The Battle of Vernon lived up to its name.
And when the game was over on a cool, brisk November Wednesday evening at Greater Vernon Athletic Park, the Vernon Panthers and Fulton Maroons had left everything on the playing field.
The Panthers defeated their crosstown rivals 22-14 to advance to the post-season in the Okanagan AA/AAA Junior Varsity High School Football League playoffs, and eliminate the Maroons.
“It was a hard fought game but our boys stuck in there and showed great character tonight,” said Panthers head coach Brett Fitzpatrick. “We are playing great football at the right time. I’m so proud of our team for an undefeated season in our AA division, it is well deserved.”
The game started with a lengthy drive by the Maroons, who used the ground game to subdue VSS, but Fulton could not finish the drive, turning the ball over on downs deep in Vernon territory.
The Panthers responded with a long touchdown pass by quarterback Cole Budgen to Anderson Bicknell, with the extra point by Liam Greenan. VSS defence played well holding off a strong running attack by Fulton.
In the second quarter, the Maroons pulled even on a 16-yard run by Kolby Robinson to make it 7-7 at the break.
In the second half the Panthers drove the field with a masterful drive capping off with a TD pass by Budgen to Cisko Hove. The extra point with a kick came from Greenan. In the fourth quarter the Panthers solidified the win with a 36-yard TD pass from Budgen to Austin Dunnill. A two-point conversion by Ayden Mcdonald made it 22-7 Cats.
Robinson added a late two-yard rush for a major to make the final 22-14.
“That was a well played JV football game,” said Fulton head coach Mike Scheller. “Both teams played tough in my opinion, and it was close the entire game. It was exciting to watch. The difference in the game was VSS made fewer mistakes than we did. We missed a couple of coverages and it cost us on TD passes…In the end, Vernon played better and were deserving of the victory. Good luck to them in the playoffs.”
The Maroons were able to keep VSS runningback Ayden Mcdonald out of the end zone. The Grade 8 runner had 10 touchdowns in the prior two league contests. He finished the night with 163 yards on 30 carries.
Budgen was five-for-nine for 84 yards and three touchdowns.
Defensively for VSS, Owen Carpenter was a monster, recording nine tackles while Bicknell, Mark Johnson and Jace Collard had five each.
For Fulton, Robinson was a yard shy of 100 on the night, finishing with 99 yards on 22 carries. Leon Defauw added 20 yards and QB Brad Scabar chipped in 14 yards with his legs to go along with 65 passing yards with his right arm.
Brett O’Dwyer was all over the field defensively in his last JV game for the Maroons, finishing with nine tackles. Defauw had eight while Reid Williamson, Mason Mackaskill and Owen Omeasoo had six each.
Nic Newman and Palmer Taylor each sacked Budgen once.
“Our coaching staff was super happy with the way our kids responded in what was essentially a playoff game,” said Scheller. “We came out and played our best game of the season. We did not make a lot of mental errors, did not turn the ball over and really played good football. I’m proud of the way our kids fought against a good VSS team.”
VSS will now host the Westsyde Blue Wave of Kamloops in Round 1 of the playoffs Wednesday, Nov. 17, at GVAP at 2 p.m. The teams met three weeks ago in Kamloops and combined for 108 points in a 57-51 VSS win, with Mcdonald scoring six touchdowns.
• The Panthers’ junior and senior varsity teams will hold a Tackle Hunger Food Drive at their upcoming home playoff dates. Fans are asked to bring a non-perishable food item which the teams will donate to the Vernon Food Bank. The senior Panthers host Prince George Saturday, Nov. 13 at 1 p.m., and the Junior Cats take on the Westsyde Blue Wave of Kamloops Wednesday, Nov. 17 at 2 p.m. Both games are at GVAP.