First-place bragging rights were on the line and Jason Kragt and the Prince George Polars would not be denied.
They survived a tooth-and-nail slugfest and landed a late knockout punch right on the chops of the Duchess Park Condors.
Kurtis Vohar took the hand-off from quarterback Kragt and used his speed and strength to shake off a pack of Condor tacklers as he dove into the end zone from two yards out with just 18.6 seconds left. It made all the difference for the Polars in a 26-20 triumph over the Condors Friday night under the lights at Masich Place Stadium.
“Our line helped me out this game and they blocked their butts off,” said Kragt. “We have the best coaches in the North and the receivers made big catches, it was all a team effort.
The Polars lost 26-10 the previous week to the College Heights Cougars and used that as motivation to take practice this week a little more seriously.
“It put us in gear, we went straight to practice and there was no goofing off and we just got our crap together,” said Kragt. “It was a battle. Kudos to Duchess for giving us a fight. We’ll see you in the playoffs.”
The Polars, who equaled Duchess Park’s’ 3-1 record, needed the win to wrap up their first B.C. Secondary Schools Football Association North Division regular season title since 2018.
Vohar’s winning drive was set up by a 35-yard catch and run from Kaleb Lizotte, which took the ball to the Duchess Park 25-yard line and Nicholas Krawcyzk kept the march moving with consecutive runs that got the Polars down within the two-yard line.
The Condors had time for two plays in the dying seconds, starting from the Duchess side of midfield, but were unable to convert.
“It was a good game but we didn’t play our best football, and we’ll come put an play better next time,” said Condors running back Noah Lank. “We missed a lot of tackles, and we were missing catches, missing throws, missed coverages. We didn’t execute well and we have to work harder in practice. It doesn’t matter how you did before, you’ve got to play every game like it’s your last one.
“Lots of respect to (the Polars), they played a good game.”
Kragt’s bootleg run from 24 yards out at the end of the third quarter put the Polars up 20-14. The Condors got the ball back to start the final quarter and were threatening deep in Polar territory after Lank barged his way through the line. A facemasking penalty tacked on 15 yards and gave the Condors the ball at the 13. But on first down, quarterback Quinn Neukomm threw an interception into the arms of Peter Nyce, the second pick of the game for the Polars’ senior defensive back, who was given the game ball by his teammates in the postgame celebration.
The Condors’ defence forced a punt and took over possession with five minutes left and Lank took off on a 38-yard sideline run that tied it 20-20. Kicker Euan Murray appeared to have the go-ahead convert on its way but Kragt broke through the middle of the pack and blocked the point-after attempt to keep the score knotted.
“We’ve got players that want to play and tonight they got excited and they just played lights-out,” said Polars head coach Pat Bonnett. “They went hard in the trenches and Duchess is a really good team and we just happened to come out on top. It was anybody’s game right up until the last play.”
Matyas Mocilac scored twice in the first half for the Condors He hauled in a 30-yard touchdown pass from Neukomm on the opening drive, which was answered immediately by PGSS speedster Everett Muratori, who took the ensuing kickoff 75 yards into the end zone. A 14-yard run from Krawcyzk found paydirt and he capped his touchdown run with a two-point convert for a 14-7 lead. Mocilac wiped that out with 22 seconds left in the first quarter with a 13-yard TD carry.
In addition to his duties at running back, the 165-pound Vohar also lines up on defence at outside linebacker and the Grade 12 veteran had the unenviable task of trying to tackle the freight train known as Lank.
‘He’s a lot bigger than me, so I knew if I went head-to-head with him I’d lose, so I went low and tried to trip him because he doesn’t have the greatest balance, but he did good and I did my best,” said Vohar.
Both teams mixed up their offence with passing and running plays that kept the defences guessing and it made for a tight thriller from start to finish.
“I think it’s a testament to how football in in Prince George – very evenly-matched - we’ve got great players on both sides of the ball making plays,” said Condors head coach Craig Briere. “It comes down to one or two plays and that’s the way football should be played.”
The Polars will head into the playoffs next Friday against either the Kelly Road Shas Ti Eagles. The Eagles locked up fourth place late Friday art Masich with a 22-0 win over the Nechako Valley Vikings of Vanderhoof.
Duchess Park will take on College Heights in the other North semifinal on Friday.
The city told the teams it will be enforcing COVID pandemic protocols which will keep crowds down to five per cent of capacity. Each spectator 12 and older will have to show proof of vaccine and be required to wear a mask during the game. It will also be mandatory for all team personnel except players to have their COVID vaccinations. Bonnett, who is not vaccinated, informed his players after the game that it was likely his last game as PGSS head coach.
“If this is the last time I coach, then I can’t go out any happier,” said Bonnett.