Morning Star Staff
It started with a playoff loss in 2005.
Since that day Nanaimo’s John Barsby Bulldogs have owned the Vernon Panthers in high school football action.
Sean Smith’s Panthers, who have lost two provincial semifinals and a quarterfinal, along with an exhibition game at the new VSS field, rolled into rain-soaked Merle Logan Field Saturday and defeated the hometown Bulldogs 26-14.
The victory came 24 hours after the Junior Panthers downed Barsby 30-16, giving VSS a Nanaimo sweep.
“I’d much rather have won those playoff games, but anytime you can knock off those guys you have to feel good about yourselves,” said Smith.
The Nanaimo squad opened the scoring in the second quarter but failed to convert a two-point attempt. On the following drive, Grade 10 quarterback Thomas Hyett hit Ben Hladik on a 45- yard bomb to tie it up.
Kicker Perez Vermeulen put the extra point through to put the visitors up by one at the half.
The teams exchanged majors in the third quarter with tailback Riley Bos (21 carries for 77 yards, 2 TDs) plunging in from one-yard out to get the Panthers within one (14-13) at the end of the third stanza.
Reeling from injuries and fatigue midway through the fourth quarter, the Cats were needing a game-changing play. Enter Bradley Hladik.
The Grade 11 cornerback picked off an errant pass and returned it deep inside Bulldog territory to set up the go ahead five-yard touchdown by Bos.
Nursing a lead, the game fell on the offensive line to grind out yards and work the clock. Tailback Landon Colvin sealed the win with a toss play going 37 yards.
“I think they played a cleaner version of football than we did,” said Barsby coach Rob Stevenson. “In a big game, there’s four or five plays that define the outcome. Vernon, to their credit, made those plays and we did not and we have to gain some wisdom from this game and go back and get better this week.”
Kyle Gach and Dominic Bertrand scored rushing touchdowns for the Bulldogs. Matthew Cooley led the way defensively with six tackles and Colin Nutting had an interception.
“I am so proud of all of the boys that made this trip,” said Smith. “Barsby plays a very intimidating, physical style of football that can grind you down and spit you out. Our boys (both junior and senior) went toe-to-toe with them and came out on top.
“Sometimes you don’t know what make up your team will have until you play games like this. We came away banged up and bruised but now know what we are capable of. Our reserves did a great job for us on Saturday. We were losing guys left right and center, and the boys that stepped in allowed us to pull out the win.”
Hyett finished 7-of-9 for 107 yards, the one major and one interception.
Jesse Bielski led all VSS defenders with nine tackles, while Ben Hladik and Josh Hyer added eight each.
The job won’t get any easier for the Panthers when they host the recently turned AAA Abbotsford Panthers on Saturday (2 p.m.) at Greater Vernon Athletics Park.
“Abbotsford was the No. 1 ranked AA team last week until they found out their numbers are now at AAA levels so they were bumped up,” said Smith.
“They will give us a different kind of test than Barsby, so we’ve got our work cut out for us this week in practice.”