There was a moment on Saturday afternoon — midway through the third quarter — when the Vernon Panthers must have felt like their bid to qualify for the Subway Bowl quarterfinal round was destined to evaporate before their eyes.
Yet as a Prince George Polars’ ball carrier scampered on a 50-yard run which had taken him deep into Panthers’ territory, potentially on his way to scoring what would have been a game-tying touchdown, Vernon defensive end Mats Friesen came up with a game-changing play.
Friesen stripped the ball carrier at the five-yard line, and the ball bounced into the end zone where safety Justin Ruscheinsky pounced on it.
The Panthers, leading 21-14 at the time, never looked back and put 14 straight points on the board to seal the win.
“This wasn’t a pretty win for us – but we are advancing to the quarterfinals which is all that matters right now,” said Vernon head coach Sean Smith. “I liked that we were able to play smash-mouth football on both sides of the ball.”
Including, of course, in the run game, where a next-man-up mentality kept the ship on course.
With starting tailback Scotty Hoffman out due to injury, the duo of Joe Murphy and Kolby Thorpe picked up the slack. Murphy tallied nine carries for 95 yards, including a game-opening 40 yard touchdown romp, while Thorpe picked up another 60 yards on 10 carries.
All of Vernon’s majors came via the ground. Braden Khunkhun and Murphy each carried home from a yard out, Thorpe from two yards out, and in the fourth quarter, Roan Reid from five yards.
“This was a very physical team that had a good offensive game plan coming in,” said Smith of the Polars. “They chewed up large chunks of time and played ball possession football. It worked for the better part of three quarters until we found our groove.
“I was very proud of our offensive linemen and receivers who did a great job blocking in the run game today. We ran outside and picked up large chunks of yards which sparked us.”
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