The defending champs are back in the big game under the dome.
The Vernon Panthers will play for a second straight B.C. High School Senior Varsity AA Football Subway Bowl championship Saturday, Nov. 30, against the Langley Saints at B.C. Place Stadium in Vancouver (Kickoff is 4 p.m.).
The No. 1 ranked Panthers dismantled the Ballenas Whalers of Parksville 37-0 in semifinal play under the dome Saturday in a game that was scoreless late in the first half.
“I told the boys that if we could stop their run game, we would win,” said Vernon head coach Sean Smith. “Our defence stepped up big time and shut them down on the ground which took them out of their comfort zone throughout the game. We picked off three passes (Zack Smith 2, John Bielski 1) and that got them a bit gun-shy to throw it. Once we got a lead, it made it very hard for them to come back. Our scout team and assistant coaches did an outstanding job prepping our starters all week and it showed.”
Vernon got two touchdowns in the final two minutes of the opening half. B.C. AA Player of the Year, Vernon quarterback Zack Smith, hit Bielski with a 17-yard pass to open the scoring. On defence, Smith picked off a Parksville pass and returned it to the Whalers’ five-yard line, where he then threw a score in the dying seconds to tight end Will Satterthwaite. Smith added the two-point convert giving the Cats a 14-0 lead at the intermission.
It was all Vernon in the second half. Caden Danbrook scored on a pair of two-yard runs, the defence forced Parksville into taking a two-point safety and Liam Reid added a two-yard fumble return on defence. Reid also booted three converts and had a monster game on defence with seven tackles and the TD.
“Ballenas played us very tough defensively,” said Smith. “They were great in coverage early on and we kept getting in passing situations because of penalties. We got 14 points in the last two minutes of the first half which really set us up well for the second half. I really liked that we had a lot of different contributors on offense that all took turns making plays. Caden Danbrook, John Bielski, Ethan Greenan and Will Satterthwaite all caught passes and shared the load. It was great to see Will make a great TD catch.”
The Saints held on in nail-biting fashion to eliminate the G.W. Graham Grizzlies of Chilliwack 33-32 in the other semifinal. The Grizzlies fumbled the ball on the Saints’ five-yard line with seven seconds remaining.
Langley will pose a challenge to the defending champs in the B.C. final.
“Langley is a massive team,” said coach Smith. “I think their O-line is bigger than most university rosters. They are a run first, second and third team that has huge bodies that move people. In four-down football, their mash makes it very difficult to make tackles and hold them to three yards or less per play.
“They have a very talented back that led the league in rushing yards and TDs. It’s going to be a physical game. If we can withstand that, we have a chance. We’re going to have to use our speed and score a lot of points on offence to be successful. I have confidence in these boys. They have proven time and time again that they are competitors no matter how big the opponent or how big the stage has been.”
The Panthers – who are ranked No. 2 in Canada behind the Holy Trinity Academy Knights of Okotoks, Alta. in canadafootballchat.com’s ranking of small schools – have not lost to a AA opponent since falling in the provincial semifinal in 2017 in the last minute to the Abbotsford Panthers.
* The Windsor Dukes of North Vancouver will play Ballenas in the B.C. Junior Varsity final Saturday at 9:30 a.m.
The Dukes, who eliminated the undefeated Vernon Panthers in quarterfinal play, advanced to the championship with a 50-34 win over G.W. Graham while Ballenas eliminated the Interior Conference’s second-seeded team, the South Kamloops Titans, 42-6.