If there were any lingering doubts about who are the kings of football in the Interior, the Vernon Senior Panthers put them to rest with a dominant 54-14 victory over the South Kamloops Titans in the B.C. High School AA Senior Varsity quarterfinal Friday, Nov. 17.
The Panthers showcased their dominance from the opening play at the Greater Vernon Athletics Park, leaving no room for debate as they cruised to a convincing win.
The Panthers wasted no time making a statement, with quarterback Cole Budgen connecting with Tristan McKenzie on a 39-yard touchdown pass on their first offensive play from scrimmage. From there, the Panthers maintained the offensive onslaught , scoring on every possession in the first half and headed into halftime with a 41-0 lead.
Head coach Sean Smith praised Budgen’s exceptional performance.
“Cole had his best game as a Panther tonight. He made the right reads and was on fire in the short, intermediate, and long game,” Smith said.
Budgen’s efficiency was evident as he completed 17 of 20 passes for 342 yards and five touchdown passes.
The Panthers’ offense operated like a well-oiled machine, involving multiple players in both the passing and running game. Six different players caught the ball, four different players contributed to the rushing attack, and six different players found the end zone.
Liam Greenan made a notable impact in his first rushing appearance of the season, leading the Cats with 50 yards on seven carries. Anderson Bicknell emerged as a key target for Budgen, finishing with six catches for 124 yards, including two impressive touchdown receptions of 43 and 54 yards.
Defensively, the Panthers were equally formidable, stifling the Titans’ offence throughout the game. The Titans struggled to reach the red zone until the fourth quarter when the game was already out of reach.
Smith commended defensive coordinator Connor Rothwell for an excellent game plan.
“This was definitely the most complete game for our defense and Connor had them in the right spots and flying around all game.”
Bicknell also showcased his defensive prowess, leading the Panthers with four tackles, while Aiden Engleman contributed 2.5 tackles. Austin Dunnill and Aiden Stringer added interceptions.
Despite the victory, Smith identified areas for improvement, highlighting concerns with the kick-off coverage team and extra-point execution.
Smith said addressing these issues will be crucial as the Panthers advance to the provincial semifinals at BC Place Stadium, where they will face either the Nechako Vikings of Vanderhoof or Westsyde Whundas of Kamloops on Nov. 25 at 11 a.m.
“I’m really proud of how my boys executed our game plan tonight,” Smith said. “Rothwell and Angus Reid (run game coordinator) had great game plans, and they were able to execute them to almost perfection. However, the road only gets tougher each week we advance.”