GW Graham Grizzlies fall to Abbotsford Panthers in battle of unbeatens

Without Von Richardson, the Grizz couldn’t keep pace with Samuel Uko and the powerhouse Panthers.

If there is such a thing as a moral victory, the GW Graham Grizzlies are proof that you can win while losing.

Friday afternoon, GWG’s senior varsity football team played its final regular season game of the 2018 season at Abbotsford secondary school. A matchup between unbeatens, both 4-0, saw the Panthers prevail 21-0, locking down top spot in the Eastern conference.

That sounds bad until you factor in the Grizz being without the top player in B.C. high school football.

With Von Richardson away at a Rugby Canada tryout, GWG was without its leading rusher, a field-tilting superstar who has been unstoppable this year.

Richardson also leads the Grizzly defence in tackles, and his absence on that side of the ball was just as big a deal as GWG tried to slow down Panther running back Samuel Uko. Like Richardson, Uko is a lethal weapon on offence. Smaller than Richardson, but shifter and just as fast. Able to stop on a dime and leave you change, and surprisingly difficult to bring down.

Uko scored all three of Abbotsford’s touchdowns in Friday’s win, including runs of 46 and 42 yards.

But aside from those two breakdowns, GWG did a remarkable job limiting the damage done by No. 5 in black. An Abbotsford offence that cut through opponents to the tune of 48 points per game was mostly thwarted by a stout Grizzly D that controlled the line of scrimmage and gave Uko little room to run.

Linemen Andrew Locke and Justin Hopwood had particularly effective games.

“He (Uko) is not that scary,” GWG linebacker Daniel Santos said with a smile. “We watched a lot of film on him before this game and I think we shut him down.

“They only got two runs and that’s how they scored.

“I think they thought they were going to score 40+ points like they do against every other team, but to be honest, I think the score should have been 7-0 because it was two errors by us that brought the score up to 21.”

Abbotsford’s first three offensive series ended in a punt, a punt and a turnover on downs. Uko carried the ball nine times for minus four yards.

But on the first play of Abby’s fourth series, scrimmaging from the GWG 46 yard line, Uko took a handoff from quarterback Ethan Anderson, sliced through a sliver of daylight off right tackle and scampered into the endzone for the first Panther score.

On this day the Grizz offence wasn’t able to counter-punch.

Darius Kelly got the start at running back and he ran hard, punishing the Abbotsford D with pad-popping finish.

Richardson sometimes creates his own holes and averages more than eight yards per carry. Kelly, running behind an offensive line that wasn’t blowing anyone off the ball, gave it all he had to pick up three or four yards at a time.

The Grizzlies passing game, which has struggled all year, couldn’t take the heat off the ground game. Quarterback Bentley Thomas had Panther pass rushers in his face constantly as he tried to push the ball downfield. He was able to use his legs to get out of trouble and scramble for good yardage, but he was also intercepted twice and lost a fumble.

Typical of GW Graham/Abbotsford showdowns, this game had its ugly moments.

The ugliest came in the fourth quarter. Grizzly defensive back Jacob Penner picked off an Anderson pass and headed out of bounds at the Abby 47.

He was a full one or two steps out and walking with the ball when Uko hurtled in to deliver a hit to his lower back.

Though the hit was vicious and late and earned him a 15 yard unnecessary roughness call, Uko was allowed to stay in the game. The GWG side howled for an ejection that never came.

That hit will surely be filed away and brought up should these teams meet again in the playoffs.

“I would love to play them again and prove them wrong,” Santos said. “They were a little bit dirty and I’d like to beat them, not by talking but by playing our game.”

GWG will have a week off before playoffs begin.

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