Winning a fourth straight Okanagan Rugby Union championship means the Vernon Jackals can try to reach a fourth consecutive provincial final on their home pitch.
The Jackals defeated the Penticton Harlequins 33-12 Saturday afternoon at Grahame Park in Vernon, then found out later that night the team will host the Saratoga Cup provincial finals at Grahame Sept. 7 and 8.
The Saratoga Cup is contested by teams from three regions: the Okanagan, the Kootenays, and Northern B.C. Contrary to the Island and Lower Mainland rugby communities, these regions play their rugby during the summer months on account of the challenging winter weather that they experience between fall and spring (bcrugby.com).
The Jackals have lost the last three Saratoga Cup finals, falling to Terrace in 2016 and 2017 and the Rocky Mountain Rogues of Cranbook last year in Penticton.
A bid for a fourth-straight ORU title got off to a shaky start for Vernon, as the visiting Harlequins dominated possession for the majority of the first half.
Late in the opening 40 minutes, Vernon got on the board first scoring a try off a scrum right in front of the goal posts. A Lewis McKnight convert made it 7-0 Jackals, and it looked like Vernon would enjoy that lead at the break.
The Harlequins, though, got the ball on the outside to speedy back Kurtis Everett, who ran past a couple of Jackals defenders and across the line on the second-to-last play of the half. A positive convert on the final play made it 7-7 at intermission.
After the re-start, Vernon broke the deadlock with a pair of tries minutes apart, both after winning scrums to gain ball possession. McKnight, who was four-of-five on the day, booted both converts to give Vernon a 21-7 advantage.
The Jackals had dominated the half at that point but there was no quit in the Harlequins and, with the ball in Vernon’s half for the first time, they scored another try (missed the convert) to make it 21-12.
Spurred on by the five points, the Harlequins were marching toward what looked like a second try of the half, only to have their play broken up brilliantly by Vernon rookie fullback Ty Cheyne – playing the final on his lunch break from a Vernon grocery store. Cheyne then started a beautiful possession that culminated in numerous passes before Nat Watt touched the ball down for his second try of the match, and a late Vernon score made the final 33-12.
Adam Morad, McKnight and Bryan Cragg had the other tries for the victorious Jackals.