For the second time in three years, the Vernon Panthers will play for a provincial senior varsity football title.
The No. 1-ranked Panthers will face the Robert Bateman Timberwolves of Abbotsford in Saturday’s Subway Bowl B.C. High School Senior Varsity AA Football Championship at B.C. Place Stadium in Vancouver (4 p.m. live webcast @bchighschoolfootball.com).
Sean Smith’s Cats manhandled the John Barsby Bulldogs of Nanaimo 44-0 in one semifinal under the dome, while the T-Wolves dispatched the Holy Cross Crusaders of Surrey 49-0 in the other semi.
“This was a very convincing win for my boys,” said Smith, whose charges lost the 2016 final to the Seaquam Seahawks of South Delta. “I’ve been coaching for a while and it’s hands down the most complete game played by a team I’ve coached. They executed our game plan in all three phases of the game to almost perfection.”
B.C. AA MVP running back Charles Lemay started the first-half scoring parade with a 10-yard run to put the Cats up 7-0. Caden Danbrook then scored two majors within minutes to open the second quarter; the first an 11 yard reception at the goal line and the second a 57-yard catch-and-run from quarterback Thomas Hyett.
The game was sealed in the final minutes of the half when Liam Reid kicked a 25-yard field goal and Zack Smith intercepted an errant Cameron Wright pass, returning it deep into Barsby territory. Seconds later, Smith put the Panthers up by 31, catching an 11-yard touchdown pass in the dying moments of the half.
“Putting up 31 points in a half against a quality team that has been ranked No. 22 this year is a huge accomplishment,” said Coach Smith. “Shutting them out for an entire game when they averaged 35 points is unbelievable. We are firing on all cylinders right now and are ready for the next challenge. They are laser-focussed and are hungry to win a championship.”
The Panthers started the second half just as they left off the first. Lemay scored his second and third majors off a 10-yard run and a screen pass to complete the scoring. Matthew Reich led all Panthers for the second consecutive week racking up six solo tackles while Smith and Riley MacGillivray added two interceptions apiece.
The last time VSS took on Bateman was in a pre-season match in 2017 in the Fraser Valley. The Panthers won 42-7.
“Bateman is really coming on and have improved a ton this season,” said Smith. “They have won some big games and have a lot of momentum coming into the championship. They have a lethal passing game led by one of the province’s best quarterbacks and a couple of receivers that can go get it.
“We haven’t played a lot of good passing teams so this will be a test for our secondary, but if I know them well – they will be up for the challenge.”
One other Okanagan school will play for a provincial championship Saturday.
The Kelowna Owls will meet the Belmont Bulldogs of Victoria in the AAA Junior Varsity championship.
Smith’s Panthers won the AA JV title in 2017.