The Vernon Panthers (blue) will host the Salmon Arm Golds in Interior AA/AAA Hybrid Division Senior Varsity Football League action Friday, Sept. 24, 7 p.m., at Greater Vernon Athletic Park. The Panthers, the two-time defending B.C. AA champions, are coming off a 14-2 loss to Chilliwack’s G.W. Graham Grizzlies in exhibition play. (Morning Star file photo)

The Vernon Panthers (blue) will host the Salmon Arm Golds in Interior AA/AAA Hybrid Division Senior Varsity Football League action Friday, Sept. 24, 7 p.m., at Greater Vernon Athletic Park. The Panthers, the two-time defending B.C. AA champions, are coming off a 14-2 loss to Chilliwack’s G.W. Graham Grizzlies in exhibition play. (Morning Star file photo)

Vernon Panthers feisty for home opener after exhibition losses on road

The two-time reigning B.C. AA high school football champs host Salmon Arm Golds Friday at 7 p.m. at GVAP

The Vernon Panthers are unaccustomed to losing one game, let alone two.

And head coach Sean Smith vows it won’t become a pattern.

The two-time defending B.C. AA High School senior varsity football champions will play their regular-season opener Friday, Sept. 24, under the lights at Greater Vernon Athletic Park against the Salmon Arm Golds (kickoff is 7 p.m.), having lost both of their exhibition games.

Vernon fell 13-12 to the AAA Rutland Voodoos, and were defeated 14-2 in an exhibition game in Chilliwack against the G.W. Graham Grizzlies.

“Despite the loss, I still think we’re going to be a tough out in November,” said Smith, whose team’s last defeat against a AA opponent was the 2018 B.C. semifinal against the Abbotsford Panthers. “This group showed signs of being resilient and, more importantly, the discipline to be able to execute a game plan, which is important in the playoffs.

“We’ve lost two games in the last three senior seasons – so losing two to start the year stings. However, winning in September has never been our goal. We are going to work our tail off to be ready when it counts.”

After scoring twice the first quarter, both teams stalled offensively and the game was played between the 20-yard lines. The Panthers scored midway through the fourth on a safety from Grayson Statham.

This was a tough, hard-nosed football game played in a torrential downpour that hampered both teams’ ability to move the ball.

Vernon could not find any offensive rhythm in the first half getting into long down and distance situations for most of their drives. The Grizzlies capitalized on the short field that a lack of offence created.

The Vernon defence forced six turnovers (five fumbles and one interception).

“I thought our defence played equally well with an undermanned and much smaller crew and executed our game plan to perfection,” said Smith. “They moved the ball on us in the first quarter and, after that, we were very stout. Unfortunately, missed tackles were a major factor in both of their touchdown drives. If we can clean up the sloppy tackling, we’ll be fine.”

Statham had a monster game on D for the Cats, recording eight tackles – three for losses and one quarterback sack – and forced two fumbles, recovering one of them.

Vernon’s Braden Khunkhun was 7-21 at QB for 110 yards.

He gave way to Jake Farrell, who completed six of 11 attempts for 59 yards. Both had one interception. Roan Reid had eight catches on offence for 84 yards, and recorded six tackles and came up with two fumble recoveries on defence. Nolan Matthews also had six tackles.

The Voodoos defeated Salmon Arm 47-12 in pre-season play.

JUNIOR VARSITY

The Fulton Maroons fell to the Rutland Voodoos 43-6 in junior varsity exhibition action in Rutland on Sept. 15.

Fulton plays its regular-season opener Wednesday, Sept. 22, at 4 p.m., against the Salmon Arm Golds at Grahame Park.

The Maroons’ lone touchdown came on a Dom Kitzman 15-yard pass from Jentezen Peterson in the third quarter. “Rutland has a very good JV team and as the score suggests, they took it to us,” said Fulton head coach Mike Scheller.

“We have a young and very inexperienced team, and we ran into a polished Rutland squad.”

Peterson finished 6-13 for 51 yards with the TD and one pick. Kitzman had five catches for 40 yards. Mason Macaskill (22 yards) and Kolby Robinson (20) led Fulton in Rushing.

Brett O’Dwyer had five tackles to lead the defence.

“Our kids are still learning the game and we need to play faster and more aggressive. That will come with time and experience,” said Scheller. “Our coaching staff likes the dedication and enthusiasm of our group and we will improve.” Palmer Taylor at defensive tackle, had a very good game. He was hustling and disrupted the line of scrimmage. Linebacker Brett O’Dwyer played tough in the middle and had some nice tackles. Jason Pope at defensive end was solid.”

Scheller also praised the offensive play of halfback Lucas Horne and tackle Nic Newman.

The Vernon Panthers’ JV squad lost 31-0 to G.W. Graham in the front end of the exhibition doubleheader in Chilliwack.

MINOR FOOTBALL

The Vernon Magnums were victorious in their 2021 Junior Bantam home opener beating Kamloops Broncos A squad 25-14 on Sunday, Sept. 19, at GVAP.

Vernon would draw first blood when wide receiver Braden Blankley took an end-around, weaving between defenders and turning on the jets for a 60-yard score. The Magnums never looked back from that point on and were able to help themselves out when Niko Martselos pounced on a short kick giving the Magnums offence another chance to capitalize.

Quarterback Evan Cunningham would hit Blankley for a 39-yard bomb that put the home team in prime scoring position where Caden O’Dwyer would muscle his way in for the score with some hard inside running, making it 13-0 at the half after Vernon failed to convert the extra point.

Defence was the highlight of the day for Vernon, anchored by linebackers Blankley, who finished with 13 tackles and three pass breakups, and O’Dwyer with a whopping 16 tackles, five of which for a loss and who also drew high praise from the visiting coaches after the game.

Rookie Jacob Ouillette, who has been a huge addition this season, took a handoff and scampered his way 65 yards to the end zone on his first carry of the second half and finished the day with 105 yards on the ground and 37 receiving yards. Reliable defensive ends Josh Van den berg and Ouillette bottled up the Broncos at every turn not allowing a first down for the entire fourth quarter and gave the ball back to Tanner Hanson playing QB for the Magnums who controlled the ball and managed the game for the majority of the second half. Hanson plunged in for a score for himself to put the game out of reach.

Kamloops with the ball on the final play, slung it deep and popped up a prayer that was answered when it bounced off a helmet and multiple sets of hands landing eventually in the friendly gloves of a Bronco receiver in the end zone finishing the game with a respectable score of 25-14.

The coaching staff of the Magnums gave a ton of credit to their dominant offensive line who led the way and a punishing defence that wreaked havoc in the opposing backfield for most of the day.

The Magnums travel to Kamloops on Sunday, Sept. 26, to face the Kamloops Broncos B squad.

FootballHigh school sports