H.S. football: Panthers beat buzzer in playoff thriller

Carter Williams and Jesse Neufeld combined for some last-second heroics as the Abby Collegiate Panthers won their playoff opener.

Abby Collegiate quarterback Carter Williams connected with Jesse Neufeld on a 54-yard TD pass on the final play to lift the Panthers past Handsworth in the opening round of the AA high school football playoffs.

On Saturday afternoon at B.C. Place Stadium, Carter Williams and Jesse Neufeld combined for one of those plays that remind us why we love sports in the first place.

With just seven seconds remaining in a first-round AA high school playoff game between the Abbotsford Collegiate Panthers and the Handsworth Royals of North Vancouver, the Panthers had the ball on their own 46 yard line with the score tied 31-31.

Williams, the Panthers’ quarterback, took the snap, reared back and heaved the ball downfield. His target was Neufeld, but the senior wide receiver was covered by two Handsworth defensive backs.

Both Royals leaped to swat away the ball, but both whiffed. The pigskin fell into Neufeld’s arms inside Handsworth’s 20 yard line, and he ran the ball into the end zone as time expired. The stunning 54-yard passing play – Neufeld’s third TD of the fourth quarter – lifted the Panthers a 37-31 victory.

“There’s no quit in the guys,” Panthers coach Jay Fujimura marveled. “I knew that given the opportunity to win, they’d get the job done.”

The Panthers and Royals were tied 8-8 heading into the fourth quarter, but the offences came alive down the stretch. In the late going, Abby Collegiate took a 31-23 lead on Neufeld’s second major of the game, but Handsworth marched down the field for a TD, and they got the two-point convert to knot the score.

That set the stage for the dramatic Williams-to-Neufeld connection.

Describing the decisive play, Fujimura noted that his team lined up in the wrong formation, and that Williams hung onto the ball for longer than he would have liked. While the process may have been somewhat flawed, the result was pure joy.

“It’s a big win for the school, for the program,” Fujimura said. “It’s a big deal, going to B.C. Place and getting that first playoff win under their belt. But by no means do I think the guys are satisfied with that. We’re going to see how far we can take this.”

Williams completed 16 of 26 passes for 268 yards and three TDs, while Dillon McGuire found the end zone twice for the Panthers – once through the air, once on the ground.

The Panthers have a tough task in the AA quarter-finals, as they take on the No. 1-ranked and undefeated John Barsby Bulldogs of Nanaimo (Friday, 3 p.m., UBC).

W.J. MOUAT 31, TERRY FOX 0

In AAA action, the No. 2-ranked W.J. Mouat Hawks started slowly against the Terry Fox Ravens of Port Coquitlam on Friday. But the Ravens couldn’t slow down the dynamic pitch-and-catch duo of QB Daniel Markin and receiver Deion Bain for long.

After a scoreless first quarter, the Hawks got rolling. Markin threw two of his three TD passes on the day to Bain, who finished with a team-high five catches for 95 yards. David Park also caught a scoring pass from Markin, while running back Devin Logan added a 60-yard scoring scamper.

Afterward, Hawks bench boss Denis Kelly lauded the Bain’s big-play ability.

“Deion’s got a set of skills that are very unique for a high school kid,” he noted. “He’s got the ability to go by you deep, and he’s also very good at fighting for the ball in traffic.”

The Hawks travel to the Okanagan this Saturday to take on the Kelowna Owls (Saturday, 2 p.m.) in the quarter-finals.

HANSEN 28, SEAQUAM 16

The Rick Hansen Hurricanes are awfully glad that Alex Ho is a quick healer.

Ho, the Hurricanes’ Grade 10 quarterback, suffered a cracked femur during a game against Mount Boucherie on Sept. 16. The injury was thought to be season-ending, but he recovered on time for Hansen’s playoff opener and led them to a surprising win over the Seaquam Seahawks of Delta.

The Seahawks had trounced Hansen 33-6 earlier in the season, but Ho threw for 220 yards and a touchdown pass to Sukh Dhaliwal and rushed for another major. Jordon Gmur ran for three TDs, while Harpreet Dhaliwal chipped in with two interceptions.

“We weren’t anticipating Alex coming back at all this season,” Hansen coach Paul Gill admitted. “It was an early Christmas present for us.

“It’s a huge boost of confidence for the kids.”

The Hurricanes advance to face Interior champ Vernon Secondary (Friday, 5:30 p.m., UBC).

HUGH BOYD 14, BATEMAN 13

In the aftermath of his team’s loss to Hugh Boyd of Richmond, Bateman Timberwolves coach Rick MacDonald pointed out that a loss is still a loss, whether by one point or by 40.

But some losses are a little more painful, and the T-Wolves’ defeat on Friday fell into that category.

Trailing 14-7 late in the fourth quarter, Bateman had marched down the field and appeared poised to knot the score after Jorden Best busted loose for a 35-yard TD run. But Boyd’s Daniel Chernov blocked Ricky Vanbugnum’s kick for the extra point, preserving the one-point lead.

Afterward, MacDonald was left to mull over whether or not he should have called for a two-point convert instead.

“There was some discussion about that,” he said. “It’s only three yards to the goal line. A lot of things can go wrong when you have to snap the ball, place the ball, kick the ball. Not as much can go wrong when you hand the ball off to your big fullback.”

Fullback Freddy Lyhne also found the end zone for the T-Wolves, who in spite of Friday’s loss turned in a terrific debut in their first season of full-fledged AA football.

“When you look at it realistically, it’s been a good year,” said MacDonald, whose team finished third in the AA Eastern Conference and posted a 6-3 record overall.

“Did it live up to our expectations? No. Perhaps we were expecting too much, but our goal was to go further.”

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