VANCOUVER — The Vernon Panthers have officially become B.C. high school football’s home away from the home power-base of the Greater Vancouver and Vancouver Island.
Finalists a season ago in senior varsity Double A and semifinalists at the same tier this season, the Panthers finally achieved their program’s golden podium moment Saturday at B.C. Place, beating Parksville’s Ballenas Whalers 36-8 to win the Subway Bowl AA junior varsity title.
“I think it validates all the things we’ve done the last five to six years,” said happy Panthers head coach Sean Smith. “You lose the close ones, but then you come in and pull this one out, and it happens because the kids are working their butts off to get here.”
The win was historic.
Vernon became the first program outside of the Great Vancouver and Vancouver Islands to ever win a B.C. JV football crown, a span covering 38 years beginning in 1979.
In fact no team from either of those regions has ever even made the provincial JV final at either the AA or AAA tiers.
The Panthers opened the scoring on the first of back-to-back Caden Danbrook touchdowns.
First, Danbrook hauled in a 28-yard pass from quarterback Zack Smith, then scored on a 19-yard run for a 14-0 lead. The first score was set up by a bad Ballenas snap which allowed the Panthers to recover at midfield.
Smith then made it 36-0 by the midway mark of the third quarter, scoring three straight majors. He first went in from two yards out, then scored back-to-back keepers from the one-yard line.
Nathan Robinson’s clutch reception down to the Vernon six-yard line set up the Whalers’ only score of the day, a six-yard run by Steven Boley.
A late safety wrapped up the scoring.
Smith, who coaches Vernon’s senior and junior teams, says a business-like approach to the daily regimen really defined this group of junior Panthers.
“What I like about these guys is that they are a ‘get it done’ group,” said Smith. “They weren’t even that celebratory. They expect to win and they give their best every day and that starts in the offseason. Tomorrow, I know that guys will be in the gym, working out and getting ready for 7 on 7. It’s become their attitude that they will outwork everyone. It’s what gets them this today.”
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