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OPFL Football
Bantam Panthers advance to OPFL championship game
By Fred Sherwin
Orléans Online

Cumberland Panthers running back Alexander Boily prepares to take on an Ottawa Jr. Sooners defender during the East Conference championship at Keith Harris Stadium on July 14. Fred Sherwin/Photo

The Cumberland Panthers bantam varsity team did the unthinkable on Saturday – they upset the previously undefeated Ottawa Jr. Sooners and now have the Ontario Provincial Football League championship in their sights.

The Panthers finished the regular season in third place in the East Conference standings with a 5-3 record. One of their three losses was a 24-18 defeat at the hands of the Sooners in week five.

The loss dropped the Panthers to 2-3 and on the outside of the playoff picture looking in. Since then, they’ve won five in a row including Saturday’s improbable win. One more and they will be provin-cial champs.

“I’m speechless,” said Panthers head coach after the game. “We’ve been there before, we learned from our mistakes, and when we found ourselves in the same situation today we were able to finish it and we came out on top.”

The win was a total team effort. A huge goal line stand near the end of the first half with the Sooners already enjoying a 6-0 lead would prove pivotal. As would a number of forced turnovers in the fourth quarter. The special teams came through with a successful onside kick in the third quarter that led to the Panthers’ second touchdown. And the offence was led by running back Khalid Campbell, who put the team on his back in scoring all three of the Panthers’ touchdowns, including a 60-yard sprint in the fourth quarter that gave them the lead for good.

The Sooners kicked off the scoring in the second quarter on a long touchdown run by Andrew Ayrakwa. They had an excellent chance to add to their lead with a first down on the Panthers’ one yard line before the end of the half, but the Cumberland defence rose to the challenge and pushed the Sooners backwards into a field goal situation. The ensuing attempt rattled off the upright, leaving the deficit at six points.

The Panthers came out of the half-time break and immediately established their ground game, moving the ball 53 yards on three running plays by Campbell, including a 35-yard effort that set up the touchdown. Leelen Anthony then added the extra point to give Cumberland a 7-6 lead.

The Panthers managed to catch the Sooners off-guard on the ensuing kick-off by successfully pulling off an onside kick. Then, facing third and long, Cumberland quarterback Wolfi Schad completed a rare pass to Cordel Epale that went for 39 yards.

A pair of runs by Campbell would move the ball inside the five yard line. A sack and an illegal motion penalty moved the line of scrimmage back to the 10, setting up a pair of runs by Campbell including a five-yard touchdown effort on fourth and goal from the five.

A bobbled snap on the point after attempt left the score at 13-6 in favour of the Panthers.

Cumberland was forced to concede a safety in the early going in the fourth quarter to make the score 13-8. Rather than have the Panthers kick-off, the Sooners elected to take the ball on their own 35-yard line. A 45-yard pass from Justin Shibley to Tyler Baigent would set up a 21-yard touchdown run by Ayrakwa, capped by a two-point conversion toss from Shibley to Hayden Lynds which briefly gave the Sooners a 16-13 lead.

It took the Panthers just one play to get the lead back. Campbell took the ball from Schad and then sliced and diced his way through the Sooners defence for a 60-yard TD.

With time winding down, the Sooners inexplicably abandoned their running game and instead tried to move the ball through the air.

The result was an interception by Justin Belanger -- which prematurely ended one drive -- and a high snap that resulted in a fumble recovery by Andrew Christie which sealed the Sooners fate for good and cemented the win for the Panthers, who now have a bye week before traveling to Windsor for the OPFL championship game.

(This story was made possible thanks to the generous support of our local business partners.)

 

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