OLD LYME >> With a smaller team this season, Valley Regional/Old Lyme coach Tim King has been preaching about the importance of special teams and how they could be the difference between winning or losing a game.
King’s words certainly rang prophetic on Saturday afternoon when Valley Regional defeated Old Saybrook/Westbrook, 26-15, in a Pequot Conference South matchup at Old Lyme High School.
“We won the game because of pretty much one big kickoff and a recovery,” King said.
After OSW senior Chase Cook flew in and tackled Warriors senior quarterback Matt Sapere in the end zone for a safety, the Rams trailed just 20-15 and were looking to regain possession after the ensuing kick with seven minutes left in the fourth quarter.
The Rams, however, never got the ball.
Valley senior Garrett Burdick boomed the kick over OSW’s receiving team and as the free ball bounced towards the Rams goal-line Warriors junior Cole Ensinger scooped it up at the 3.
“That was the turning point of the game,” King said. “Our special teams were pretty darn good today. We’ve said it all year long that special teams win games and today there’s a perfect example of it.”
Following Ensinger’s alert play, Valley senior running back Dan Stecher took the snap out of the Wildcat formation and rumbled into the end zone for his third touchdown, giving the Warriors some breathing room with a 26-15 advantage.
Old Saybrook/Westbrook (1-1) trailed by two touchdowns twice in the second half but answered both times.
After Burdick’s leaping 17-yard touchdown catch from Sapere gave the Warriors a 14-0 lead, OSW junior Vincent Dyer capped a 63-yard scoring drive with a 1-yard plunge to make it 14-6.
Valley (2-0) scored on its next possession when Stecher went off tackle from four yards out to make it 20-6 with 1:14 left in the third.
“When they put in the Wildcat I just knew I had to carry the team, help my teammates out and just be a leader,” said Stecher, who rushed for 176 yards on 21 carries. “We knew what we had to bring today. We had to fight on defense and do our thing on offense.”
Dyer, who finished with 126 yards on 18 carries, ripped off a 55-yard run on OSW’s next scoring drive. Cook’s two-yard TD run and kick made it 20-13 with 10:50 remaining.
OSW senior linebacker Sloan True then recovered a Valley fumble and the Rams quickly moved the ball inside the Valley 10-yard line. After a sack forced OSW into a fourth-and-goal from the 13, junior quarterback Victor Pascoe found Dyer and when Dyer tried to bulldoze his way into the end zone, the ball popped loose and was recovered by Warriors junior Judson O’Brien.
“It seemed like a couple of times we tried giving the game away,” King said. “But our motto’s always been ‘never give up’ and we didn’t give up on that play.”
OSW got a safety on the next play, setting up Ensinger’s key recovery.
“I know we lost today but this is a good football team and we’re going to recover,” said Rams second-year coach Mike Marone, who formerly coached at East Haven. “Valley’s also a very good football team. They controlled us up front. They deserved to win.”
Valley Regional/Old Lyme 26, Old Saybrook/Westbrook 15
(at Old Lyme High School)
Valley Regional/Old Lyme 0 7 13 6 — 26
Old Saybrook/Westbrook 0 0 6 9 — 15
VR/OL—Dan Stecher 3 run (Garrett Burdick kick)
VR/OL—Burdick 17 pass from Matt Sapere (Burdick kick)
OSW—Vincent Dyer 1 run (kick failed)
VR/OL—Stecher 4 run (kick failed)
OSW—Chase Cook 2 run (Cook kick)
OSW—Safety (Cook tackles Sapere in end zone)
VR/OL—Stecher 4 run (kick failed)
Team records: Valley Regional/Old Lyme 2-0; Old Saybrook/Westbrook 1-1