A North Okanagan high school laid claim to being a provincial champion on the weekend.
At the B.C. high school football championships in Vancouver on Saturday, Vernon Secondary School captured the 2A varsity championship with a narrow 23-22 win over John Barsby Secondary of Nanaimo.
Earlier in the day at B.C. Place, Vernon also won the 2A junior varsity provincial championship, as the Panthers smashed Ballenas of Parksville 61-22.
The 2A varsity championship was Vernon’s third provincial title since 2018. The Panthers were 11-1 on the season while John Barsby finished at 9-2.
Vernon clinched the game on a fourth-and-inches play. With time running down, quarterback Cole Budgen pitched the ball to Jonah Lee, who then ran to the right side for the first down.
Panthers lineman Mark Johnson, an athletic senior who tilts the scales at 6-foot-5 and 260 pounds, was named the game’s MVP and top student-athlete.
“The fact that we ended on a championship note, that’s all I really throughout my high school career,” Johnson said. “We’ve come close quite a few times … to finally pull it off makes you very happy.”
Asked what his goal was heading into the season, Johnson said it was “to help my team win and contribute as best as I could. I didn’t really have the MVP set in my mind; I just wanted to play to the best of my ability and to continue to get better each week.”
Regarding his greatest strides of late, Johnson said it was working out and relentlessly asking questions about football, even during the off-season.
“It’s been really cool, seeing the progress in the weight room pay off,” he said. “I’ll look at myself and think I’m really big. And then six months later, I’m 15 pounds heavier. And then I think: ‘OK, let’s just keep going.’ It’s the want to not stop getting better.”
Johnson played offence and defence, but sees his future as playing offensive tackle when he plays university football next season – either in Canada or the U.S.
“Since I’m a little underweight, I’ll probably redshirt my first year,” said Johnson. “But second year, once I put on my weight, I can see myself playing four years in university and using up all my eligibility.”
He continued, saying “the goal is to play professionally one day. That’s what I’ve always wanted to do. As a kid, I never knew what sport I wanted to play professionally, but I’ve always had that goal of reaching the highest level.”