The Hague Panthers came within a whisker of upsetting the visiting Viscount Vikings in their final home game of the season on Thursday, October 5.
But their short bench caught up with them in the final quarter. You can only play both sides of the ball for so long before you simply run out of gas.
The Panthers dropped a 40-28 decision to the Vikings in a see-saw battle that saw big plays by both teams.
“We were a touchdown away from winning this one today,” said Panthers coach Clay Kirby. “We had a couple of really good chances that were inches away.”
Hague drew first blood midway through the opening quarter with a touchdown by Jarrett Penner. But Viscount answered back with a touchdown of their own, and the score was tied 8-8 heading into the second quarter.
A field goal and a punt single by Panthers kicker Alex Halkett put the home side up 12-8.
But Viscount’s secret weapon, Payne Wylie, gave the visitors a 16-12 lead with a touchdown with two minutes left in the second quarter.
Penner scored his second touchdown of the game with less than a minute to go before the half to restore Hague’s lead. The home team went into half-time with a 20-16 cushion.
Payne scored two more touchdowns for Viscount in the third and another in the fourth, while Koltin Zaichkoski replied with a major for Hague in the third quarter.
With two more tough road games left in the regular season, next week in Porcupine Plain and the following week in Hanley, Kirby said the Panthers still have an “outside chance” of making the playoffs this year.
But even if that doesn’t pan out, things look good for next season, he added.
“We have an excellent young quarterback, Connor Thiessen, who’s in Grade 10 but throws the ball as well as any Grade 11 or 12 quarterback in this league,” said Kirby. “It’s awesome to know we have him for the next couple years.”
Kirby said with a good crop of Grade 9s and 10s in waiting in the wings, he’s confident the roster will be bigger next year and they won’t need to rely on two-way players as much.
“It happens to us almost every game,” said Kirby. “Players get tired. Next year we’ll have more guys on the field.”
Kirby said he was impressed with the determination of his squad.
“I’m really proud of the way they played right to the end,” he said. “We had some big goal-line stands defensively. Twice we got them to turn the ball over on downs inside our 20-yard line. There’s no quit in these guys.”