The Vernon (VSS) Panthers were not only concerned about prepping for a team that had won three consecutive provincial championships, but they also had to take a crash course in Canadian football rules.
Vernon rode a bus for eight hours Friday and then grounded the perennial Alberta powerhouse Foothills Composite Falcons 27-0 fans before 1,100 fans in Okotoks. The Falcons are 3-2 and ranked second in the Alberta Tier 2 poll.
Vernon came out firing, scoring on their first two drives to take an early 14-0 first-quarter lead. Quarterback Thomas Hyett hit Zack Smith on the first drive on a 37-yard bomb to put the Cats on the board.
Following a defensive stop, tailback Charles Lemay put VSS up by 14 a few plays later on an 18-yard scamper.
“I was worried that we’d come out slow after the long trip, but we were on fire to start the game,” said Panther head coach Sean Smith. “We were able to have a balanced attack all game long and were able to run the ball on first down which is huge when you only get three downs. Our O-line controlled the line of scrimmage from the first play of the game and it opened up our passing attack.”
Lemay led the ground game with 139 yards on 18 carries to go along with his touchdown run. Hyett took advantage of the extra player on the field and hit four different receivers. He finished 13-of-23 for 183 yards and one touchdown. Five of the receptions went to slotback Caden Danbrook who followed up his outstanding performance from a week ago with 64 receiving yards.
However, quarterback – turned receiver Zack Smith put on an MVP performance with a great two-way game. He hauled in six receptions for 100 yards. On the other side of the ball, Smith recorded five tackles and two interceptions, including a game-sealing 50-yard, pick-six late in the third quarter to put the game out of reach.
Defensively, the Panthers weren’t fazed by the bigger field or multiple motions that the Canadian game brings, holding the Falcons off the scoreboard. Liam Alder led the Panthers with seven tackles.
“Our defence was outstanding. Coach (Ray) Wladichuk (an SFU and Hamilton Tiger-Cat alumni) was our CFL rules guru and did a great job prepping our boys for what they were going to see. We were able to hold them to a couple of short completions in the passing game all day which was key. I thought Drew Mackenzie was outstanding and made a couple of highlight-reel tackles. Zack was able to get a couple of picks which made their QB a bit nervous in the pocket.”
“This was a great experience for our boys,” said Smith. “While it took a lot of preparation and time to put in our game plan, I think it will prove valuable down the road if we have to install a lot of new concepts in a short time frame for playoff games,” added Smith.
The Panthers were guests of the University of Calgary Dinos Saturday afternoon at McMahon Stadium for the Canada West regular-season contest between two U Sports Top Ten teams.
What was extremely gratifying for the Panther players was they got a chance not only see a quality post-secondary football game but see a pair of alums of the VSS program contribute to the Dinos 33-13 win over the University of Saskatchewan Huskies.
Josh Hyer has been a starter on the defensive line all season for the No. 3 Dinos. The 6-foot-3, 235-pounder red-shirted last season and has been a mainstay this season. Due to injuries, Hyer has moved inside from his normal outside defensive end spot to nose guard and has not missed a beat despite being lined up against older and heavier opponents.
Carson Labrecque saw his first regular season action for the Dinos Saturday. Labrecque missed the past three seasons due to a severe knee injury suffered in May 2015 prior to his senior season at VSS. It was an emotional afternoon for the VSS grad who worked extremely hard and underwent two operations. Carson saw action on most special teams and was a long snapper for Nico Difonte kicks.
“Carson has worked so hard to get to this level after his injuries, he earned a spot to dress due to his hard work that has gained the respect of everyone,” stated Dinos’ Defensive Coordinator Matt Berry.
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