Once they shook off the bus legs, there was no slowing down the Vernon Panthers.
Sean Smith’s senior varsity Cats went to Prince George Saturday, Nov. 20, and dismantled the Northern Conference’s top seed, the Duchess Park Condors, 31-7 in high school football playoff action.
Vernon spotted the hometown Condors a 7-0 lead on the second drive of the game before the Cats’ ‘bend-but-don’t-break’ defence took over, shutting down Duchess Park the rest of the way.
“Duchess had some early success running against us. “Number 7 (Matyas Mocilac) was a load and it took a while for our guys to realize they couldn’t arm tackle him,” said Smith. “They dictated the game early and forced us to put more guys in the box than we normally would.”
Braden Khunkhun got the Panthers to within a point with a two-yard plunge but the extra point was missed, keeping the Condors in the lead.
Converted receiver Joe Murphy is finding his stride as the Panthers’ lead running back. His 19-yard run put Vernon up by five at 12-7, and the two-point conversion from Farrell to Roan Reid made it 14-7, the score at the intermission. Murphy ran 20 times for 129 yards and two touchdowns.
The Panthers busted the game open in the second half capitalizing on some Duchess miscues. Reid (two catches for 42 yards – 1 TD) put the Panthers up by 14 on an 18-yard pass from quarterback Jake Farrell. In the fourth, Mitchell Bond hit a field goal and Farrell ran in his second of the day to put the game out of reach.
“We continue to make a lot of mistakes that is getting in the way of us running efficient offence,” said Smith. “The good news is that despite it being late November, we still have a lot of room to grow as a team. We got really thin at a number of positions due to injuries. However, I thought that we didn’t drop our level of play. Guys like Justin Ruscheinsky and Jordan Loxam stepped in and did a great job.”
Reid led all tacklers with 10.5 to go along with an interception while Interior Defensive Player of the Year Grayson Statham contributed six.
With the victory, the Panthers would have advanced to what would normally be the provincial semifinals for the fifth straight season. Vernon’s playoff situation, said Smith, is in flux due to the recent B.C. School Sports ruling Wednesday, Nov. 17, that all remaining teams in all levels of competition (AAA, AA, Junior Varsity) would be playing their own regional playoffs because of the severe flooding and landslides that, at the time of the decision, had closed all the major highway routes to Vancouver.
“We are evaluating our options as a program right now and are hoping that BCSS rethinks their structure and allows us to participate in the dome (B.C. Place) like all of the rest of the regional championship participants,” said Smith.
BCSS suggested the Interior/North final would be the winner of Vernon-Duchess Park taking on the winner of the AAA final between the Kelowna Owls-South Kamloops Titans at a location to be determined.
PANTHERS STATS VS DUCHESS PARK
Jake Farrell – 11 of 17 for 101 yardds – 1 TD
Roan Reid – 2 for 42 – 1 TD
Kolby Thorpe – 3 for 31 yds
Joe Murphy – 20 for 129 – 1 TD
Farrell – 8 for 38yds –
Braden Khunkhun – 1 for 2 yards, 1 TD