DEEP RIVER >> Valley Regional/Old Lyme football coach Tim King expects a “slugfest” when the Warriors meet Brookfield today (2 p.m.) in the Class M state semifinals at Cheshire High School.
“(Brookfield’s) a very good team that played a tough schedule,” said King. “They’ve got some big, physical kids and they’re going to just try and maul you.”
King could have been talking about his own team.
Top-seeded Valley Regional, one of only two teams in the state still undefeated (the other is Ansonia), has outscored their opponents 525-84 this season en route to their second Pequot Conference championship in four years. The Warriors have also won three division titles during that span.
“I told the kids, no matter what happens on Saturday they can’t take the 12-0 record right now from us, they can’t take the Pequot championship and the Principal’s Cup for Thanksgiving, all things that we strive for,” King said. “Each year those are some of the goals that we want to accomplish. So you can’t take those away from us.”
Valley’s goal now is to be playing next weekend at Central Connecticut State University, the site of the four state championship games.
Two seasons ago the Warriors suffered a heartbreaking defeat in the Class S semifinals against eventual champion Holy Cross (Waterbury). Tied at 14 with less than a minute to play, Holy Cross kicked a field goal with 23 seconds left then returned an interception for a touchdown with only 8 seconds showing for a 23-14 win.
Led by All-Staters Jimmy Fairfield-Sonn and Mitch King, the Warriors had a watershed season in 2010. Valley finished undefeated (10-0) for the first time in school history and outscored Sacred Heart (Waterbury) to win their first ever CIAC playoff game. Facing St. Joseph-Trumbull in the Class S semifinals, Valley took an early 7-0 lead and even threatened to take a two-touchdown lead against the heavily favored Cadets. But the Warriors couldn’t overcome some key injuries in the second half and fell to the eventual state champs, 44-7.
Yes, the Brookfield contest will be Valley’s third semifinal in four years.
“The first one against St. Joe’s we were all excited about being there,” said King. “It was kind of an eye-opening experience for us. Now, this time we’re going in and we’re talking about hopefully getting over the hump. We’re going in with some experience. Our seniors have been in two (semifinals) already and the juniors played in one. They’ve been there.”
This may be King’s best team balance-wise during his 16 seasons in Deep River.
Senior quarterback Phil Cohen leads a quick-strike offense that can beat you through the air or on the ground. And Valley’s defense hasn’t allowed a touchdown in five straight games.
“It probably is one of the best defenses we’ve had here for how they’re playing,” said Warriors longtime defensive coordinator Paul Ginter. “And that’s not to knock any other defense. We’ve had some really good defenses here. These guys got each other’s back and they’re communicating. It’s sort of everything you want. We’re getting after it.”
Moving junior all-state linebacker Justin Cheverier to the outside and solidifying the secondary with senior David Peck has paid huge dividends this season.
Along with Cheverier, the Warriors linebacking corps features juniors Tajhay Marshall, Dan Figuenick and Justin’s brother, Tyler Cheverier. Valley’s athletic secondary also includes juniors Evan Smith, Chris Jean-Pierre and Andrew Tuscano, while a big, physical defensive line is being anchored by seniors Cole Turner, Peter Barry, Chris Chiappa and sophomore Jack Anthony Giaconia.
Ginter’s ball-hawking unit will be put to the test against No. 5 Brookfield (10-3), whose wing T offense will be looking to execute a variety of counter and misdirection plays.
Bobby Drysdale, a sophomore, leads Brookfield with 1,829 rushing yards and 25 touchdowns.
“Offensively we’re scoring points and that helps our defense,” said Ginter, who played at Hand (Madison) and Wagner College. “When we’re scoring that gets the ‘D’ pumped up. I’m a big believer in enthusiasm and it just carries throughout the game.”
King was a captain on St. Bernard’s 1978 Class M state championship team and was also a member of Idaho State’s Division I-AA national championship team in 1981. Now, he has the Warriors on the precipice of their first state finals appearance.
“It’s a fun time right now,” said King, who reached the 100 career win milestone earlier this season. “That’s the whole thing. It’s a short week, everything has speeded up and we’re traveling 100 miles an hour right now getting ready to play on Saturday.”
Who will win the 2018 Class S Baseball Championship?
No. 6 Notre Dame-Fairfield (19-7)
No. 5 Coventry (20-6)
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