VANCOUVER — His teammates picked him up and tried to drag him to the postgame celebration on the turf at B.C. Place Stadium on Saturday.
But Samwel Uko, overcome by the moment, twice fell back to his knees.
“These tears are tears of joy, man,” Abbotsford’s compact Grade 12 running back said in the moments after he rushed for all four of his team’s touchdowns in a dramatic 28-25 come-from-behind rally over the Vernon Panthers.
“My team, we just stuck together,” he continued of the win which sends Abby back to the Subway Bowl B.C. AA final for the second time in the last three seasons. “After (Vernon) scored their touchdown, we said ‘We’re a family, we stay together’ and now we’re going to the provincial final. This is just a blessing.”
The touchdown to which Uko eluded to capped a lengthy and impressive Vernon drive in which quarterback Thomas Hyett threw a three-yard strike to receiver Landon Colvin with 6:24 remaining for a 25-21 lead.
As tough defensively as Vernon has been all season, it was going to take a special drive, led by a special player, if Abbotsford was going to rally back for the win.
So how about going 90 yards in 10 plays, nine of which featured handoffs to Uko?
Abbotsford marched with an air of inevitability and invincibility, scoring on a five-yard Uko run, capped by a point-after for a 28-25 lead with 43 seconds remaining.
Vernon almost completed a miraculous comeback of its own, securing a first down at midfield when a deflection was caught for a first down by Danbrook.
Panthers’ pivot Hyett took a shot with an end-zone pass for the winning score as the clock expired.
Afterwards, both head coaches spoke to the significance of Abby’s game-turning final drive.
“As far as their skill players flying around the ball like crazy, they are right up there with Windsor,” said Abby head coach Jay Fujimura of Vernon. “We knew the more violent team inside the box was going to win and we said it to the guys, if they want to win, they have to start moving people. We went behind our line and fullbacks and let Samwel do his thing. It worked out.”
Added Vernon head coach Sean Smith: “They kept running that monster formation and they kept running at you, and Samwel is a special kid. He did special things when he needed to. Even with a few seconds left, we had a chance. Maybe coaching-wise I should have taken the training wheels off a little earlier. Once we started passing, I thought we did a good job.”
Vernon opened the scoring when Hyett hit Smith with a 55-yard touchdown pass.
Uko scored on back-to-back runs of 20- and two-yards for a 14-6 lead before Vernon running back Charles Lemay cashed in on a 75-yard catch-and-run play, pulling his team to within 14-12 at the half.
Uko’s 28-yard run in the third quarter put Abbotsford on top 21-12 before Vernon began to rally.
Smith’s short TD and Hyett’s short pass to Colvin set the stage for Uko’s grand finale.
“That timeout at end of the game,” began Fujimura, “I said listen ‘This is for the game, this is ‘Go or go home’ and and I left it on the table for them. There was no secret what we were going to do. It was us versus them and we stepped it up and got it done.”
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