VANCOUVER — Just in case football fans may have forgotten, the Abbotsford Panthers opened the season back in September as the No. 1-ranked team in B.C. AA football.
No one is questioning the fact that North Vancouver’s undefeated Windsor Dukes are well deserving of that spot, yet if anyone has been sleeping on the Fraser Valley’s Eastern juggernaut, be forewarned.
Running back Samwell Uko rushed for four touchdowns, and quarterback Ethan Anderson threw for three more Saturday to lead the No. 3 Panthers to a 46-7 win Subway Bowl quarterfinal win over Richmond’s Hugh Boyd Trojans.
The Panthers, who opened the season 0-3 after scheduling AAA toughies St. Thomas More and Notre Dame, as well as Windsor, have gone 6-0 since, outscoring their foes 259-36 in the process.
“It’s helped us a lot in the long run,” admitted Uko after the victory. “Playing the best just makes you better and that is what we got from playing STM, Notre Dame and Windsor.”
The Panthers will now face the No. 2-ranked Vernon Panthers in the semifinals next Saturday at B.C. Place.
Uko was his usual game-breaking self throughout the first half.
The senior running back rushed for three first-half touchdowns, beginning with a 22-yard run for a 13-7 lead with 3:26 left in the first quarter.
Uko added a 40-yard touchdown run early in the second quarter and then with 6:36 remaining in the first half, peeled off an 87-yard scoring run for a 27-7 lead.
Abby quarterback Ethan Anderson opened the game with a 47-yard touchdown pass to Anthony Pham, and then after Pham set the table with another long gainer right before the half, Anderson threw a 30-yard scoring strike to Karl Van Einsiedel for a 33-7 lead.
In the second half, Uko added another touchdown from three yards out, before Anderson tossed a 22-yard strike to Pham to round out the scoring.
Afterwards, Abby head coach Jay Fujimura reflected on the effectiveness of both Uko and Anderson, and the net result of that offensive balance.
“Samwell has the ability to really force the issue, and he is such a dynamic runner that one play you might have him, but he will get his yards one way or another.
“But we can also throw it all a lot,” the coach continued. “Samwell loosens up the coverage and Anderson can throw, plus we’ve got guys that can catch.”
The Trojans’ lone touchdown came early in the game when Hugh Boyd pivot Byron Ruvalcaba connected with Reace Mok on a 56-yard scoring play.
The game marked the end of the dual coaching careers of Hugh Boyd brothers Bill and Bruce Haddow, who are stepping down after a combined 82 years of coaching.
Abbotsford will now face Vernon in a Battle of Panthers this coming Saturday.
Vernon exorcised some ghosts from their past, defeating the Nanaimo’s John Barsby Bulldogs 20-6 on Friday at Greater Vernon Athletic Park.
Vernon had twice lost in the provincial semifinals to the Bulldogs, and despite fumbling five times, still managed to come away with the win.
“We were lucky to come away with the win,” said Vernon head coach Sean Smith. “Anytime you give the ball away that many times, you’re usually not going to win against a quality opponent. We were fortunate that the turnovers didn’t end up costing us, but we left a lot of points on the field when we turned it over deep in their territory.”
Perez Vermeulen booted a pair of field goals to put the Panthers up 6-0 in the second quarter, but Barsby scored an unconverted major to tie the game 6-6 at the half.
Vernon, however, played shutout defence the rest of the way and in the third quarter, went up 13-6 after a 23-yard pick-six by Brad Hladik.
Quarterback Thomas Hyett then threw a 20-yard touchdown to Riley Macgillivray to round out the scoring.
“Hats off to Barsby,” added Smith. “We always know what we are in for when we play them. They brought it on every snap and gave us all we could handle until the final whistle. I was very happy with how my boys responded physically in the game. I thought our defense was lights out and our defensive line got lots of penetration on their inside run plays. We made a couple of coverage errors, but otherwise were very stout.”
Tailback Charles Lemay was, once again, a workhorse for the Panthers carrying the ball 22 times for 115 yards. Defensively, Lemay had a game high nine tackles and a pass deflection that saved a touchdown.
Defensive tackles Trey Defoor and Liam Alder eachmade eight tackles.
“This was a great win for our program,” said Smith. “Barsby has been the gold standard in Double A football and they’ve had our number in the playoffs and ended our season quite a few times. We have a lot of respect for their program and what they’ve been able to accomplish, so to beat them when it counts was great for us.”
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