Morning Star Staff
A blocked extra point.
That proved to be the difference as the Langley Saints downed the Vernon Panthers 28-27 in B.C. Subway Bowl AA High School Senior Varsity quarterfinal football action Saturday at B.C. Place in Vancouver.
“It was a heartbreaking loss for my boys,” said Panthers head coach Sean Smith. “They played an outstanding game and went toe-to-toe with one of the best teams in the province. Unfortunately, we came up one point short.”
The Saints opened the scoring in the first quarter with a 24-yard run by tailback Azuka Okoli. A penalty on the ensuing extra point attempt moved the ball back to the 18-yard line putting the Saints out of kicking range. Instead, quarterback Wes Van Vliet hooked up with Max Joseph for a two-point convert in the corner of the end zone to make it 8-0.
The Cats responded in the second when quarterback Justin Haverkamp called his own number from the two-yard line to close within one.
Linebacker Tyler Semeniuk (10 tackles) intercepted an errant Van Vliet pass late in the half, but the Panthers couldn’t muster a first down and had to punt.
With under a minute to play, the Saints engineered a scoring drive that culminated in a pass from Van Vliet to Jayden Korfman with 14 seconds left to go up 15-7 at the break.
“Sometimes in the course of a game, you know there are things that will come back to bite you… not getting a first down to run out the first half is one of those,” said Smith.
Despite the setback, the Panthers came out of the break firing.
Ben Hladik hit Levi Nicholas on a 45-yard pitch pass to cut the lead, and tailback Jonah Anstey ran in the two-point convert to tie the score 15-15.
Zack Hyer (eight tackles) then recovered the ensuing kickoff and Haverkamp ran in his second of the day to put the Cats up by six.
“We stole the momentum in the third quarter and had them reeling a bit, scoring twice in a row,” said Smith. “We were finding a bit of rhythm on offence which helped a lot.”
To end the third, Van Vliet hooked up with Joseph on a 25-yard reception that allowed Langley to regain the lead, 22-21.
Haverkamp, under duress, then flipped the ball to a waiting Saints defender. Shortly after, Okoli ran in his second of the day and Langley went up 28-21.
With an injured Haverkamp on the sidelines, Nicholas took over play-calling duties and marched the Panthers the length of the field.
His one-yard run put the Cats within a convert of tying the game.
However, a missed assignment on the extra point led to a blocked kick putting the Panthers one point shy.
Nicholas got the ball back with under two minutes to play but couldn’t bring the Panthers within field goal range.
The Saints advance to this weekend’s semifinals, where they’ll face the Abbotsford Panthers, 50-36 quarterfinal winners over the defending champion John Barsby Bulldogs of Nanaimo.
“I would like to start off with saying thank you, thank you Vernon Panthers for a very memorable game,” said Langley head coach Ryk Piche. “You have a very good team and I look forward to meeting you again, I hope in the post-season of course.
“Vernon has some real ballers. The Panthers did a great job in disguising their coverages and playing on top of our receivers on defence. We as a staff in Langley knew that Vernon was going to try and take our passing game away from us, and they almost did. The game could have gone either way.”
Nicholas finished with 79 yards rushing on 11 carries, and ran another 50 yards on two catches. Anstey added 10 for 46 on the ground.
Defensively, Gabe Turner had eight tackles for the Panthers and Tyler Riva added seven.
The one-point loss will sting for some time for the Panthers, although a spot in the B.C. quarterfinals seemed a long shot at the outset of the year.
“I am so proud of the way this group gelled as the season progressed,” said Smith. “At the beginning of October, this team was not a legitimate contender, but everyone who stepped on the field in the last month was dialed in.
“I honestly believe that we could have competed with anyone in the province if we had advanced.”
Smith praised the leadership that his graduating seniors provided, giving special recognition to longtime Panthers Haverkamp (five years), Hyer (five years), Liam Boyd (four years), Nicholas (four years) and injured n Labrecque (three years).
“Our program has been successful due to the dedication and commitment that these seniors provided,” said Smith. “I can’t say enough good things about them as players and as men.”
The other AA semifinal features the Carson Graham Eagles of North Vancouver taking on the G.W. Graham Grizzlies of Chilliwack.
Carson Graham beat the Prince George Polars 34-20, and G.W. Graham knocked off the Holy Cross Crusaders of Surrey 33-27.