If Samwel Uko looked a little tired on Saturday night, give him a break.
The Abbotsford Panthers star running back put the senior varsity team on his back, and helped drag the club into the AA provincial final.
Uko scored all four touchdowns, and ran for well over 200 yards in Abbotsford’s 28-25 win over the Vernon Panthers at B.C. Place in the AA semifinal on Saturday. He also knocked the ball out of a Vernon receiver’s hands with a thunderous hit on the game’s second last play to help seal the win.
An exhausted Uko said he’s thrilled to see his team back in the provincial final.
“I feel beat up but good,” he said. “We’re going to the final.”
But Saturday’s game was a difficult path with plenty of ups and downs for Abbotsford.
Vernon controlled Uko in the first quarter, keeping he and Abbotsford off the scoreboard until the final minutes of the second quarter. Uko reached the end zone again early in the third, but Vernon answered back on the next drive.
Vernon took over in the fourth, with their passing game catching fire and after a pair of touchdowns they led 25-21 with 6:24 left in the game.
That’s when the Abbotsford’s clock-killing offence took over, as Uko and his teammates ate up 5:41 to score the game’s final touchdown and qualify for the final.
Uko said that last drive was huge.
“My teammates told me – Samwel just go,” he said. “And coach [Jay] Fujimura trusted me with the ball. I felt so happy being able to do it for my teammates. Coach told us at halftime that we have to stick together and we did that as a family. Getting that win today feels so good.”
Fujimura said Vernon proved to be a stiff test for his team.
“I knew it was going to be a tough game, they’re an extremely skilled team, and I knew it was going to be a battle inside the trenches,” he said. “If we were going to win we were going to have to do it there. Towards the end of the game, those guys stepped up big time when we needed them to.”
He admitted he was thinking of going to the pass, but Uko and the running game kept delivering.
“We were tempted to pass but their defensive backs and safeties are so great,” he said. “We were gaining enough yards on the run that I wanted to stick to it. We thought about some play action too, but they’re just so good. We didn’t want to go away from what was working.”
Abbotsford qualifies for their second straight AA provincial final with the win. They lost to Carson Graham in the 2015 AA provincial final, and last year played in the AAA conference.
Abbotsford will take on the Windsor Dukes in the AA provincial final at B.C. Place on Saturday.
The two teams met in an exhibition game in North Vancouver back on Sept. 22, with the Dukes defeating the Panthers 47-22.
The Dukes finished the season with a perfect record of five wins and zero losses, and finished first in the AA’s Western Conference. Windsor outscored its opposition 210-54 during those five games.
The North Vancouver school continued its dominance in the postseason, defeating Vernon’s Clarence Fulton Maroons 49-13 in the AA quarter-finals on Nov. 18, and then crushing Chilliwack’s G.W. Graham Grizzlies 47-7 in the AA semifinal game at B.C. Place on Saturday.
The Dukes are led by quarterback and linebacker Ryan Baker, who was named the AA’s most valuable player. Baker threw for 783 yards and 11 touchdowns in the regular season, while adding 495 yards and four touchdowns rushing. He dominated the Grizzlies in the semifinal, throwing for 199 yards and two touchdowns, and adding 163 yards rushing and four touchdowns.
They will play the winner of today’s other AA semi-final, which features the Dukes taking on the G.W. Graham Grizzlies. The AA provincial final is set for Saturday at B.C. Place. Kick-off is scheduled for 4 p.m.