Harlequins, Jackals have ultimate battle for Okanagan rugby championship

The Penticton Harlequins were unable to defend their rugby title against the Vernon Jackals

Ball carrier Lucas Hofer of the Vernon Jackals tries to gets past Brad Martin of Penticton in the senior mens rugby final Saturday at Grahame Park

Ball carrier Lucas Hofer of the Vernon Jackals tries to gets past Brad Martin of Penticton in the senior mens rugby final Saturday at Grahame Park

There’s a new Okanagan Rugby Union champ.

The Vernon Jackals scored 12 unanswered points to top two-time defending champs Penticton Harlequins 39-29 at Grahame Park in Vernon on June 25. That offence all came in the final 10 minutes. Before that, the Harlequins had struck for 12 straight points.

“Unfortunately it didn’t go our way this time. We couldn’t quite get it done,” said Harlequins captain Brad Martin, adding that the extra men the Jackals had made a difference. “It wasn’t from a lack of effort. It was tough.”

Jackals flanker Adam Morad made the play that turned around the game. After Penticton scored a try to go ahead 29-27 with 10 minutes remaining, Morad grabbed the ensuing kick-off from teammate Taylor McKnight, intercepting it from the waiting arms of the Harlequins. The Jackals rucked over the ball and got it outside to winger Jordan Dewing, who sprinted into the end zone for what would be the game-winning try, which Taylor McKnight converted.

“That play right there changed the entire game,” said Jackals’ player-coach Bryan Cragg, whose squad is undefeated in Union play this season.

McKnight added the clinching try minutes later to give the Jackals a 12-point cushion. The Harlequins opened the scoring and, after the conversion, led 7-0, but Vernon took a 20-17 lead into the halftime break.

The Jackals increased the lead to 27-17 shortly after the re-start but the Harlequins were not about to ease up their grip on the playoff title, as Penticton rallied with 12 unanswered points for a 29-27 lead.

“I thought our guys played really well,” said Harlequins coach Ken Simpson, adding that the team went above and beyond. “The guys played extremely hard, it was a really good game. They played with a lot of guts and a lot of support.”

Martin described it as a good, combative match that both teams were up for.

The Jackals, as Okanagan champions, now advance to the Div. III Saratoga Cup provincial finals the weekend of Sept. 17 in Penticton.

The tournament will feature Vernon, Kelowna (Coastal Division champions who beat the Jackals 39-38 in a pre-season contest), Kootenays champion Cranbrook and the representatives of Northern B.C.