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(Posted 8 a.m., July 30)
Panthers show their mettle in OPFL championship loss

By Fred Sherwin
The Orleans Star

CumberlandPanthers offensive lineman Justin Muhlig (59) tries to create a hole for running back Khalid Campbell during the fourth quarter of the OPFL Bantam Varsity championshio game on June 28. Fred Sherwin/Photo

It’s been a season to remember for the Cumberland Panthers bantam varsity team. They didn’t win the top prize, but that hardly matters looking back in retro-spect. They did make the championship game, which they lost 28-14 to a very good Essex Ravens team, but more importantly they pulled off one of the Ontario Provincial Football League upsets of the year in downing the Ottawa Sooners in the East Conference final.

That game was the defining moment in a season in which the Panthers lost three of their first five games. But three straight wins in the final three regular season games, including a 28-0 win over the Durham Dolphins in the regular seasib finale, saw them finish in third place in the East Conference standings ahead of the very same Dolphins.

After beating the Burlington Stampeders – who had only loss once in the regular season – in the semi-final, the Panthers managed to knock off the previously undefeated Sooners after the Sooners had already booked their hotel room for the OPFL final in Windsor and were charging $10 at the gate to help pay for the trip.

Cumberland Panthers quarterback Colin Doherty tries to fend off an Essex Ravens tackler during the OPFL Championship game. Fred Sherwin/Photo

In Saturday’s championship game, the Panthers’ defence played like lions limiting the Essex Ravens to just 93 yards in total yards in the first half. The only hiccup the Panthers made was in allowing Essex receiver Brodie Kowtiuk to get behind the secondary for a 53 touchdown pass from quarterback Rhys Staley.

That play followed the Panthers’ first touchdown which came off a broken play in which a missed hand-off resulted in a 66-yard touchdown scramble by Cumberland quarterback Wolfi Schad.

A botched extra point by the Ravens had them trailing 7-6.

The most eventful play of the first half came during the Panthers’ opening series when their leading running back Khalid Campbell rolled his ankle and was relegated to the sidelines for the remainder of the half and most of the third quarter.

When Campbell eventually did get back in the game he was far from 100 per cent. During his absence, the Panthers had difficulty moving the ball. They did manage to get a pair of first downs in the first half, but both of them came on fourth down with less than a yard to go. More telling is the fact that their longest play from scrimmage, besides the 66-yard touchdown run that came on a broken play, covered just eight yards.

The situation wasn’t much better in the second half in which the Panthers averaged just 2.6 yards per play against a very stingy Ravens defence.

The lone highlight for Cumberland was an 85-yard punt return for a touchdown by Jaylen Guy.

The Ravens offence managed to find some success in the second half thanks in large part to Jaydon Bush. After only getting the ball twice in the first half, Bush carried the ball eight times in the second half for 64 yards and a pair of touchdowns against a Panther defence that was growing more tired with each series. For his efforts, Bush was named the game’s MVP.

After the disappointing loss, Panthers’ head coach Sean Baptiste tried to put the game in perspective for his players.

“One game doesn’t define who you are. It doesn’t define the season we had. It doesn’t take away the things we accomplished,” said Baptiste. “That’s life. Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose and that’s part of the lesson we learn. I’m proud of every single one of you. We win as a family and we lose as a family.”

“Only two teams get to play in the final,” Baptiste added during a post game interview with The Star. “One is going to win and one is going to lose. And that’s why you lay it on the line for. Unfortunately we lost but the kids are going to learn from this and they will be better for it.”

The Cumberland Panthers gather for a team photo with the OPFL finalist banner they earned by winning the East Conference title game. Fred Sherwin/Photo

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

 

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