DEEP RIVER >> Finally.
After falling short in three previous trips to the state semifinals, the Valley Regional/Old Lyme football team will be playing for the school’s first state football championship next weekend.
Seniors Andrew Tuscano and Chris Jean-Pierre each had two rushing touchdowns and the Warriors vaunted defense allowed just four first downs as Valley blanked Bullard Haven Tech, 34-0, in the CIAC Class S-Large semifinals on Saturday at Blythe Field.
The top-seeded Warriors (12-0) will meet No. 2 Ansonia (11-1) in the championship. The Chargers defeated No. 3 Windham, 35-14 in the other semifinal.
“I’ve been associated with Valley football for 20 something years and we’re finally here,” Valley Regional/Old Lyme coach Tim King said while fighting through tears. “This game coming up is for all the alumni and for everybody that has ever been associated with Valley football. It’s amazing. To be honest, years ago I would have never thought about being in this situation. It’s absolutely one of the greatest moments of my career here.”
Playing in a driving rain storm, Valley kept the ball on the ground and finished with 391 rushing yards. Tuscano led the way with 175 yards on 10 carries, Jean-Pierre added 142 yards on 18 attempts, while Justin Cheverier had 74 yards on eight carries.
“We just stuck to our running game and let the big boys do all the pushing up front and it paid off,” Jean-Pierre said.
Tuscano scored three touchdowns, including one on a 38-yard screen pass from Jean-Pierre that gave the Warriors a 7-0 lead.
Bullard Havens Tech finished with just 60 yards of offense. Tigers leading rusher Jose Cotto, who gained almost 1,900 yards this season, suffered a high ankle sprain early in the second quarter and didn’t return.
“That changed things,” Bullard Havens coach John Johnson said. “We started swapping guys around a little bit and we weren’t able to get anything going offensively and due to the weather it negated some of our speed. But no excuses. I’m proud of the way we fought to the end. That’s a very good football team and defensively they did a great job.”
Bullard Havens (9-3) best chance to score came midway through the first quarter after Hector Mendez recovered a fumble on the Warriors 20-yard line. But Tuscano intercepted a fourth down pass from Tigers senior Chris McNamara at the goal-line.
“We had some opportunities early on in the first half and things went the other way,” Johnson said. “For the most part it was a stalemate in the first half. We talked about it before…whoever won the turnover ratio and didn’t give up big plays was going to come out victorious.”
The Warriors added a safety when senior end Tyler Cheverier sacked McNamara in the end zone in the second quarter and Valley led 9-0 at halftime.
“That safety was huge,” King added. “They were going to have to score twice now, especially in this slop. We told the kids that first drive of the second half was going to be huge and we had to get something out of it and we got it on the first play.”
Tusscano raced 74 yards for a touchdown on the first play of the second half and the Warriors never let up.
Tuscano added a 50 yard TD score on the Warriors the next possession to make it 21-0.
“I got some nice blocking from my teammates and I don’t think I got touched,” Tuscano said.
Jean-Pierre, who went over 1,000 yard rushing mark, added a 63 yard touchdown run late in the third quarter before capping the Warriors big day with a six-yard TD run in the fourth quarter.
“We’ve worked hard all week and from the beginning of the year,” Jean-Pierre said. “Ansonia’s a very talented team and we’re definitely ready for them.”