DEEP RIVER >> After losing a heartbreaker against Rocky Hill in last year’s season finale, a Thanksgiving loss that cost Cromwell/Portland a trip to the state playoffs, Panthers senior Kristian Sapp went into the weight room.
“His offseason this year was probably the best offseason he’s had to prepare for what he’s had to do this year and that’s really carry this team,” Cromwell/Portland coach Chris Eckert said.
You can be sure that the rematch against Rocky Hill is circled on the Panthers’ football calender. Another game Cromwell had targeted was the Pequot Conference showdown against old nemesis Valley Regional/Old Lyme. And after two terrific weeks of practice, the Panthers had a performance for the ages Friday night at rainy Blythe Field in Deep River.
Sapp rushed for a game-high 179 yards and scored three touchdowns, junior Kittrell Lauray gained 104 yards on 10 carries, and senior Jon Sienna retuned a kick-off 77 yards for a touchdown in leading the Panthers to a 48-26 victory over the Warriors.
“It was a team effort,” Eckert said. “Everything…offense, defense and special teams. I couldn’t have asked for a better effort out of the whole team. The whole two weeks of preparation really leading into this game every day was getting better and better and we just kind of exploded out on the field today and it was awesome.”
Sapp scored on touchdown runs of 8, 42, and 13 yards, and Lauray scored on a 1-yard TD plunge to give the Panthers a 28-7 first half lead.
“Sapp runs hard,” Eckert added. “There’s plenty of other guys around him that have stepped up today and made plays. Kittrell Luaray is one of them. And Jon Siena was huge today. Sapp knows that he has to carry us a little bit and he’s going to have to get 25 or 30 touches a game for us to be successful and he’s ready for it.”
Valley/Old Lyme senior Garrett Burdick returned a kick-off 84 yards for a touchdown late in the second quarter and the Warriors, trailing just 28-13, seemed to have the momentum at halftime.
Until Siena caught the second half kick-off and raced 77 yards along the sideline for a touchdown.
“The kids were kind of pumped coming out after halftime and the kick-off just killed us,” Valley Regional/Old Lyme coach Tim King said. “We didn’t tackle well tonight.”
Lauray’s 60-yard touchdown run gave the Panthers a 42-13 lead with 8:50 left in the third quarter. Valley answered when senior quarterback Matt Sapere hit Burdick with a six-yard scoring toss to make it 41-20.
But junior Liam Coleman’s 8-yard touchdown run stretched the Panthers lead again to 48-20 with 10:43 remaining.
Senior Dan Stecher finished with 113 yards on 16 carries, Sapere was 7 of 27 passing for 166 yards, and Ernest Jean-Pierre caught five passes for 157 yards, including a 55 yard touchdown reception for the game’s final score, for Valley (3-1).
“I knew this weather was going to affect us throwing the ball and that’s the one thing we do pretty well,” King said. “But it doesn’t matter when you get beat by 22.”
Siena, who had an interception, gained 51 yards on five carries for the Panthers (3-0).
“The last two times we played Valley they beat us pretty handily so our kids remember it,” Eckert said. “So this was special for them.”
Cromwell/Portland 48, Valley Reigonal/Old Lyme 26
(at Blythe Field, Deep River)
Cromwell/Portland 0 28 13 7 — 48
Valley Regional/Old Lyme 7 6 7 6 — 26
V/OL—Matt Sapere 15 run (Garrett Burdick kick)
C/P-Kristian Sapp 8 run (Rich Loza kick)
C/P- Sapp 42 run (Loza kick)
C/P-Kittrell Lauray 1 run (Rich Loza kick)
C/P-Sapp 13 run (Loza kick)
V/OL— Burdick 84 kick return (kick failed)
C/P—Jon Siena 77 kick return (Loza kick)
C/P- Lauray 60 run (kick failed)
V/OL-Burdick 6 pass from Sapere (Burdick kick)
C/P—Liam Coleman 8 run (Loza kick)
V/OL-Ernest Jean-Pierre 55 pass from Sapere (Burdick kick)
Team records: Cromwell/Portland 3-0; Valley Regional/Old Lyme 3-1