VANCOUVER — On a night when they turned in the most dominant championship game performance in recorded B.C. high school football history with a 45-0 Subway Bowl Triple A finals win over Surrey’s Lord Tweedsmuir Panthers, Vancouver College head coach Todd Bernett was asked a simple question:
Did he consider the 2019 Irish, who went 12-1 this season with seven shutouts, and finished the season on a nine-game win streak in which it outscored its opponents 350-21, one of the greatest teams in provincial high school football history?
“There is no reason to say they aren’t,” began Bernett, who won his second Subway Bowl title at Vancouver College since becoming head coach in 2002.
“I have a lot of respect for a lot of those teams that often come up in the conversation, some of whom have beaten us. It would be a wonderful match-up to watch some of those games.”
The B.C. high school football championships have been contested since 1934, but scores of final games have only been preserved by the BCSSFA since 1966.
Over the 52 seasons prior to Saturday, the greatest winning margin was 42 points in 1972 when Notre Dame beat Handsworth 42-0.
Since then the two greatest margins of victory were 40 points by Terry Fox in a 56-16 win over W.J. Mouat in 2008 (equalling Notre Dame’s 46-6 win over Britannia in 1970), and 37 points by Mt. Douglas in its 51-14 win over Bernett’s Irish back in 2012.
Of course basing anything on the final margin of victory in a championship game is not any kind of iron-clad arbiter, yet even a cursory glance over its body of work in 2019 makes it impossible not to at least put the 2019 Vancouver College Fighting Irish in any conversation on the topic.
A few weeks back, when receiver Jason Soriano was named the B.C. AAA Player of the Year despite lacking a statistical CV which leapt off of the page and punched you in the face, Bernett made the point that the rare beauty of his senior was that he just did what was needed, anytime it was needed.
“There are guys who have more receptions, but we haven’t needed him to make six, seven, 10 a game,” Bernett said then. “We have only needed one or two.”
On Saturday, Soriano only made four, but three of them went for touchdowns, and when you add another along the ground, and then another via the free safety’s second-half pick-six, you get a series of heroic actions which form a sort of poetic farewell from one of the most prime-time players in recent memory.
“I think it verifies that there’s no question that maybe we are talking about an all-time team, but maybe we’re (also) talking about an all-time player,” said Bernett of the 5-foot-10 Soriano, who caught a 52-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Alex Nyvlt to open the scoring, splitting a pair of Lord Tweedsmuir defenders and not only squeezing the ball, but carrying his tacklers with him into the end zone.
“It felt like now was the time,” Bernett continued. “There was nothing to hold back, so why not? Early on, we had a lot of plans to target him on different looks and there were a few things we hadn’t shown that we had been saving.”
Win like the Irish have been winning of late, and you’ve got a chance to keep a few nuggets in your pocket.
On Vancouver College’s next score, Soriano lined up in the backfield and with 6:16 left in the opening quarter, ran through a massive hole in the Tweedsmuir defence on his way to a 45-yard touchdown and a 13-0 lead.
The Panthers, who had beaten Vancouver College in the 2017 B.C. junior AAA final, struggled through all phases early.
They gave up a safety to trail 15-0 after a high snap forced the punter into his end zone.
Then, early in the second quarter, Nyvlt hooked up with Soriano on a 47-yard pass-and-run for a 22-0 lead.
Defensive back Keijaun Johnson picked off the Panthers and returned it 24 yards for a score and a 29-0 lead 3:58 before the half.
Then, with just 39 seconds left in the first half, Nyvlt hit Soriano in perfect stride just as he crossed the goal-line for what was a 42-yard touchdown pass and a 36-0 halftime lead.
Soriano did not even play on offence in the second half, but in keeping with Bernett’s earlier comments, he didn’t have to.
Then, however, he scored his fifth-and-final touchdown of the day as a free safety, picking off a pass and returning it 25 yards for a 43-0 lead.
It was the only touchdown of the second half. The Irish tacked on two more points off a late safety to make the 45-0.
“This is unreal, all the work we have put in since Grade 8, it’s just all come out tonight,” said Soriano, who likely has a few days grace before suiting up for an Irish senior varsity basketball team which is among the favourites to contend for the B.C. Quad-A crown. “I’m speechless and so proud of these boys. And to do it in my last game?”
Interestingly enough, the humble Soriano offered a point of view which conflicted with his head coach when asked if there was a concerted effort to get him the ball.
That wasn’t really the plan,” said Soriano, who had four receptions for 156 yards and three scores. “We saw what coverage they were in, we saw that they didn’t really have safety help (over the top) and we just took advantage of that.”
How efficient was the always-efficient Soriano?
Consider first that he also carried once for 45 yards and a score, and had that 25-yard pick six.
All of that means he touched the ball just six times in the game, yet the net result was 226 all-purpose yards and five touchdowns.
His least productive touch was a 15-yard reception.
How about that?
For a guy who averaged under 100 yards passing per game during the regular season, he was Joe Montana-like at times, slinging with confidence, precision and extreme touch in going 9-of-11 for 194 yards and three scores.
“He has put in a lot of work in the classroom, learning the system and he played the best game of his career tonight,” said Bernett.
The Irish defence was led by the 10 tackles of Jackson Findlay, as well as seven from Simon Smith and six from Josh Hsiung, the latter also collecting two of the team’s five sacks.
And then there was Bernett, who got the traditional icy sideline shower right on time, a fine way to conclude his 19th season at the helm of the Irish.
The former Eastern Washington quarterback, who became the permanent Vancouver College head coach in 2002, was coaching in his eighth final.
While that’s impressive in its own right, he’s also not shy to admit he’s come out on the short end in more than his share of those title games.
“When this came up the other day, I was talking about my record in the finals, and I said ‘At least I won one, and (that) makes the story a little easier to tell,’” Bernett said, taking a playful jab at himself and referencing the fact that his 2010 triumph was at Empire Stadium, and that Saturday’s win was actually his first-ever at B.C. Place.
“I don’t really care about getting another win for my record,” he said in a way which very gracefully revealed his staying power as one of the longest-serving head coaches in our provincial game. “I am honestly so damn happy for these kids because the fire has burned in them for the past two years.”
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