VANCOUVER — Ryk Piche was surprised at just how fast a decade could pass when, earlier this season, he got an invitation to the 10-year re-union celebration of the Centennial Centaurs team he helped coach to the 2009 Subway Bowl B.C. high school football Triple A championship title.
For many including Piche, now the Langley Saints head coach, taking that step back in time produced a lot of memories, none stronger than that of the team’s starting quarterback that season, current B.C. Lions’ star receiver Lemar Durant.
Of course if you followed the scene that year, you’ll remember that Durant was moved from receiver to quarterback about a month into the season following an injury to the team’s starting pivot Luke Williams.
With the team’s best athlete getting the ball on every offensive snap, the Centaurs’ offence ignited, and in the title game, Durant carried for 222 yards and two touchdowns.
So why the history lesson on Durant, who went on to catch practice passes from Colin Kaepernick at Nevada and later star with the Simon Fraser Clan?
Turns out the guy Piche’s been watching all week on film in preparation for Saturday’s Subway Bowl Double-A championship game, the Vernon Panthers’ quarterback Zack Smith, made him a little nostalgic.
“He reminds me of 10 years ago, of Lemar Durant as a quarterback,” said Piche, whose Saints will face the 2019 Double-A MVP and the rest of the undefeated, No. 1-ranked, defending Subway Bowl champion Vernon Panthers on Saturday (4 p.m.) with a title on the line under the dome at B.C. Place.
It’s pretty hard to compare their numbers because Vernon’s competition in 2019 was not of the same week-to-week calibre that Durant’s was in 2009, yet Smith’s combined run/pass numbers stuff a stat sheet like few others before him.
Over nine games, Durant was 27-of-53 passing for 434 yards and seven touchdowns, while carrying 60 times for 763 yards and 14 scores. His 12.7 yards-per-carry average led Triple-A football that season.
This season, Smith, over eight games heading into Saturday, is second in AA passing, going 87-of-142 for 1,286 yards and 20 touchdowns. He is also the third-leading rusher in AA, carrying 75 times for 859 yards and seven touchdowns.
The actual statistical mash is not what’s most important, especially with the way the game has changed in 10 years.
The snap-to-snap intent of both carry to know precisely when it’s time to run with abandon.
And as the Saints prepare to face the Okanagan juggernaut, the coach admits to getting a pretty good feeling as to what opposition coaches felt lining up against Durant.
“We have to pick our poison,” Piche says. “We will try to take one thing away and hopefully they don’t beat us with the other.
“When you play against a dynamic player like Zack, you have to contain. We know there will be big plays, we just have to contain it to the least amount of damage as possible. We have to work on what we do and try to maintain those big plays.”
A RECIPE FOR THE RUN
Circumstance has had a unique way of shaping these 2019 Panthers.
Like watching vintage Patriots or Crimson Tide, sometimes you just look at the scores and assume it’s all business as usual.
In the case of a Vernon team which hasn’t lost lost to B.C. AA competition since falling in the 2017 Subway semifinals, the decision to re-invent Smith as a giddy-up quarterback after he spent last season as a wide receiver, was made following some early season adversity.
Matthew Reich, considered the heart-and-soul of the Panthers’ defence heading into the campaign, tore his ACL in the first game of the season, and the dominos were felt doubly, as Reich was also the team’s top running back.
That meant that not only did the coaching staff have to accelerate the job responsibilities of Grade 11 tailback Ethan Greenan, Smith would also be tasked to take whatever was available.
“I had a conversation prior to Matt getting injured about whether he could contribute to the team this season,” said Vernon head coach Sean Smith, who watched Greenan give the champs a traditional look out of the backfield with assured running in last week’s semifinal win over Parksville’s Ballenas Whalers. “So it’s been neat to see him take the next-man-up mentality and realize that it’s his turn. We’re seeing the vision, and last year, as a junior, he was just faster than everyone else.”
Which bring us to Zack Smith, the coach’s son, and the combined 2,145 yards and 27 touchdowns he’s brought to the table heading into Saturday’s title game.
In comparing him to Durant, you can’t forget that both are very accomplished basketball players.
Durant was a dunker and a scorer, however, and Smith the starting point guard for a Vernon team which has started the season at No. 1 in the B.C. Triple A rankings.
BASKETBALL ON THE GRIDIRON
The father-son dynamic at Vernon has been handled in text-book fashion by the Smiths.
Coming into Grade 11, off a Grade 10 season in which he quarterbacked Vernon to the B.C. AA junior title and was named the game MVP, Zack Smith paid his dues last season in his fulltime Triple-A debut.
Thomas Hyett, the senior, was exceptional in leading Vernon to the title as the starting quarterback, so Smith did what he could for the team, and on offence that meant taking on a role as a receiver.
All of the reps at all of the different positions made him Double A’s Player of the Year, and in his one full season as a senior varsity quarterback, he simply crushed it.
“Zack’s always had that combination of a good sports brain along with athleticism that not all kids have, and when put that together, quarterback has been the perfect for him,” says coach Smith.
“It requires quick thinking and he plays point guard in basketball, so he’s been good at making those snap decisions.”
While Piche goes with Durant, those on hand Saturday to watch him perform might see B.C. high school football’s version of Russell Wilson or perhaps Lamar Jackson.
All Sean Smith knows, is that when the team retires to the film room, and certain sections of play are frozen or played in slo-motion, some genuinely absurd moments have occurred.
“He can be pretty slinky out there, because he knows how to set you up in open space,” Sean Smith says. “He even uses basketball moves out there.”
In a game against South Kamloops earlier this season, Zack Smith pulled a Euro-step move on the gridiron to leave a defender flat-footed and keep advancing down the field.
“He is doing different things this year,” admits the coach. “I never envisioned him as this running guy, always more of a pocket guy who could throw but would run if chased. This year, because of an injury, we had to find another way to use him as a weapon.”
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