OLD LYME >> Valley Regional/Old Lyme quarterback Matt Sapere has spent more time in the trainer’s room this season than he has with the Warriors’ first-team offense.
A nagging ankle injury also limited his preparation for the Warriors’ Pequot Conference clash against Coginchaug on Saturday.
But Sapere was ready to go and that was, indeed, bad news for the Blue Devils.
Sapere tossed two touchdowns and ran for another as Valley ended Coginchaug’s slim playoff hopes with a 31-20 victory at Old Lyme High.
“I was absolutely playing today,” Sapere said. “This game was crucial for the rest of our season. We’re trying to win out and go 4-0 over these last games and this one was definitely a momentum boost.”
Sapere completed 17 of 33 passes for 278 yards.
“We didn’t have him all last week during our bye week,” Valley coach Tim King said. “He didn’t take a snap. Thursday we put shoulder pads on him and he went through some plays. The timing is still off, but a healthy Matt really helps us.”
This was the second straight year the Valley Regional/Old Lyme co-op brought football back to Old Lyme. And Valley’s spirited second-half performance left no doubt that the Warriors are just as comfortable in Old Lyme as they are defending their home turf in Deep River.
“It’s awesome to play here, looking over at our school,” Sapere said. “You wouldn’t think just playing on a different field makes that much of a difference, especially to the Old Lyme guys. And the Valley guys like defending our house too because we do it for them every week.”
Coginchaug running back Parker Tregoning rushed for 218 yards on 21 carries and had two long touchdown runs. But the Blue Devils (3-4) couldn’t overcome a pair of costly fumbles, including one by Tregoning on the opening kickoff of the second half.
“Turnovers have been our kiss of death all year,” Coginchaug coach Nick D’Angelo said. “Parker’s been our go-to guy. He’s been carrying us all year. It’s just one of those days when you turn the ball over.”
The Warriors defense had bottled up Tregoning for most of the first half. But the Blue Devils senior, who is among the state’s rushing leaders and is taking aim at a 2,000-yard season, broke through for an 80-yard score early in the second quarter to give the Blue Devils a 7-3 halftime lead.
But after Tregoning fumbled the kickoff to start the third quarter, Sapere scampered 28 yards for a touchdown.
Jared Roche, who nailed a 26-yard field goal in the first half, made the extra point and Valley led 10-7.
The teams then quickly traded scores with the Blue Devils regaining the lead on Rick Sorensen’s 25-yard touchdown run. The Warriors answered when Sapere zipped a pass to Ernest Jean-Pierre for a 47-yard scoring play to give the Warriors a 17-14 advantage.
But Tregoning raced 79 yards on the next play to give the Blue Devils a 20-17 lead with 7:54 left in the third.
The Warriors (3-4), however, got their running game in gear in the fourth.
“I think their size started to wear us down at the end,” D’Angelo said. “Our guys are going both ways and they outweigh us by about 100 pounds a kid. But our kids fought and never gave up. It just didn’t go our way today.”
Sapere kept a seven-play, 48-yard scoring drive alive with a terrific 15-yard scramble on 3rd-and-12. Dan Stecher then scored on an 11-yard run to give Valley the lead for good at 24-20.
Sapere capped his big day with a perfect 43-yard touchdown strike to Gus Cummins to make it 31-20 with 2:53 left.
Valley junior Garrett Burdick caught five passes for 89 yards, while Stecher finished with 59 yards on 14 carries.
“It was definitely a team win, not me,” Sapere said. “My receivers played well, running good routes and blocking, my running backs did an awesome job. It wasn’t me, it was a team win.”
Valley Reigonal/Old Lyme 31, Coginchaug 20
At Old Lyme High School
Valley Regional/OL – 3 – 0 – 14 – 14 31
Coginchaug 0 -7- 13-0 – 20
Valley/Old Lyme – Jared Roche 26 yard FG
Coginchaug –Parker Tregoning 80 yard run (Jon Lombardo kick)
Valley/Old Lyme – Matt Sapere 28 yd run (Roche kick)
Coginchaug – Rick Sorensen 25 yd run (Anderson kick)
Valley/Old Lyme – Ernest Jean-Pierre 47 yd pass from Sapere (Roche kick)
Coginchaug – Tregoning 79 yd run (kick no good)
Valley/Old Lyme – Dan Stecher 11 yd run (Roche kick)
Valley/Old Lyme – Gus Cummins 43 yd pass from Sapere (Roche kick)
Records: Valley Regional/Old Lyme 3-4; Coginchaug 3-4.