Vernon has a provincial school football champion.
The Vernon Panthers won the school’s first-ever gridiron championship, whipping the Ballenas Whalers of Parksville 36-8 in the B.C. AA Junior Varsity Subway Bowl Championship Saturday at B.C. Place Stadium in Vancouver.
The victory capped off an undefeated season for Vernon.
The Panthers couldn’t have asked for a better start in their first-ever JV championship game appearance.
After taking the opening kickoff, Ballenas fumbled on its opening play, recovered by VSS. On the very next play, quarterback Zack Smith hit received Caden Danbrook with a touchdown pass. Liam Reid booted the convert to give Vernon a 7-0 lead 90 seconds into the game.
After holding the Whalers to a three-and-out, Vernon got the ball back and scored another touchdown right away courtesy of Danbrook. Reid’s convert made it 14-0 Cats.
Smith marched the team from their own 16 with a sustained drive that culminated in a two-yard Smith run to make it 21-0 with two minutes to go in the half.
The Whalers went three-and-out, giving Smith 77 seconds to lead the Panthers downfield. But with the ball on the Ballenas 29, Smith was sacked for an 18-yard loss to end the first half.
Vernon looked to have made it 27-0 midway through the third quarter as Ethan Mitchell ran a punt back 52 yards for a would-be major, but it was called back due to a Panthers blocking penalty.
The Panthers did get the fourth major, courtesy of a Matthew Reich five-yard run with four minutes left in the third. Reid’s convert made it 28-0.
After a great tackle deep in Whalers territory by Vernon’s Jonathan Bielski, the Panthers held the Whalers and forced the Island school to take a safety in the end zone on fourth and 18, making it 30-0 Panthers with two minutes remaining in the third.
Vernon got the ball back in great field position after the Panthers recovered the ensuing on-side kick attempt at the Whalers’ 35.
On the opening play of the fourth quarter, Mitchell had his second touchdown called back due to a Panthers penalty.
VSS made it 36-0 as Reich plunged over from the one, with Reid hooking the convert wide.
Reich then recovered a third Ballenas fumble with 8:21 left in the game. But the Whalers got the ball back, intercepting a Smith pass intended for Danbrook.
Ballenas quarterback Benjamin Chomolok hit Nathan Robinson at the Panthers’ five-yard line on the very next play, then scored on a Steven Boley running major. A successful two-point convert made it 36-8 Vernon.
The Whalers then recovered the on-side kick.
A number of the Panthers played in the dome last Saturday in the B.C. Senior Varsity AA semifinal, with VSS losing 28-25 to the Abbotsford Panthers.