VANCOUVER — The No. 1-ranked, defending champion Vernon Panthers made their hold over the B.C. senior varsity Double-A football world dynastic-like on Saturday.
Yet even behind a victory as comprehensive as its 43-14 Subway Bowl triumph over the No. 4 Langley Saints at B.C. Place Stadium, Panthers’ head coach Sean Smith admitted he was sweating the details all week.
“Every year is different, and this year I thought that we were really going to get pushed,” said Smith after the repeat was complete. “I was worried all week that we were really going to get blown out, but my boys responded to playing a team that was much bigger and more powerful. We really showed our strength and resiliency.”
Perhaps the head coach’s nervous energy transferred to his players and gave them the adrenaline they needed.
More likely, they were just loose and ready to execute, because Vernon came out like they were perched on the launching pad at Cape Canaveral and when the game began, they never blinked.
Vernon went 70 yards on five plays on the game’s opening possession but they only needed two plays to do it.
On the game’s first offensive snap, Panthers’ quarterback Zack Smith connected on a 43-yard pass to Caden Danbrook at the Langley 27-yard line.
After going nowhere on three subsequent snaps, the Panthers kept their offence on the field and scored when Smith found Trent Charlton with a 27-yard scoring strike.
Liam Reid’s point-after made it 7-0 five minutes into the game.
“I came in thinking that I wasn’t aggresive enough early last week (in a semifinal win over No. 2 Ballenas), so we said we are going to take a shot right away. (Danbrook) made a great catch and that set the tone for us, and we started to pick them apart.”
On the game, Smith would rush for three scores, and throw three touchdown passes, two of which were caught by Charlton and one by Danbrook.
Langley’s first offensive foray was not as successful. Kelowna’s Danbrook batted away a pass attempt to Langley tight end Ciaran Davies to force a third-and-20, and although Trenton Warren almost made the distance up on third down, Langley was forced to punt.
The Saints, however, proved ever-explosive, as running back Kai Thomas broke a hand-off 78 yards for the score. Josh Goesen’s point-after knotted the score at 7-7.
In the second quarter, Vernon’s Smith connected with Danbrook again, this time on a 63-yard catch-and-run play that Danbrook took down to the Langley five-yard line. Smith’s five-yard TD strike to Charlton made it 13-7, however the point-aftfer attempt by Liam Reid was blocked.
Unfortunately for Langley, Thomas, the runaway leader in AA rushing this season, had his ankle rolled up while in pass protection and never returned to action the rest of the way.
“Kai has been hurt since last week and we gave him the week off and wanted to limit his reps,” said Langley head coach Ryk Piche. “It’s hard to lose your most dynamic player. But Vernon were who we thought they were. We tried to pick our poison, but that kid (Zack Smith) is just an athlete.”
Despite Thomas’ injury, Langley fullback Harshaad Jouhal kept the chains moving and eventually put his team back on top 14-13 with a two-yard converted touchdown.
Before the half, however, the Panthers scored on multiple possessions.
First, Smith scored on a seven-yard run. Reid then booted a 33-yard field goal with 17 seconds left for a 22-14 halftime lead.
The game was turnover free through the first half, but Vernon’s Daniel Lesik was able to pounce on a fumble by Langley running back Kaleb Reemeyer midway through the third quarter, giving the Panthers the ball at their own 28-yard line.
Vernon’s downfield march carried into the fourth quarter and culminated in a 28-14 lead when Smith threw an eight-yard strike into the end zone with 11:50 left.
The Saints then fumbled, and opportunistic Vernon added another touchdown on an 11-yard Smith run, then tacked on two more when Danbrook carried into the end zone for a 37-14 lead.
Smith, on a designed run, galloped eight yards for his third rushing touchdown of the game, with Reid’s PAT Making the 43-14 final complete.
The victory saw Vernon extend its win streak over B.C. Double-A competition to two complete seasons. The last time it lost to a AA team was in the semifinals of the 2017 Subway Bowl playoffs.
Coach Smith was emotional in the post-game speaking to what winning a second straight senior varsity title means to the program.
“There’s so many people and so many things that go into being successful… so many player, coaches, former coaches,” began Smith. “So every time we win one, it just becomes even more special because I know how much work it takes. We knocked on the door so long, it’s niuce to finally get over the hump.”
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