The Burger King Panthers are enjoying becoming flag football champions despite not playing the Kensington Hellcats in the championship game on Saturday.
The Hellcats pulled out of the championship match at the Ed Bush stadium on principle because they felt two of their players were unfairly disciplined by the Cayman Islands Flag Football Association’s disciplinary committee.
Nevertheless, Brendon Malice, Panthers player and coach, feels that his side would have beaten the Hellcats anyway and are now Cayman’s superior team.
“I feel that we are the 2015 champs, regardless of the circumstances and our sponsor deserves some coverage from this,” Malice said. “In 2013 we won the championship, but there was no coverage because of some complicated circumstances that had nothing to do with our team.
“I would hate to see this happen again this year because so much focus seems to have been put on the decision of the Hellcats to forfeit.”
Malice added that there are Panthers players who have been in the league for many years and this is the first championship for them. “We had such a strong team this season and I feel that we are the champs, regardless of what happened Saturday.”
The Panthers finished with the best record, top points differential and best head-to-head victories compared to other teams. Nevertheless, the Hellcats have won the title eight times in the league’s 15 year history and cannot be discounted next season.
Malice is pleased that the Panthers have received credit for finishing first in the regular season and being crowned champs twice in the past three campaigns.
“I’ve also heard disappointment that the Hellcats did not want to play us.”
Historically, the games between the sides have been intense, extremely competitive and always close and Malice can empathize with Hellcats head coach George “Teddy” Hydes who did not want to play because they were not 100 percent committed.
Malice is not sure how well the Panthers will do next season because some key players are leaving Cayman, including his good friend and one of the founding Panthers, Jonathan Carter.
“If the team can stick together and fill some spots vacated by players retiring or leaving island, I believe the Panthers can make another run for the trophy.”
Malice feels justified in claiming the Panthers are now the dominant team. “We have given the Hellcats some of their worse defeats in league history,” he said. “We are 6-3 against them since 2013.”
Apart from beating the Hellcats twice in regular season games, another highlight was playing against the Predators in week one.
After losing a lot of veteran players in the off-season, including MVP Chris Lucas and Rod “Robo Cop” Taylor, Malice was concerned about how the newly merged Panthers would respond against a competitive side.
Panthers won the game 18-6, proving that the merging of the Mustangs and the Panthers was a good one.
“We quickly built chemistry, found our strengths, and pulled it all together to be the dominant team that we are.”
Another highlight was beating the Hellcats in the first ever Monday night football game. The stands were packed and the game entertaining.
“We always look forward to playing against the Predators and the Hellcats. We have a lot of respect for all of the teams in the league, but we know when we play them it’s going to be an entertaining game.”
It is too early to tell exactly how good the Panthers will be next season, but if Glenn Duran, Andrew Frederick, Jon Pump, Greg Miller and Jermaine Sharpe are still there, it will keep the Panthers strong, Malice feels.
“This team has outstanding leaders who are not just talented football players, but are genuinely just a good group of men who have been more like part of a family to me over the years.”
Samuel Smith, Norm Sanders, Jeff White, Neil Daniels, André Morgan and Marlon Baptiste also made vital Panthers contributions.
“They might not show up on the stats sheets or in the weekly write ups, but they were key to our success,” said Malice. “They consistently put team before self. No matter the position, they were willing to do whatever it took to assist the team.”
Of the players and coaches from other teams, Malice credits Maples Dolphins coach Shawn Pitterson as the top performer. “Shawn’s the league MVP in my eyes for always bringing in fresh talent and growing the game on the local front.”
For Malice, other players that had solid 2015 campaigns were Larue Nixon, Perry Levy, Will Peguero, Andrew Graham, Avery Ebanks, Damian Barbaram, Jordan Stubblefield and Peter Whittaker.
Malice added: “It’s been a long time coming for some of the Panthers. This win is well deserved for Jon Pump, Brandon Capico, Chip Whitney, Greg Miller, Nic Roberts and Nelly Daniels as they finally get to hoist the championship trophy after some of them have competed in this league for over 12 years.
“I also thank Burger King and particularly the owner Gary Rutty for his awesome support year in and year out.
“Gary does so much for this community, even behind the scenes that people will never know about or see. We are truly grateful to have had such an incredible sponsor.”