Black Press Sports
Head coach Sean Smith’s e-mail box has been filled with well wishes and props from past players and fellow football coaches this week.
Everybody in VSS Pantherland is over the moon as the Cats try to become the first Vernon school to win a provincial senior varsity football championship.
The Panthers, ranked No. 1 in the B.C. AA poll, battle the No. 2 Seaquam Seahawks of Delta in Saturday’s 4:30 p.m. final at B.C. Place in Vancouver.
Smith, who studies film instead of sleeping most nights, gives props to the coaches and players who jumpstarted the program after it folded in the early 1970s.
“Getting to the final is a big achievement for our program and it’s the blood, sweat and tears of past coaches and players that have helped build this program to where it is today,” said Smith. “I’m hoping we can go out and compete for a title on Saturday.”
The Subway Bowl final appearance is the first for a team east of Abbotsford since the NorKam Saints in the 1990s. VSS grounded the Hugh Boyd Trojans of Richmond 21-7, while Seaquam stopped the GW Graham Grizzlies of Chilliwack 26-7 in the semifinals Saturday.
The Panthers are a confident bunch after a pair of quality playoff victories.
“After our win on Saturday, I told them to enjoy it and celebrate it, but come back on Monday ready to get back at it,” said Smith, who regularly attends University of Calgary Dino camps. “I’ve been very impressed with their ability to focus on the task at hand instead of getting caught up in the hype.
“I think they fully grasp that we are on the cusp of doing something very special and they want to do everything within their power to help make it happen. Film study this week went very well and we looked good in our first scout session on Wednesday. I’ve been very fortunate to have had four straight years with a lot of talent. The 2016 version might have the least amount of depth and overall talent of the four, but they have been the most successful because they are 11 players playing as one right now.
“They are so dialled in to our game-plan and execution that they are capable of beating any team on any given day.”
The Panthers will dress the same roster and again rely heavily on Grade 10 standouts Charles Lemay (tailback/outside linebacker) and Thomas Hyett (safety/quarterback).
“Getting Jesse Bielski (shoulder) and Tyler Semeniuk (concussion) back for the playoffs gave us a huge boost. While injuries are always hard to overcome as a team, the positive side of that is that we were able to get meaningful game reps for some of our back-ups. Getting them those reps now allows us some flexibility to move guys around because we can trust that our back-ups will get the job done.
“Other than our Week 2 game against Barsby, we have as much depth as we have had all season on defence…and we’re going to need all of it against the best offence in the province.”
Seaquam QB Josh Haydu had an outstanding semifinal, rushing for a three-yard TD and throwing touchdown passes of 80 and 11 yards.
It’s been almost 10 years to the day since the team’s last championship win, over Hugh Boyd.
“Our goal is to win the game and win the championship,” said Seaquam head coach Jerry Mulliss. “Our philosophy has always been, it’s always about the kids. It’s about how they play and what it means for them.”
It will be a challenging final, Mulliss noted, calling Vernon a talented and focused team.
“They’re tough. They’re very well coached, they’re big (and) they’re fast. They’re a tough team, they do things very, very well. It’s going to be one heck of a game,” he said. “I told the kids in practice last night – this is going to be the game of their lives and they’re going to have to play the game of their lives to beat these guys.”
For Mulliss, who has been coaching the game for 49 years, it will also be his last game as coach at Seaquam after recently undergoing sextuple bypass surgery.
“It’s just time to take a few months off and get fully healthy and enjoy life for a little bit,” he said.
Fans may watch the game live online: http://sportscanada.tv/bcss/2016-subway-bowl.