Morning Star Staff
The VSS Panthers are one win away from being the first Vernon team ever in a provincial junior varsity championship game after a 21-6 quarterfinal win over the Prince George Polars Wednesday at the Greater Vernon Athletics Park.
The Cats came out stoked, scoring on their first three drives. Quarterback Zack Smith (6-of-7 for 132 yards and 3 TDSs) connected with Caden Danbrook (25 yards) and Ethan Mitchell (41, 51 yards) for touchdowns.
However, that’s all the Panthers could put on the board the rest of the afternoon. Smith left the game early in the second half after sustaining an ankle injury and tailback Charles Lemay shouldered the load the rest of the way, grinding out 125 yards on 24 carries.
“We played a perfect first quarter,” said VSS head coach Sean Smith. “I think we allowed one first down and stopped a fake punt in their territory. On offence, we struck for three long touchdowns and we had them reeling. Lemay was a workhorse for us and our offensive line (Nathan Vasconcelos, Mark Delasen, Brady Szeman, Jackson Thomas and Liam Alder) was able to create some holes and give Zack enough time to throw.”
Tailback Terrance Vohar brought the Polars to within two scores on a 20-yard run with four minutes to play. However, an onside kick recovery by Kael Black extinguished any hopes of a Prince George comeback.
The Panther dee allowed just one reception and a handful of first downs. Linebacker Liam Alder led all tacklers with 7.5, Drew Mackenzie added seven and a blocked extra point while Vasconcelos contributed 4 (including 2 sacks).
“I was very impressed with all levels of our defence,” said Smith. “Our little guys (DBs) were shut down in the pass game and were tough in run support. They were a much bigger team than us, but we were able to carry out our game-plan exactly as planned.”
The Panthers will take on the John Barsby Bulldogs of Nanaimo in the semifinals on either Nov. 23 or 24 at a Coastal site to be determined.
“Our programs have built up a bit of a rivalry over the past few years. Our juniors beat them 30-16 earlier in the year in Nanaimo, but they are a much better team than the one we played in September. It will be a competitive, physical game.”