Similarities abound between the combatants in Saturday’s B.C. Subway Bowl High School Senior Varsity AA Football championship at B.C. Place Stadium in Vancouver (4 p.m., live streaming, bchighschoolfootball.com).
The No. 1 Vernon Panthers face the No. 5 Robert Bateman Timberwolves of Abbotsford in the final.
Both teams are undefeated against AA opposition. Both have outstanding quarterbacks, wide receivers, running backs and defences.
The Panthers outscored their Interior Conference opponents 183-6 in going 4-0 in the regular season. In two post-season games, VSS has racked up 95 points for, and only 14 against – two late touchdowns in a 51-14 quarterfinal romp over the Ballenas Whalers of Parksville. The Cats advanced to the title game with a 44-0 pasting of Nanaimo’s John Barsby Bulldogs.
Bateman hasn’t allowed a post-season point against. They’ve outscored the Windsor Dukes (28-0 quarterfinal) of North Vancouver, and Surrey’s Holy Cross Crusaders (49-0 semifinal) by a combined 77 points. In the regular season, The T-Wolves went 3-0, outscoring their foes 102-41.
“I think it’s going to come down to who protects the ball, sustains drives and finishes drives,” said Bateman head coach David Mills, who has guided his team to its first-ever provincial final.
The T-Wolves are led by quarterback Logan McDonald, the B.C. AA offensive MVP of the season, and by all-round threat in all three phases of the game, Sam Davenport, who scored four touchdowns against Holy Cross, picked off two passes and booted six-of-seven point-after attempts.
VSS is led by Grade 12s Charles Lemay, a stud on both sides of the ball and named MVP in the B.C. AA league, and quarterback Thomas Hyett, the top signal-caller in B.C. AA ranks this year. Throw in top Grade 11 receiver Caden Danbrook, B.C. all-star receiver-defensive back Zack Smith and a lockdown defence, and the makings for a classic final Saturday are all there.
“They’ve got the offensive MVP quarterback, two, three, four kids that can go and catch the ball. Our biggest worry is to stop the pass and make them a run team,” said Panthers head coach Sean Smith. “We have to establish a ground game. We’ve shown we can pass. When we’re most successful is when we establish the run game early and that sets up the pass for us.
“We never change our approach. We are who we are. We know our strengths, we know our weaknesses. Every week we game plan differently for every team based on what they bring.”
Grade 12 linebacker-fullback Drew MacKenzie said the Panthers are a special group.
“We have a lot of great athletes and we work really hard,” said MacKenzie, who was on the 2016 team that lost the provincial final, and fell in last year’s semifinals. “Smith has coached us very well the last couple of years and prepared us for Saturday. We’ve been ranked No. 1 pretty much all season but coach has kept a leash on it, reminding us there are better players and better teams than we’ve been playing in the Interior, so we’ve been sticking true to our game and not letting the rankings get into our heads.”
The Panthers were in the provincial AA final two years ago, ranked No. 1, but lost 35-15 to No. 2 Seaquam Seahawks of South Delta that day. They nearly repeated a trip to the championship game in 2017 but lost 28-25 in the semifinals on a last-minute touchdown to the Abbotsford Panthers.
Smith guided the Panthers to the 2017 Junior Varsity title with a 38-6 romp over Ballenas, giving the school and city it’s first-ever provincial football championship.
The past, said Smith, is just that: the past.
“We clear the slate as much as we can,” he said. “We don’t bring up the past too much. When talking of the past, it’s more along the lines of mistakes we’ve made. I told the boys we’ve lost three games due to extra points and field goals in playoffs, and won a big one with the juniors last year on a field goal.
“We remind them of the little things, those are what could make difference in tight games. I don’t want to remind them of losses. They’re a very good team and if we play our game we’ve got a really good shot.”
Mills said excitement in his program has been building throughout the season.
“The kids are practising hard, the energy level is quite high and they’ve been getting better every week,” he said. “They’re having fun and are excited to be in the provincial final.”
Asked if his team was the favourite Saturday, Smith said it’s hard to have a favourite or underdog when the two teams haven’t played each other before.
“A month ago, I’d have said we’re definitely the favourite,” said Smith. “They’re definitely the most improved team this year, watching them on film game-to-game. We can’t take anything for granted. Two years ago we were No. 1, but Seaquam was the better team that game. We’re hoping for a different outcome Saturday.”
The two teams met in the pre-season in 2017, with the Panthers prevailing 42-7 in the Fraser Valley.