Lord Tweedsmuir may have been undefeated, but the defending B.C. champions were undeterred.
When the final whistle blew, the New Westminster Hyacks were semifinal-bound.
Now, they face the Terry Fox Ravens on Saturday (7 p.m. at B.C. Place) in what is a rematch of the 2017 Subway Bowl final.
The defending Subway Bowl champion Hyacks sent the No. 1-ranked Lord Tweedsmuir Panthers packing Saturday with a 34-16 decision at B.C. Place.
New West garnered control of the game early with a strong start, leading 14-0 after the opening quarter, then surged ahead after Tweedsmuir pulled within four points early in the third quarter.
The resilience and determination of the Royal City side carried the underdogs – but when is a defending champion truly an underdog? – through situations where it looked like the Panthers had an advantage.
All testaments to the program’s preparation and deliberance.
“I was very proud of how our guys played. It was a complete win and we’ve been looking for that. It was a complete, all three-phases win,” remarked New West head coach Farhan Lalji. “(Coach Clint Uttley) did a great job on the defensive plan and offensively we just executed.
“We knew how talented (Lord Tweedsmuir) were on the perimeter, so we wanted to keep the game between the tackles. We thought we had some possible advantages there.”
The Panthers also had no answer to stop Broxx Comia, who exploded for 299 yards on 24 carries, including the game’s first two touchdowns on runs of four and 27 yards in the opening quarter.
While Tweedsmuir responded with a major in the second quarter, the Hyacks got within inches of a third major with the clock winding down in the half. Only some impressive stuff blocking stopped quarterback Kinsale Philip from pushing it across, looking to give the Panthers some emotional momentum heading into the locker room.
No one could stop the Hyacks, however, from feeling empowered by having put the ball there in the first place.
“We just walked into the locker room and we were just talking – (Tweedsmuir) were probably going to get fired up, talking about just stopping us. But no, the only types of plays they were getting were some trick plays, it wasn’t anything,” said Philip. “We felt like, ‘We got this.’”
After a 27-yard field goal got the Panthers within four points, New West responded with an efficient march, led by Philip’s 25-yard dash to Tweedsmuir’s 32-yard line. Comia would cap it with a two-yard touchdown, then proceed to add scores of 64- and 19-yard dashes.
“When we had that middle phase in the season against South Delta, Notre Dame and (Vancouver College), Broxx was hurt. Sometimes he played but we managed him and he was a non-factor,” said Lalji. “Now, Broxx is the Broxx we expected all year and the Broxx we needed all year. When he’s on his game he’s pretty special.”
Greyson Planisic chipped in 71 yards on nine carries, while defensively, Philip counted a team-high five tackles and Vishaan Naraya tallied four. Taran Birdi and Planinsic collected three apiece. Matthew Lalim and Planinsic recorded interceptions that resulted in points.
New West’s defence, which limited the Panthers to just 123 rushing yards, will be tasked with a similar challenge against Fox’s dual rushing tandem of Cade Cote and Jaden Severy, who accounted for four touchdowns in that team’s 35-21 quarterfinal victory over Notre Dame last week.
“(Lord Tweedsmuir) ran a lot and when we stopped them a number of times in the first quarter I knew we had a good chance to win this game,” noted lineman Evan Noli. It’s the recipe for a ticket to the provincial final, too.
Experience and familiarity has been a big boost in the club’s success so far, as they cleared the slate after last month’s rough patch. Well prepared and enjoying the challenges, the Hyacks have built a different model for a winning season. As Philip’s notes, this year’s New West lineup does have 18 holdovers from last year’s champions.
“There’s a different type of bond, switching from last year where I was really close to the seniors, to this year,” the Grade 12 pivot said. “I think it’s actually even stronger an atmosphere. We had to work to come together, work to fight.
“It’s completely different. This is not like last year. This is a completely different team, a completely different strategy, and we’re still rolling.”
The Ravens are also different, having lost a handful of key players to graduation, as well as the program’s top-two quarterbacks to prep schools. Ranked No. 4 after posting an 8-2 record in the Eastern Conference, Fox brings a lot of skill and size to the table, as well as a ‘redemption’ card that could be a factor.
The Hyacks will be well-prepared for what comes next.
“We’ve got really good linemen. Last year we had some really good, undersized athletic linemen. This year we’ve got a little more size, we’ve got (Naraya) coming up, he’s going to be a big name and he’s just in Grade 10, guys like (Noli), guys like Daniel Dordevic – they’re all putting their names on the scene this year,” said Philip.
The B.C. Subway Bowl semifinal against Terry Fox kicks off Saturday at 7 p.m. at B.C. Place.