeaten Titans following a three and out and a fumbled punt return by South Kam.
Nicholas scored on rushes of four and 31 yards.
“We started out with a bang and got up on them early which proved to be very important down the stretch,” added Smith. “The conditions at Panther Field were not great for passing (thick mud and water) which made it difficult to move the ball when they brought more guys in the box.
“Hats off to South Kam. They buckled down and outplayed us for a good portion of the game and battled us hard.”
The Panther defence was stout all game holding the Titans to one completion (which resulted in a touchdown).
Defensive MVP Ben Hladik, once again, led all VSS tacklers with six to go along with two sacks. Fellow defensive end Josh Hyer contributed four tackles and one sack, while tackle Tyler Riva also chipped in with four tackles.
“We are starting to play as a unit defensively. I thought we had a great game plan coming in and the boys executed it to perfection. We had contributions from every position on defence at key moments that prevented them from scoring (despite playing a lot of the game inside our red zone.”
The Titans got on the board midway through the third quarter when quarterback Ben McDonald hit former Vernonite Trey Isaac to close the gap to 14-7. Isaac is 11th in the province with eight receptions for 174 yards and five touchdowns.
With time expiring, South Kam threatened to score once again, but key defensive plays by defensve backs Liam Boyd and Zach Hyer shut them down.
That’s when Nicholas sealed the deal with an 80-yard scamper.
“This was a great win for our program and for our grade 12s, in particular. They played up as Grade 10s and have not lost a league game in three years. We’ve struggled this year with execution and injuries – so it was nice to put together a good team win.”
The Panthers close the regular season against the 0-3 Fulton Maroons Friday night (6 p.m.) at the Greater Vernon Athletics Park before hosting the third seed from the Fraser Valley in the opening round of the playoffs.