VERNON — The Kelowna defence came up with their play of the year to end their season on Friday, and it was a team tackle which lifted the Owls to a 21-20 win over the Vernon Panthers for the Subway Bowl B.C. Interior/Northern championship title.
Trailing 21-14 with 1:17 to go in the fourth quarter, Panthers’ pivot Jake Farrell led the team in hurry-up offense on a 60-yard drive, capped off by a 30-yard strike to Kolby Thorpe with 10 seconds to play in the game.
Down 21-20 and electing to go for two points and the win, the Panthers got Kelowna to jump offside which moved the ball to the one-yard line.
The ensuing Braden Khunkhun convert run, however, was stopped short, giving the Owls the title while the Panthers were denied their attempt to annex what would have been a third consecutive season-ending Subway Bowl crown.
“Wow… that was an unreal football game,” said Kelowna head coach Chris Cartwright. “I am so incredibly proud of this group of young men. We have gone through so much adversity and to finish this way… just wow.”
Vernon, behind an eight-yard Joe Murphy touchdown run took a 7-0 lead, but the Owls came back to knot the score when quarterback Joey Howorko threw a five-yard scoring strike to Everett Schmuland.
Murphy later snared a 45-yard screen from quarterback Jake Farrell as Vernon built a 14-7 lead just 3:07 into the second quarter.
The contest went to the half tied at 14-14 when Howorko, who went 18 of 30 for 251 yards, connected with Evan Fitchett on an 11-yard touchdown hook-up.
The offences were slowed throughout the second half, but Owls’ running back Jack Nyrose, who rushed for 103 yards on the night en route to being selected the game’s top back, put his team up 21-14 when he scored on a three-yard run in the third quarter.
“That was an intense battle out there and I was proud of how my guys handled a Kelowna team that was very aggressive on defense,” said Vernon head coach Sean Smith.
“Kelowna have some good athletes that enable them to bring lots of heat and play tight man defense. In the first half, we couldn’t capitalize over the top as much as I’d have liked and had a few drops that cost us potential touchdowns. In the second half our athletes made some plays and we passed the ball very well but couldn’t get our run game going and had a couple of costly turnovers. Kelowna did a great job of stuffing the run in the second half and it made us a bit too one dimensional.
“It’s unfortunate that we weren’t able to play for a provincial championship,” added Smith. “This group was starting to peak at the right time. I have no doubt that we would have been able to compete to defend our title if given the opportunity in the dome this weekend.”
For the Owls, game MVP Fitchett finished with 106 yards in catches while teammate Jaeke Schlachter had 82 yards. Schmuland had six tackles.
“Vernon came to play,” added Cartwright. “We expected that from back-to-back AA Provincial Champions. “They came hard. They have incredible athletes.”
Panthers’ pivot Farrell finished 22-of-34 for 341 yards, two touchdowns and two picks.
Murphy rushed for 48 yards, while Road Reid caught seven passes for 116 yards and Thorpe seven more for 115 yards and the game’s big score.
On defence, the game’s top lineman winner, Grayson Statham, had nine tackles including three for a loss and a sack. Landon Janke also had nine tackles. Reid had six tackles and Mitchell Bond a pick.
“This championship represents so much,” said Cartwright. “It represents a group of young men who decided to be grateful for everything that was given to them and take every opportunity they get to find success. Such a great moment for these kids, our school, and community. They have inspired a lot of people to view things in a different way. Just amazing.”
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