The Vernon Panthers aim to win a B.C. Junior Varsity Football League title before moving to the senior ranks next season.
Sean Smith’s Cats (6-0) go up against the Ballenas Whalers of Parksville (4-1) in the Subway Bowl final Saturday, 11 a.m., at B.C. Place.
“Ballenas is a very well coached team that has been one of the best AA programs for a while,” said Smith. “I believe their strength is their o-line and their offensive execution. They have lots of formations, plays and counters to those plays that makes it hard to nail down tendencies when we game plan defensively. They are much bigger than us and have good offensive balance in terms of run/pass – but I’d say they are a power team. They are going to run it at us until we stop it, so we are going to see if we can step it up.”
The Whalers get prime-time offence from running back Steve Boley, who ran for more than 250 yards and supplied three touchdowns in a 50-0 quarterfinal win over the Samuel Robertson Titans. Ballenas bounced the Langley Saints 18-15 in the semifinals.
Smith says the Panthers have multiple leaders who make a difference with action rather than words. The entire group has dedicated themselves to training to get better, more than any other jayvee team Smith has coached. Vernon iced the Abbotsford Panthers 3-0 in their semifinal.
“They also have absorbed a lot and are able to run the same offence and defences that our senior team runs. They have committed themselves during film study and practice sessions to learn the game and our offensive system so we have a lot of smart football players on the field. Our strength is definitely our speed and ability to pass the ball. We have a lot of receivers that can run and get open along with a quarterback that can get them the ball and scramble if required.
“We have a pretty dynamic and explosive offense for the jayvee level and it’s far and away the best passing attack that I’ve coached in jayvee. They have taken it to the next level where they not only run plays but they can adjust on the fly based on what they see from the defence. This makes them very hard to defend.”
Zack Smith of the Panthers is the No. rated quarterback in the province with a 70.7 passing percentage. He has tossed for 926 yards and 15 touchdowns.
Caden Danbrook of VSS is the top receiver in B.C. with 16 receptions for 331 yards and five TDs. Ethan Mitchell is third with 11 catches for 235 yards and four touchdowns, while Kevin Morgan is fifth with 15 receptions for 200 yards and three TDs.
Matthew Reich racked up 352 rushing yards and six scores, eighth best in the province.
The Panthers have blown out a lot of teams but never celebrated too hard: it’s just business as usual.
“Last week Liam Reid hit the game-winning field goal in the semifinal game with under two minutes to go,” said Smith. “He reacted by picking up his tee and got ready to do the kick off. Most of the other boys on the field did the same. They are a Grade 10-heavy group and so a lot of them will be moving up to senior – with many of them participating in the senior semifinal game last Saturday.”