Battle of the cats

Abby Panthers fall to Vernon Panthers in Subway Bowl quarterfinals.

A 36-6 defeat wasn’t the way the Abby Senior Panthers had hoped to end their football playoff run, but sometimes hope isn’t enough when tangling with the top-ranked team in the province.

The Panthers met the Vernon Panthers on Friday in Kamloops, two cats dancing for a place in the Double-A Subway Bowl semifinals this weekend. Abby, which only last year was 1-6 in regular season play, went into Saturday’s game ranked fifth in B.C.

“We made a couple of key mistakes early in the game, and when you’re in the playoffs against good teams it’s tough to get over some of these things,” said Abby coach Jay Fujimura.

The Abby squad started well, forcing a three-and-out on Vernon’s first possession. Abby senior Chase Claypool ran for a big return on the ensuing punt, but the advantage was negated by a penalty. Undeterred, Claypool and quarterback Jordan Fox hooked up for a long reception that put Abby inside Vernon’s red zone, but a few failed plays and penalties later, Abby turned the ball over without scoring a point.

It was one of four times the team would progress deep into the Vernon end, and one of four times Abby would be stymied in the final advance.

A blown coverage in the next series allowed Vernon an easy touchdown to gain the lead.  The Abby offence  regained the ball, but couldn’t gain any traction and was forced to punt.  The snap flew over the punter’s head, and Vernon recovered the ball on Abby’s one-yard-line for another easy score.

The rest of the game continued in a similar pattern, with Abby taking key penalties and missing third-down opportunities on offence and defence.

By halftime Vernon was up 29-0. While Abby would blank the Vernon offence through the rest of the game, their own scoring struggles would continue, and Vernon’s defence would pick up their final points by running another turnover into the end-zone

“They got the lead and they’re a very good running team,” said Fujimura. “So they were just able to keep grinding it out, grinding it out, and eating up the clock and wearing us down.”

The Abby squad picked up some big victories this year on their way to a top-eight finish, including a 14-12 defeat of the (then) top-ranked Mission Roadrunners in the final game of the regular season. It was the first time Abby has beaten the Roadrunners since the team rejoined the Double-A league in 2008.

According to Fujimura, his team’s biggest accomplishment has been transitioning “from only winning one or two games last year to possible contending and being ranked in the province.” He credited his team’s work, culture, and passion with the change.