Panthers earn provincial glory

The Stettler Panthers are provincial champions. The Panthers defeated

The Stettler Panthers are provincial champions.

The Panthers defeated the St. Albert Colts 50-22 last Saturday at Johnny Bright Sports Park in Edmonton to capture the Alberta Tier 4 peewee football championship.

“The game was very exciting and the kids played excellent on both sides of the ball,” said Panthers coach Berri Shirley.

Stettler struck first with a completed pass to the end zone by Panthers quarterback Carson Neitz to receiver Grayson Loshny at 6:14 of the first quarter.

St. Albert responded with less than a minute left in the quarter with a touchdown of its own and a completed kicking convert, giving the Colts an 8-6 lead.

The game went back and forth to halftime, with the Colts powering up the middle and the Panthers’ squad chewing up big yards outside the tackles.

At halftime, the Panthers led 26-16.

The Panthers’ other first-half scoring resulted from a completed pass to Adam Shirley, a successful convert kick by Zachary Lachowsky, a 65-yard run by Neitz, and a push through the middle by Kameron Bainbridge from the one-yard line.

Defensively, the first half of the game was a hard-fought, grind-it-out game. Stettler’s defensive linemen — Dillon Heidecker, Ty Zitaruk, Tallin Hennel and Lincoln Carey — were challenged to shut down the St. Albert power game on the line. The Panthers’ ends and middle linebacker, Steele Nichols, had to come up big in a bend-but-don’t-break style of defence.

The Panthers confidently entered the second half and believed the game’s momentum would continue going their way. The offence started succeeding in eating up yards and time of possession and it was apparent that confidence was gained for scoring on the outside.

Mac Brennan scored at 8:26 of the third quarter and there was no looking back for the Panthers. Special teams came up big with turnovers, while the defence dominated the line of scrimmage. Two more touchdowns from Brennan in the fourth quarter, and one from Bainbridge, sealed the victory.

The Colts scored a final touchdown late in the game, but they were otherwise foiled by the Panthers’ defence.

“Every player at every position had to make plays at some point during the game,” coach Shirley said.

“It’s been a great year for the kids. We’ve worked very hard and never quit. These kids deserved it.”

The Panthers and their coaching staff — Shirley, offensive coach Mark Neitz and defensive coaches Sean Zitaruk, Grant Mcquay and Zeke Ryan — thanked sponsors, volunteers, trainers and all who contributed to the team’s championship season.

 — Submitted

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