Vernon Panthers’ safety Keegan Vicklund (left) brings down Ballenas Whalers’ receiver Brendan Harstad during the B.C. AA Junior Varsity Football semifinal Wednesday at Burnaby Lakes Sports Complex. The Whalers defeated the Panthers 34-20 to advance to the provincial final.

Vernon Panthers’ safety Keegan Vicklund (left) brings down Ballenas Whalers’ receiver Brendan Harstad during the B.C. AA Junior Varsity Football semifinal Wednesday at Burnaby Lakes Sports Complex. The Whalers defeated the Panthers 34-20 to advance to the provincial final.

Whalers halt VSS in B.C. semis

Vernon Panthers fall to Ballenas Whalers of Parksville in B.C. Junior Varsity Football League semifinals Wednesday in Burnaby.

They made it to the provincial final-four before running into the big and burly Ballenas Whalers Wednesday afternoon at Burnaby Lakes Sports Complex.

The VSS Panthers worked the Parksville school hard before falling 34-20 in the B.C. Junior Varsity Football League semifinal playoff under sunny skies.

“We gave everything we had,” said Panther head coach Dave Tetrault. “The boys left it all on the field. We lost to a very good Ballenas squad. I could not be prouder of the effort our kids gave. Both coach Ed Huber and I let the team know what a great season we had. They are an awesome group of young men.”

Vernon opened the scoring in the first quarter on a five-yard plunge by Justin Haverkamp. Ballenas answered using ball-control offence to level the score, and went ahead early in the second quarter.

The Whalers extended the lead to 20-6 early in the third before the Cats responded with a gutsy drive, finished by a Haverkamp sweep for a touchdown, followed by a Ben Hladik run for the conversion, making it 20-14.

“Our kids just would not quit,” added Tetrault. “Ballenas was bigger and wore us down. It was a battle to the end.”

Ballenas scored quickly on a pass to go in front 26-14 before the Panthers struck with Hladik, at tight end, throwing a pitch pass 50 yards to a streaking Zack Hyer, who stretched out to give VSS a first-down at the five. Four plays later, fullback Carson Lebrecque plunged in from the one, pulling the Cats within six.

“We gave ourselves a chance. Unfortunately, we had them in fourth down twice in the last drive but could not stop them.”

The Whalers scored an insurance TD with five minutes remaining. Tailback Matt Price, who rung up four touchdowns in the Whalers’ 41-12 quarterfinal win over the Seaquam Seahawks of Delta, was a major force versus VSS.

“Our veteran guys, Jesse Bielski, Tyler Semeniuk and Liam Boyd played like warriors today,” said Tetrault. “Justin Haverkamp showed great leadership playing with a fractured bone in his hand. Our whole coaching staff looks forward to working with this group again next year.”