Despite a move from AA to AAA at an unusual time, an incident that rocked the school’s population and losing star wide receiver Chase Claypool, the Panthers didn’t taste defeat all year long, until Saturday at BC Place.
The Hyacks survived a first half Panthers offensive onslaught, and took over in the third quarter to win 44-35 and eliminate Abbotsford from the playoffs.
“We fought had until the end but New West is a big and strong team,” said Panthers head coach Jay Fujimura. “Their line up front beat us up and wore us down, that’s their game – they grind on you and we couldn’t score enough to match them.”
Offence wasn’t a problem early on for the Panthers, as they tied the game up at 8 on their first drive after Samwel Uko crossed the goal line. The Hyacks replied with another rushing touchdown, but Panthers wide receiver Tanner Marquardt put Abbotsford up 15-14 late in the first half.
Marquardt added another touchdown catch with 1:34 left to put the Panthers up 22-14 after two quarters. Fujimura said he liked his team’s play in the first two quarters.
“We wanted to see what they were going to do against Samwel and it opened up the pass for us,” he said. “The first half we did an excellent job offensively but we couldn’t sustain it.”
Uko ran about 60 yards on the first drive of the second half to give the Panthers their biggest lead at 29-14, but from there the Abbotsford offence dried up.
The Hyacks scored two majors in the third quarter to go up 30-29, and the Panthers had a glorious opportunity late in the third after a kickoff return by Tyson Reid that saw Abbotsford start inside the 10 yard line.
The Panthers failed to get any points on that drive, and the Hyacks scored two more majors to go up 44-29 with about five minutes left.
Uko dished a lateral to Maasin Thompson with 3:48 to make it 44-35, but the Panthers failed to convert an onside kick and the Hyacks eventually ran the clock out.
“I knew I didn’t want to be in a close game with them in the fourth quarter just because they’re so big, deep and athletic,” Fujimura said. “We wanted to get up early and not get in a grinding contest with them. We just couldn’t sustain the lead.”
Read Wednesday’s print edition of the Abbotsford News for more from the game.