The Abbotsford Panthers are one win away from a provincial football title, after defeating the Langley Saints 50-29 at BC Place on Saturday.
The semi-final started out well for the Panthers, as they pushed the Saints deep into their own zone and committed a safety after a flubbed point.
A Panthers fumble stalled the team’s first offensive drive, and Langley marched down the field to go up 8-2 early, but the Panthers scored four unanswered touchdowns to lead 29-8 at the half.
Star wide receiver Chase Claypool was a huge factor in the Panthers win. He scored a touchdown in each quarter, and he seemed to be on the same wavelength as quarterback John Madigan for the entire game.
“I tell him just to throw it up as high and as far as he can and I’ll try to make a play on it,” he said.
The star wide receiver did just that on several plays, and also was a key defensive piece in the Panthers’ win. He made several tackles and grabbed an interception in the second quarter. His play wasn’t unnoticed by the opposition.
“He is a special, special athlete,” said Langley co-head coach Ryk Piche of the six-foot-five receiver.
“With his body type, he looks like a third-year university player.
“We had two guys covering him, we had one high, one low, we had one playing man and one playing zone [defence] over top of him and there were times they would just throw a ball up in his general direction and the young man would come down with the ball.”
Running back Richard Tshimpaka also had a huge game, scoring two touchdowns and playing a key role on defence. Reese Morrison caught the Panthers’ other touchdown.
Panthers head coach Jay Fujimura said it was a solid team effort.
“We knew today was going to be a test,” he said. “Langley is a very good team, and we spent a lot of time preparing for all their schemes. For the most part we did pretty good at closing the gaps on them.”
Claypool said last week’s win against the defending champion Barsby Bulldogs was a huge lift for the team.
“We’re getting more confident,” he said. “We were always there; we just needed that confidence boost. That win against Barsby was really big for us – they were one of the best teams we’ve played. It’s all about the guys trusting each other to make big plays.”
Claypool said it’s going to be a week of preparing for the Carson Graham Eagles on Saturday.
“We’ve never seen them before so we’re going to do a lot of film on them this week,” he said. “We have to know how they play and be prepared for them. Back in Grade 9 we lost it [playoff game] and there are some seniors from that team still here, I don’t want to have that feeling again. We really want to do it for our coach – he wants it bad.”
Fujimura said the title game will be a test for his team.
“I know they have one of the better running backs in the province and a big line so they can move the ball,” he said. “Carson is a very balanced team, but we have to be ready and play tough.”
He said his team is coming together at the perfect point in the year.
“We’re peaking at the right time,” he said. “We’re getting better every week and we seem to be making less and less mistakes.”
Carson Graham beat G.W. Graham 24-21 in the other AA semi-final. They finished the regular season with a record of three wins and one loss.
The AA provincial title game kicks off at 4 p.m. on Saturday at BC Place. Abbotsford Secondary last won a provincial football title in 1984, when the school defeated Notre Dame 14-7 in the AAA championship.