The Abbotsford Panthers junior football team cruised their way to the Double-A finals this year by conducting a series of post-season massacres. The Panthers beat Frank Hurt by 34, Robert Bateman by 28, and Ballenas by 39, but didn’t lead for a moment in Saturday’s Subway Bowl against the GW Graham Grizzlies.
The Panthers fell 23-13 to the Grizzlies despite beating the Chilliwack squad 28-22 on Oct. 17. Both games were similar in execution, but this time, with a season championship on the line, it was the Grizzlies who made the big plays late to secure the victory.
The matchup pitted the big, powerful Grizzlies against the speedier Panthers squad. As Abby coach Jay Fujimura explained, Abby throws the ball to open up the running game, whereas Graham runs the ball to open up the throw. On Saturday the Grizzlies kept most of their game on the ground and in the hands of running-backs Von Richardson and Emilio Pineda, while the Panthers favoured a riskier throwing game.
Panthers quarterback John Madigan knew his line would have trouble holding the Grizzlies. “Give me a couple seconds,” he told them, “and I’ll try to make something happen.”
The Subway Bowl didn’t start on a positive note for Abby. Graham scored on their first drive of the game, after jumping on a fumbled ball, then scored again early in the second quarter to extend the lead to 14.
“It was 14 nothing and we’d run one play in the first quarter,” said Fujimura wryly.
Still the Panthers fought back with two touchdowns from running-back Samwel Uko. Each score came at the end of extended drives that showcased the best of the team’s offensive capabilities. On the second, in the third quarter, Abby successfully gambled on three fourth downs before Uko ran it in.
Image courtesy of Ray Shum and Tempest photo.
Unfortunately, the Panthers botched the snap to their kicker and failed to tie the game. For a brief moment they were down only 14-13, but Grizzlies’ workhorse Pineda answered back almost immediately with a 58-yard touchdown run.
Graham scored another field goal to make it 23-13, and stopped a critical Panthers drive on the one-yard line to protect their lead. Abby’s last hopes were extinguished when the Grizzlies intercepted throws on both of the Panthers’ last two drives.
Fujimura was proud of his team, especially the play of defensive stalwarts Darious Kelly and Jacob Lakey
“We knew that they were going to get yards on plays,” Fujimura said. “Three yards a carry, four yards a carry. Our goal was on every series to shoot the gaps and get one for a loss. Force a punt.”
Both he and Madigan pointed to the Panthers’ drive to the one-yard line as a turning point in the game, sure that if they could have scored, or at least forced a safety, the contest might have ended much differently.
Graham has now won the junior boy’s Subway Bowl two years in a row. The Panthers were promoted to the Triple-A playoffs last season after winning their conference, and consequently were denied a crack at the Double-A championship.