The Vernon Panthers’ offence went on a tear Friday.
And the defence wasn’t too shabby, either.
The reigning B.C. High School Senior Varsity AA Football champion and No. 1-ranked Panthers took the first step towards repeating as provincial champs by crushing North Vancouver’s Windsor Dukes 56-6 Friday night, Nov. 15, in quarterfinal action at Greater Vernon Athletics Park.
The Cats’ offence scored on all but one possession.
Interior Conference offensive MVP Zack Smith showed why Okanagan teams have had a tough time containing the elusive quarterback. Smith had another monster two-way game, rushing for 236 yds on 14 carries (16.8 yds/carry) while passing for an efficient 4-of-6 for 104 yards.
Smith would put up three of the Cats’ touchdowns on the ground (10, 45, 30 yards) while Caden Danbrook (20 yards) and Trent Charlton (72 yards) were on the receiving end of his two TD passes. Danbrook also added an 80-yard kickoff return for six points.
“We knew we’d see a lot of 2 high read/match up defence which left us a lot of room to run,” said Panthers head coach Sean Smith. Our O-line was great in pass protection and were able to create some holes all game. Zack did a great job of finding seams in the defence and made them pay over the top a couple of times.”
Defensively, the Panthers were stingy.
“Coach Wladichuk did a great job of mixing up the coverages and our guys executed almost flawlessly,” said Sean Smith. “Sometimes you never know what each group is going to give you when the games matter. I think these guys proved they are competitors and will compete on every play.
” I was very impressed that the load was shared amongst a lot of defenders. Tristan Massini had four tackles and then we had seven others that had three which was good to see.”
The Panthers led 35-0 going into the break and were able to get their rookies and juniors some quality reps in the second half while grinding it out on the ground in a torrential downpour. Grade 9 tailback Damon Froste continued to impress in his call up opportunities with 68 rushing yards on 10 carries. He would cap off two drives with touchdowns of 10 and four yards in the second half. Ethan Greenan chipped in 43 yards on nine carries.
VSS will face the No. 2-ranked Ballenas Whalers (Parksville) in the AA provincial semifinals next Saturday, Nov. 23, at BC Place (12 p.m.).
“We are very familiar with Ballenas,” said Coach Smith. “Our program has played them three years in a row in the playoffs. Our seniors beat them in the quarters in 2018 and 2016 and our juniors beat them in the provincial championship in 2017. However, they are a very well-coached team that execute their systems. We will have to bring our A-game if we want to make it back to the finals.”
Ballenas eliminated the Robert Bateman Timberwolves of Abbotsford 28-8.
The other semifinal will feature No. 3-ranked G.W. Graham Grizzlies (Chilliwack) vs the No. 4-ranked Langley Saints.
Langley took care of Vernon’s Fulton Maroons in its quarterfinal Saturday at B.C. Place, posting a 46-0 win.
Saints running back Kai Thomas took a handoff on the game’s second play and scampered 65 yards for a touchdown, while fellow running back Harshaad Jouhal had touchdown runs of 12, 18 and six yards as Langley built up a 26-0 halftime lead.
The Saints’ defence twice stopped Fulton inside their own five-yard line.
“Full credit to Langley. They have a good football team and they are a physical mismatch for us,” said Fulton head coach Mike Scheller, whose team completed 11 straight weeks of football, ending with Saturday’s defeat. “They are a very big football team and their offensive line is almost 280 (pounds) across. We just got ground down as the game went on.
“Defensively, we fought hard, but they eventually just were able to push us around.”
Scheller laid out praise for a select handful of Maroons.
“Ethan Schiman had a dynamite season for us at center and linebacker,” he said. “Can’t say enough good things about the kid. He has been a warrior for our program and has been invaluable to our squad the past four years. Honestly, he has played every position for us except QB. He just does what the coaches ask and is an excellent football player.
“Quin Williamson played hard at quarterback during our playoff run. Another great kid who has played his guts out for us. Defensively, Dayton Ingenhaag, Quaid Willett and Brayden Beckley all played well in the dome.”
For a team made up of Grade 9-12 players, Scheller said they can be happy with their season and finishing in the top eight in the province.
“As a coaching staff, these kids were awesome to work with,” he said. “They showed up every practice and worked hard. They had very good attitudes and simply were a lot of fun to coach. I would really like to thank coaches Bryan Cragg, Dave Hobbs, James Gardner, Mike Tkatschow and Kevin Stecyk for all their hard work and dedication to our team.”
The Grizzlies knocked out the Holy Cross Crusaders of Surrey 35-6.
EXTRA POINTS: Former Panthers standout Josh Hyer will play for a CIS Vanier Cup championship. Hyer and the Calgary Dinos advanced to the national championship with a 30-17 semifinal win over the McMaster Marauders. The Dinos will play the Montreal Carabins in the 55th Vanier Cup Saturday, Nov. 23, in Quebec City. Montreal blanked the Acadia Axemen 38-0 in the other Final Four contest.