Inches. So close yet so far.
The Vernon Panthers came up a yard shy in their bid to claim the Interior AA/AAA Senior Varsity High School Football Championship at home Friday night, Dec. 3.
The AAA Kelowna Owls captured the title and the Subway Bowl pennant, holding on to edge the Panthers 21-20 at Greater Vernon Athletic Park.
Trailing by seven with 1:17 to go in the fourth quarter, Panthers quarterback Jake Farrell led the team in hurry up offence on a 60+-yard drive, capped off by a 30-yard strike to Kolby Thorpe with 10 seconds to play in the game.
Deciding to go for two points and the championship,- the Panthers got Kelowna to jump offside which moved the ball to the one-yard line. The ensuing Braden Khunkhun run was stopped short, ending the Panthers comeback bid.
“That was an intense battle out there and I was proud of how my guys handled a Kelowna team that was very aggressive on defence,” said Vernon head coach Sean Smith. “They have some good athletes that enable them to bring lots of heat and play tight man defence.
“In the first half, we couldn’t capitalize over the top as much as I’d have liked and had a few drops that cost us potential touchdowns. In the second half our athletes made some plays and we passed the ball very well but couldn’t get our run game going and had a couple of costly turnovers. Kelowna did a great job of stuffing the run in the second half and it made us a bit too one dimensional.”
The Panthers got on the board on the opening drive marching the ball 70 yards in 3:16 seconds. Joe Murphy powered it in from eight yards out. Kelowna would tie the game up before Murphy struck again to give the Cats another seven-point cushion 3:07 into the second stanza, this time on a screen pass from Farrell from 45-yards out.
Kelowna would tie it up at 14 before entering the half-time break.
“I thought we came out on that opening drive and did everything we’d hoped to do,” said Smith. “We ran it inside, had a long pass and kept them off balance with a screen. We put a lot on our boys to read their defence and check out of plays if necessary. Jake and our offensive line did a fantastic job of doing that with only a few days of preparation.”
The Owls dominated the third quarter and took a 21-14 lead. The Panthers lone drive inside the red zone in the third produced no points. On a play that would later come back to haunt them, Mitchell Bond’s 30-yard field goal attempt came up inches short to preserve Kelowna’s seven-point lead.
Vernon entered the game as the two-time defending B.C. AA champions. B.C. Secondary Sports cancelled all provincial championships at all levels Nov. 17 due to provincial flooding and landslides that essentially cut the Interior off from the Lower Mainland at that time.
“It’s unfortunate that we weren’t able to play for a provincial championship as this group was starting to peak at the right time,” said Smith. “I have no doubt that we would have been able to compete to defend our title if given the opportunity in the dome (BC Place) this weekend.”
Farrell, in Grade 11, was 22-34 for 341 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. In their final high school game, Roan Reid caught seven passes for 116 yards and Thorpe had seven catches for 115 yards and one touchdown.
In his final game, B.C. AA defensive MVP Grayson Statham had nine tackles, three for losses and one QB sack while fellow Grade 12 Landon Janke also had nine tackles.
“I”d like to thank our senior coaching staff (Tim Thorpe, Angus Reid, Jason Farrell and Jesse Kunicky) who not only prepared these boys very well for this game, but who also developed this group into a very competitive team that improved a ton from our first game of the season,” said Smith. “They were able to take a team that had some question marks in September to a squad that was solid in every area in December.”
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