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Vernon Panthers lose by single point in Junior Varsity Football Championship

The Panthers lost 13-12 to the Windsor Dukes
Vernon Panthers captains Jeff Curtis (from left), Ayden McDonald, Anderson Bicknell, Cole Budgen, Owen Carpenter and Ryden Furmanek receive their runner-up plaque and medals after dropping the B.C. AA Junior Varsity Football Game in heart-wrenching fashion, 13-12, to North Vancouver’s Windsor Dukes. (Darren Hove photo)

One yard.

One longest yard.

The Longest Yard is the name of a twice-made movie about football, but for the Vernon Panthers, there was no Hollywood ending to their football season Saturday.

North Vancouver’s Windsor Dukes stopped the Panthers four times from inside the Windsor five-yard-line –including three three times from the one-yard-line – in the dying minutes Saturday, Dec. 3, at B.C. Place in Vancouver, to hold on for a 13-12 win in the B.C. AA Junior Varsity Football Championship.

“It was a very hard fought game,” said Panthers head coach Brett Fitzpatrick. “We consistently moved the ball on offence through out the entire game but unfortunately we had trouble punching it in when we got inside the red zone. Defensively we executed well and held a good team to a mere 13 points. Defensive coordinator Andy Shaw did a great job preparing the boys.”

VSS began what looked like a provincial-winning drive on its own 38-yard line in the last four minutes of the game Saturday, and had the ball first and goal at the Dukes’ five-yard-line with 2:30 to go.

Running back Ayden McDonald was given the ball by Panthers quarterback Cole Budgen and he got to the one-yard-line before being stopped by the Windsor defence.

On second down, Budgen flipped the ball to Jonah Lee on a sweep but he was stopped short of the end zone.

Budgen called his own number on third down, trying a quarterback sneak up the middle, only to be smothered by white-and-grey-clad players.

VSS called a timeout to discuss the situation with 1:45 left in the game. The ball was given on fourth down to Lee, who was stopped short of the goal line by Windsor linebacker Sam Klaus before a handful of Dukes teammates joined the fray, bringing down Lee and, with it, the Panthers hopes of a B.C. title.

Dukes quarterback Emmet Ward engineered a first-down run, allowing Windsor to run out the clock.

Asked if he considered kicking a field goal on fourth down, Fitzpatrick said no, as a prior blocked convert in the game played a role in that decision.

“I don’t question my call,” he said. “What happened earlier in the game influenced my decision and after watching the game I would call it the same.

“I had the upmost confidence in our team that we would be able to punch it in from the one-yard line as we were moving the ball well all game and all season long we’ve had success as well. Unfortunately that ended up not being the case but the team gave it all they had and we believe we were victorious.”

The Panthers opened the scoring when Budgen capped off the team’s opening drive of the game with a QB sneak. Kicker Keltyn McAreavy’s point after attempt was blocked by the Dukes’ Zeke Jackson, making it 6-0 Vernon.

Windsor tied the game on a two-yard run by Samson Sachter with 1:11 left in the half. The Dukes’ convert attempt was blocked by the Panthers’ defence, leaving the score 6-6 at the intermission.

Like they did in the opening quarter the Panthers took the ball on their first drive of the second half and marched it into the Windsor end zone, courtesy of McDonald, who scampered in from five yards out with 5:05 left in the third quarter. McDonald was named the game’s top back.

Vernon tried a two-point convert but could not get the ball over the goal line, making the score 12-6 VSS.

With 56 seconds left in the third quarter, Ward hit receiver Alex Benoit Van Iperen with a 29-yard pass in the end zone, tying the game 12-12. Ward then booted the single-point convert, the difference in the game.

There was no scoring in the final quarter, setting the stage for the Dukes’ dramatic goal-line stand.

“We all worked very hard this year to get to the championship game so it was a heart-breaking loss to say the least, especially after not being able to go last year due to the mud slide,” said Fitzpatrick. “One of hardest parts of all this for me personally is the fact this was my last year coaching a special group of boys whom I’ve coached for the past five years up from VDMFA Pee Wee (minor football). They will be moving up to senior varsity next year, so it was very emotional end for me.”

Those players included Cian Fitzpatrick, Budgen, Anderson Bicknell, McDonald, Owen Carpenter, Torval Marchand, Ryden Furmanek, Taylor Swanson, Seth Holte, Chris Curtis and Dom Zaino.

The Panthers’ team bus was greeted late Saturday evening at Vernon Secondary School by family and members of the Senior Varsity Panthers, who lost the provincial semifinal last week to the John Barsby Bulldogs of Nanaimo.

“Every player on our team played their hearts out,” said coach Fitzpatrick. “We had an incredible and successful season and I’m very proud of each and everyone one of our VSS Junior Panthers.”

The Bulldogs lost the B.C. AA senior varsity final, 45-14, to the Robert Bateman Timberwolves of Abbotsford.

This story was updated Monday, Dec. 5, at 11:08 a.m. with comments from coach Fitzpatrick


The Vernon Panthers lost a nail-biter in the B.C. AA Junior Varsity Football Championship game at B.C. Place in Vancouver Saturday, Dec. 3.

The Panthers lost 13-12 to the Windsor Dukes of North Vancouver in a game that started early Saturday, at 9:30 a.m.

The score was 6-6 at halftime. Late in the fourth quarter, Windsor came up with a huge goal line stop to win the game and be crowned Junior AA champs.

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Brendan Shykora
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Vernon Panthers running back Ayden McDonald (left) was named the Most Outstanding Back in the 2022 B.C. AA Junior Varsity Football Championship Saturday, Dec. 3, at B.C. Place. The Panthers lost a heartbreaking 13-12 decision to the Windsor Dukes of North Vancouver. (Darren Hove Photo

Brendan Shykora

About the Author: Brendan Shykora

I started as a carrier at the age of 8. In 2019 graduated from the Master of Journalism program at Carleton University.
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