NEW BRITAIN >> Valley Regional/Old Lyme senior quarterback Chris Jean-Pierre rolled into the end zone from four yards out on a heroic fourth down play and junior kicker Jared Roche made the extra point with just 22 seconds remaining as the Warriors stunned Ansonia, 21-20, to win the CIAC Class-S Large state championship on Saturday at Veterans Memorial Stadium.
The top-seeded Warriors (13-0) capped a memorable unbeaten season with a thrilling fourth quarter rally, ending Ansonia’s bid for a fourth straight crown.
“It’s incredible,” Valley Regional/Old Lyme coach Tim King said. “You start off the season and everybody has the same goal to get here. And coming from small towns and going up against a storybook team like Ansonia has been just a dream come true. I don’t want it to end.”
The Warriors also became the first cooperative team to win a state title. And they did it in epic fashion.
“It’s an unbelievable comeback by them,” Ansonia coach Tom Brockett said. “Hats off to Valley. It was hard fought. We did a lot of things wrong in the fourth quarter but credit them. They didn’t give up.”
Valley trailed 14-0 and was backed up inside its own 10-yard line with a little over seven minutes left in the fourth quarter. But Jean-Pierre hit senior Andrew Tuscano for a 48-yard pass play. Senior Evan Smith then caught a short pass in the flat and raced 40 yards for a touchdown. Roche’s kick made it 14-7 with 6:19 left.
“Doubt was starting to creep in,” said Jean-Pierre, who completed four-of-11 passes for 108 yards. “There were six minutes left and we were just hoping for something.”
Ansonia (11-2) answered with a sensational 93-yard touchdown run by senior quarterback Jai’quan McKnight. But the Chargers were penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct during their ensuing celebration and had to try the two-point conversion from the 18-yard line. McKnight’s pass fell incomplete and Ansonia led, 20-7, with 5:01 left.
“We did a lot of things you just can’t do, undisciplined things, and it came back to bite us,” Brockett said. “The breaks didn’t bounce our way in the second half. But our kids played hard. We played lights out defense for 40 minutes. The last eight minutes we collapsed.”
Jean-Pierre, who gained 123 yards on 26 carries, kept the Warriors momentum going with a pair of completions to Smith, then ran 20 yards to get the ball inside the Ansonia 10.
“When they missed the extra point I knew that they left the door open for us and I knew our kids weren’t going to give up,” King said.
Jean-Pierre then scored on an 8-yard run and Roche’s kick made it 20-14 with 3:26 left.
Valley regained possession when senior linebacker Dan Figuenick stripped the ball away from junior Tyler Bailey, who had run for a first down with a 32-yard scamper. Valley senior linebacker Justin Cheverier recovered the fumble and Valley’s game-winning drive started at the Ansonia 41.
“That one came from above,” Cheverier said. “We worked hard for that strip but there was someone looking down on us right there for that to happen.”
The Warriors drove to the Ansonia four-yard line on seven plays and faced a fourth down with only 27 seconds left.
“On the last play we were thinking about a jump pass or something like that and basically Chris said give me the ball,” King said. “I just closed my eyes and I said a couple of prayers and it was all him. We had a couple of great blocks on it. I saw the guys hands go up and the rest is history.”
Jean-Pierre got to the edge on the left side and bulldozed into the end zone to tie it at 20. Roche then made the extra point kick after a great hold from junior Matt Sapere.
“It feels incredible,” Jean-Pierre said. “There’s no words that can describe this moment right now.”
Ansonia junior Tajik Bagley led all rushers with 149 yards on 26 carries, while McKnight finished with 143 yards on 11 carries.
Bagley had touchdown runs of 18 and 12 yards that gave the Chargers a 14-0 lead.
“We came in at halftime and we said we’re not going out like this,” Cheverier said. “We knew from the seventh and eighth grade that there was something special with this group. We knew that we would be here. We believed.”
|Class S-Large Final||1||2||3||4||F|
|VALLEY REGIONAL / OL||0||0||0||21||—||21|
AHS — Tajik Bagley 18 run (Jai’Quan McKnight run)
AHS — Bagley 13 run (run failed)
VROL — Evan Smith 40 pass from Chris Jean-Pierre (Jared Roche kick)
AHS — McKnight 93 run (pass failed)
VROL — Jean-Pierre 8 run (Roche kick)
VROL — Jean Pierre 4 run (Roche kick)
PASSING: Ansonia, McKnight 3-6 38. Valley Regional Jean-Pierre 5-11 108