OLD SAYBROOK >> Valley Regional/Old Lyme junior running back Dan Stecher rushed for 174 yards and two touchdowns, while junior quarterback Matt Sapere tossed two touchdown passes as the Warriors outlasted Old Saybrook/Westbrook, 27-13, in a Pequot Conference battle Saturday at Old Saybrook High School.
The defending state champion Warriors evened their record to 4-4.
“I said at the beginning of the year that we’re going to get better by the end of the year and we have,” Valley Regional/Old Lyme coach Tim King said. “Matt’s starting to get healthy and we’re getting other kids back. We’re starting to play as a team now.”
Junior running back Chase Cook (15 carries, 80 yards) had a pair of touchdown runs, while senior Dondre Swain gained 64 yards on 14 attempts for Old Saybrook (5-3), whose Class S playoff hopes were dashed.
“(Valley’s) a very good football team and we played with them the whole game,” said Old Saybrook coach Mike Marone, whose in his first season with the Rams. “We had our opportunities and that’s all you can ask for.”
The Rams’ biggest chance came midway through the fourth quarter. Trailing 20-13, Old Saybrook tried a halfback toss on fourth-and-2 from the Warriors 42 but sophomore Vin Dyer’s pass intended for an open receiver was batted away at the last second.
“That was a touchdown,” Marone said.
Valley then marched 58 yards behind the running of Stecher, whose 31-yard run on a terrific cutback set the Warriors up with a first and goal. Stecher then sealed things with a 2-yard TD jaunt to give the Warriors a 27-13 lead with 4:13 remaining.
Stecher, who carried the ball 25 times, gained 104 yards in the second half.
“We all knew it was in him,” King said. “Danny could be one of the best backs in this league if he puts his mind to it and works hard. He’s starting to become a team player both offensively and defensively. We need him on both sides of the ball.”
Senior lineman Jack Giaconia and defensive back Will Elliott spearheaded Valley’s defensive effort.
“Jack had a great game today,” King added. “They had to bounce everything off tackle. They couldn’t run up the middle.”
Stecher’s 13-yard touchdown run and Jared Roche’s kick gave the Warriors a 7-0 lead with 4:08 left in the first quarter.
Sapere, who completed 12 of 22 passes for 160 yards, helped Valley extend the lead by engineering a two-minute drive at the end of the half. Sapere zipped passes to Ernest Jean-Pierre and Gus Cummins as Valley drove to the Rams 22.
With just 17 seconds left, Sapere lofted a pass to the corner of the end zone where junior Garrett Burdick leaped over a defender and made a sensational catch. The 22-yard scoring play gave Valley a 13-0 halftime lead.
“That hurt,” Marone said. “We had the exact defense we wanted on that play and that kid won it.”
The Rams opened the second half with an impressive 15-play, 80-yard scoring drive. Cook capped the drive, which was all on the ground, with a 3-yard run to make it 13-6.
Valley answered late in the third quarter when Sapere found Roche open over the middle with a 32-yard touchdown toss.
Cook’s second touchdown on a 9-yard run and Ryan Bergeron’s extra point kick cut the Warriors lead to 20-13 with 10:39 left in the fourth quarter.
“We’ve been a second half team the entire year,” Marone said. “We had opportunities and we didn’t convert.”