Bennett’s heroics sink Panthers

It started with a questionable ruling derailing the Burger King Panthers’ bid for a perfect season.

Now the squad is dealing with a two-game losing streak, courtesy of a 7-13 overtime defeat at the hands of the Maples Dolphins last Saturday in week 10 of the 12-week Digicel Summer League, put on by the Cayman Islands Flag Football Association.

For Burger King head coach Joshua Pawlik, the contest at Camana Bay’s Sports Field is simply motivation for the playoffs.

“Maples are a talented team and I told my guys it would be a hard fight going in,” Pawlik said. “We couldn’t capitalise on plays in the red zone. If it’s a close game at the end, anyone can win. Hopefully, we can get to see them again in the playoffs.”

Saturday’s contest was tight, featuring loads of rushes for running backs Jordan Cacho of the Dolphins and Ryan Smith of the Panthers and defensive brilliance from the likes of Maples’ Will Peguero Jr. and Burger King’s Paul Chin.

The game came down to a timely goal-line tackle by Maples’s Kwei General on Burger King’s David ‘Baggy’ Taylor in overtime with Dolphins receiver Christopher Bennett catching a tipped ball in the end zone for the winning score.

For Maples head coach Shawn Pitterson, the result was satisfying.

“One of the best games that we have played for the season, everyone played their role,” Pitterson said. “It took team effort to get the job done.”

The match had a huge impact on the Men’s Premier League standings. Frontrunners all season, Burger King are now second at 8-2, behind the 8-2 Lone Star Mustangs. While Burger King have beaten the Mustangs this year, the latest association rankings show Lone Star have the edge on points differential (131-115). In spite of the victory, Maples are third at 7-1-2.

Lone Star eked out a 13-6 victory over the 4-1-5 Cox Colts last Saturday, which keeps Cox squarely in fifth place. Jon Pump is one of the star veteran receivers for the Mustangs and states his team has earned its high ranking.

“We’re actually currently in second, based on the head-to-head tie-break rules since Burger King beat us in our only match-up this year,” Pump said. “But obviously, we’re happy to be near the top of the standings. A lot of close games all year long – so no game has proven to be a guaranteed win.”

For Burger King, their losing streak stems from an insignificant skirmish weeks ago against the 6-4 dms West Bay Hellcats, who are currently fourth. Both benches cleared and the association acted decisively in suspending the Panthers and Hellcats for one game, resulting in forfeit losses for both clubs.

In a statement, the association addressed the incident. The statement read, “On Saturday, 20 July, there was a skirmish on the field which led to both teams clearing their benches. The association operates with a no-tolerance policy in regards to bench-clearing and in using our discretion, the appropriate penalties were handed down.”

It was the latest knock against Kevin Maxwell’s Hellcats, the four-time reigning champions who had previously slipped up against all three of the current top teams. Granted, the Hellcats responded with a 28-0 victory over Avery Ebanks’ 0-10 WestStar Saints last Saturday.

While West Bay players started out the season cautiously optimistic about another title, head coach Jayson ‘Papi-Rican’ Gonzalez said the incident is just another hiccup in a tough season.

“It was an unfortunate incident and I think the league responded well,” Gonzalez said. “We took it well, we accepted it. But we have to re-evaluate the situation. Moving forward, players have to control themselves. We’ve moved on from it and we’re ready to play some football. It is what it is and we got to try to win another championship.”

The ruling and subsequent defeat was a bigger deal for Burger King, as it ended their bid at an undefeated season. The record books will show the 3-7 KPMG Sharks, currently seventh out of eight male teams and fighting for one of six playoffs spots, as the team that halted the Panthers.

Pawlik admitted while that predicament led to rust being a factor against Maples, the situation created bitterness within the team.

“It wasn’t a two-team fight, our team didn’t throw a punch,” Pawlik said. “I feel bad for both teams because at least nine people on both teams didn’t get into the fight. But we lost our appeal and we lost the perfect season. At the initial time of the penalty, we were upset. But we’ve been together a long time and nothing gets in between that.

“It worked out that we have to play each other now for seeding. We have Cox this Saturday and they have a new quarterback, Brian O’Reilly, who is an underestimated player so we have our hands full. Maples, Lone Star and West Bay have to fight each other and hopefully, Lone Star and us get a bye.

“That forfeit was very frustrating, to end up with a loss against a team that can’t beat us. We know they can’t beat us and yet we lost our perfect season to them. We appealed for a nine-man team to do iron man against them.”

KPMG, behind Rhys Ebanks, are coming off a 13-6 win last Saturday over Peter Whittaker’s Cayman Power Sports and Marine Hurricanes, who rank sixth at 3-7. The Hurricanes have a better point differential than the Sharks, -1 versus -70.

On the ladies side, the Women’s Premier League also has its fair share of drama. Treveen Stewart’s Wolverines, 8-2, are barely holding on to first place after smashing Alicia Dixon’s Androgroup Killa-Panthers, 19-0. Androgroup, 5-1-4, have slipped to fifth in the 10-team group.

Chasing the Wolverines are Alexandra Terry’s 8-2 Lynx, who clipped Dionne Whittaker’s Zulu Warriors, 7-0. Zulu are fourth at 6-4. Monique Roberts’s CrossFit 7-Mile Scorpions, 7-1-2, are ahead of the Warriors after beating Kathy Miller’s Ultra B’zzz, 32-0. Ultra have now slipped to 4-6 in seventh place and out of a playoff spot.

In sixth are Serena Yates’s 5-1-4 Lady Sharks, who defeated Jessica Maxwell’s Maples Thundercats, 21-0. Maples are ninth at 1-1-8. In last are Danielle James’s 0-10 Lady Saints, who lost to Amanda Nelson’s Star Athletic Club, 2-0. Star Athletic, 3-2-5, are now eighth.

Matches continue this Saturday, 17 August, at Camana Bay. At 10am, Lady Saints face Lynx, at 11am Cox battle Burger King and at 12.15pm WestStar challenge KPMG. Maples battle Androgroup and Zulu tackle Ultra at 1.30pm. Lady Sharks face CrossFit while Wolverines challenge Star Athletic at 2.30pm. Hurricanes tackle Mustangs at 3.30pm and Dolphins contend with Hellcats at 4.45pm.