It wasn’t pretty, but the Abbotsford Panthers will take it.
They kicked off the AA regular football season in Mission on Saturday and hung on for a 24-21 win in rainy conditions.
Abbotsford was on fire in the first quarter, compiling a 17-0 lead, but Mission battled back to finish the first half down 17-14.
The teams battled for field position for most of the second half, with each scoring only one major, and the Panthers’ defence locking down.
Head coach Jay Fujimura said, “Today was an ugly game and we made a lot of mistakes, but we were able to sort out our issues defensively in the second half.”
Panthers wide receiver Reese Morrison had a strong game, scoring the team’s first touchdown and making a key catch on fourth and 20 to extend the game’s eventual winning drive. Chase Claypool scored the Panthers’ second touchdown and was a constant threat offensively.
Mission was led by Joeda Cannon, who scored all three touchdowns for the Roadrunners. Cannon, who regularly plays running back, was thrust into the quarterback position after the team’s regular quarterback was sick. Fujimura said his team got its act together, especially on defence, in the second half.
“I told them we need to have a sense of urgency,” he said of the team’s half-time talk.
“I thought we were good enough in the second half to win this game, but I think in the first half they were playing like they thought they were going to win easily and that should never be the case.”
He said he liked the play of Morrison, and defensively he was impressed with Mike Sabourin, who made several key stops in the fourth quarter.
“We’re getting better and progressing, but there’s still lots of work to be done,” he said.
Next up for the Panthers is the club’s home opener on Friday at 7 p.m. against Pitt Meadows.
In other AA action, the Robert Bateman Timberwolves opened the season on Friday with a 21-14 loss to G.W. Graham.
Anthony Bodger scored on a kick-off return and Tyson Gibson caught the Wolves’ two touchdowns. Bateman next hosts Mission on Friday at 3:30 p.m.
Also on Friday, the Rick Hansen Hurricanes were blanked 40-0 at home by Pitt Meadows.
In AAA action on Saturday, the W.J. Mouat Hawks traveled to Kelowna and came up short, losing 33-14 to the Owls. Nelson Lokombo and Dion Pellerin scored the majors in the loss for the Hawks. Mouat falls to zero wins and two losses on the season after the setback.
The Hawks next host Centennial on Friday at 7:30 p.m.