Vernon Panthers, meet the Langley Saints.
Saints, meet the Panthers.
The two high school football programs have never faced each other before, but that changes Saturday morning in the B.C. Subway Bowl High School AA Senior Varsity quarterfinals at B.C. Place Stadium.
While its the schools’ first-ever meeting in AA football, there is obvious mutual respect for both programs.
“They’ve got some talent and they have a quarterback that can make throws,” said Panthers head coach Sean Smith. “A couple of reviews I’ve got suggest they are the better than any team we have seen this year. They have a big offensive line, a balanced team. They work hard, they’re very athletic, aggressive and confident.”
Said Ryk Piche, Saints bench boss: “We know that the Panthers (6-0) have a very sound defence and good offence. You don’t finish first in your division by fluke, and then beat a strong Mission team by accident. We have the utmost respect for Vernon and hope we can provide them with a good showing of competition Saturday morning.”
Both teams lost pre-season games to AAA competition. Since then, both have gone undefeated.
The 7-1 Saints are ranked No. 4 in the province, and advanced to the quarterfinals by whipping the Ballenas Whalers of Parksville 41-14.
“They’re pretty good at throwing, and have good receivers, so if we shut down the receivers we should do fine,” said Panthers conference all-star defensive back Zack Hyer, who is up to the challenge of trying to stop the Saints’ catching targets. “It’s a big thing for me to shut them down, there’s a lot of pressure, but I think we can do it.”
His team is coming off back-to-back shutouts, and his defence hasn’t allowed a touchdown in nine-and-a-half quarters, but Smith told his players that Langley will score, and that the Panthers will likely need three touchdowns, maybe more, against the Saints.
“Our defence is pretty sound, I’m not worried about them,” said Panthers quarterback Justin Haverkamp. “Our offence has quite a big job against Langley. We’re a good team, they’re a good team, either team can win. This is a fun time of year. We’re looking forward to Saturday.”
Added Hyer, about playing indoors at B.C. Place: “It will be interesting. We can’t prep for that but it’s going to be cool to play there for my senior year.”
Smith, meanwhile, loves the way his team is coming together at the right time of the season.
“I was worried about what potential this team had and where it would take us, but they’ve gelled in the last three-to-four weeks,” he said.
“They’re starting to follow the game plan, they’re practising hard during the week and applying that to the game.”
Piche will not allow his team to take the Panthers lightly.
“We expect a very physical game from Vernon, and we are aware of all the talent the Panthers have,” he said.
“They are dangerous at a multitude of positions and their defensive line looks big and strong, they have a lot of studly athletes in all of their skilled positions.
“We have to respect Vernon immensely or it will be a very long day for us.”
Piche, along with offensive coordinator Kevin Phillips, is in his first year at Langley Secondary.
Piche came from Coquitlam’s Centennial Centaurs, where he and Phillips won a B.C. AAA title several years ago. Phillips spent last season coaching at Simon Fraser University.
Saturday’s winner will face the winner of a game between the Abbotsford Panthers and John Barsby Bulldogs of Nanaimo in the B.C. semifinals next weekend.
The Bulldogs beat the undefeated Panthers in the B.C. final four in 2014, and in a pre-season match this year at Panther Field.
The other quarterfinal matchups have the G.W. Graham Eagles of Chilliwack taking on Surrey’s Holy Cross Crusaders, and the Carson Graham Eagles of North Vancouver travelling to Prince George to face the Polars.