Justin Gabriel of the Penticton Harlequins tackles Jan Vreys of the Vernon Jackals in Okanagan Rugby Union play off action Saturday at Grahame Park. Lisa Mazurek/Black Press

Jackals have last laugh on Harlequins

Final of the Okanagan rugby union goes to the Vernon Jackals.

The Penticton Harlequins gave it their best shot but in the end it was the Vernon Jackals by a two-part margin to win the Okanagan Rugby Union playoff championship.

The Harlequins were hoping to dethrone the reigning champs after losing the two previous playoff finals to Vernon but in the end it was the host Jackals prevailing 24-22 at Grahame Park.

“It was a close hard fought affair, as both teams were expecting it to be,” said Penticton player/coach Brenden Ferreira. “Our habit of starting slowly hurt us again. We did have a strong second half as we have done all season, but let them get off to too big a lead in the first half.”

Despite getting out to an early 3-0 lead with a 40-boot that split the uprights in the first 10 minutes the Harlequins closed out the half on the short end of a 19-3 score.

“Penticton threw everything they had at us in that first 10 minutes; we were lucky to get out of that only down three,” said Vernon backs captain Bryan Cragg whose team had not trailed in a game their entire undefeated season.

The Jackals reset and led by veteran and eventual co-Kal Sports Bar Man of the Match Jan Vreys and Reece Milham, calmed the team down which stopped Vernon from hemorrhaging penalties and turned the momentum to the home team racking up the points.

Not willing to give up, the visitors opened the second half much the way they did the first and scored a pair of converted tries shaving the lead to 19-17.

“We knew we could haul them in if we just played to our plan and potential,” said Ferreira. “We kept them under a lot of pressure throughout the second half but with about three minutes left we scored to make it a two-point game, but then in our urgency to get back into their half made too many mistakes.”

Vernon scored the winning points with a try with eight minutes to play and Penticton answered but were unable to get the additional needed points.

While he said the team was very disappointed, especially losing by such a close margin, the Harlequins coach is already looking ahead to next season.

“In the bigger scheme of things, we have built well this year. We had 12 new members this year, and lost quite a few of our 2017 team mainly due to work commitments,” said Ferreira. “For several of our new players, this was their first year of rugby. For such an inexperienced team to come so close to winning the championship is quite an achievement. Still, it stings a little though to lose by two.

“If we can keep the core of this team together for next season, it will help a lot.”

Penticton still has a couple of exhibition games left, away to Cranbrook RFC July 19 and at home to the Vancouver Scribes Sept. 1.

Related: Harlequins looking to end Jackals rugby domination

Penticton will again host the Saratoga Cup men’s provincial championship featuring the top independent teams from Northern BC, the Interior and the Okanagan which will be represented by the Jackals.

Vernon lost to the defending Saratoga Cup champs, the Terrace Northmen in the 2017 version of the finals which take place this year the weekend of Sept. 8 and 9.

— With files from Kevin Mitchell/Black Press

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