VANCOUVER — Not too soon after they launched their football program at Lord Tweedsmuir back in 2004, Surrey’s Panthers made a heady ascent to the following season’s Subway Bowl B.C. Double-A championship final.
The result may have been a 33-8 loss to the powerhouse Windsor Dukes of North Vancouver all those years ago, but the expansion program from Cloverdale, playing that 2005 campaign under its first-year head coach Kurt Thornton, was making a statement that it belonged.
Ever since, the Panthers have won three B.C. junior varsity titles and a Grade 8 banner to boot, yet their efforts to return to the senior varsity showcase final had not been rewarded.
On Saturday, 14 years later, all the hard work paid off.
With running back Tremel States-Jones and quarterback Key’Shaun Dorsey providing the juice on offence, and a pumped up defence throwing a blanket over East Vancouver’s Notre Dame Jugglers when it mattered most, the Panthers came through with a 26-14 Final Four victory to earn their first-ever spot in the Subway Bowl AAA B.C. final.
“I am already thinking of all the work in front of us, and what a great group of kids we have,” said Thornton, now one of the B.C. high school game’s veteran coaches. “I know they’re going to do everything they can to give us the best chance we have. But honestly, it feels pretty darn good because there have been a few disappointments where we have been close and on the other side of this. With all of that, there is also a sense of relief.”
No. 5 Lord Tweedsmuir is schedule to play the winner of Saturday’s late semifinal between No. 2 Vancouver College and No. 3 St. Thomas More.
After a disjointed first half in which they led 7-0, the Panthers were finally able to break things open in the second, aided greatly by a pair of ill-timed Notre Dame penalties.
First, after Tweedy’s Terrel Jones missed on a field goal attempt, the Jugglers were flagged for roughing the kicker, giving the Panthers another set of downs.
Immediately, they cashed in with a 10-yard touchdown run by running back States-Jones.
Notre Dame then fumbled away the ball on its ensuing possession, and not too soon after the Panthers recovered it at the Jugglers’ 30-yard line, quarterback Dorsey surveyed the defence and called his own number, sprinting 17 yards to end zone for a 19-0 lead.
The Jugglers were able to answer with 7:10 left in the game when quarterback Carmelo Renzullo fired a 27-yard touchdown strike to receiver Matthew Battad to make it 19-7.
The Panthers final score of the game, a five-yard rush by Noah Anderson, made the outcome academic at 26-7, and Thornton acknowledged how important clock management was for Lord Tweedsmuir throughout the fourth quarter.
“There are times when kids just have to bear down and you rely on your most basic plays and that is what we did in the fourth quarter,” said Thornton. “We just handed Noah the ball and ran our simplest zone read plays, and we killed a bunch of clock. It was a key part of game.”
Notre Dame battled to the end, adding a late touchdown when Renzullo connected on a six-yard TD pass to Ian Marin with 16 seconds remaining.
Lord Tweedsmuir scored the only touchdown of the first half on second-and-20 when quarterback Dorsey moved out of the pocket and found States-Jones for a 22-yard touchdown strike.
When asked to react to ending a 14-year draught from playing in a provincial senior varsity title game, Thornton responded: “It takes more than just having the kids and the coaches. Every game presents it own challenges and sometimes there is luck involved. Sometimes you get the bounces, and sometimes you don’t.”
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