Nov. 19, 2009
By Mal Boright
Their faces muddy, their normally white with red trim uniforms darkened from the wet and muddy conditions, a disappointed Champlain Valley Union High football team slowly strolled from the Essex High field Saturday afternoon. They did so with heads held high.
Courtesy photo by Terri Zittritsch
The Redhawk offense huddles up before a play in Saturday’s Division 2 title game against Colchester High. CVU lost to the Lakers, 22-14.
Courtesy photo by Terri Zittritsch
J.P. Benoit (21) carries the ball for Champlain Valley Union High School.
During a season that head coach Jim Provost described as “magical,” the Redhawks had emerged from a 2008 non-playoff season in Division 3 to swap blocks and tackles with the powerhouses in Division 2 before bowing to 11-0 Colchester High, 22-14 in the championship contest.
According to news reports last weekend, the football coaches association had been considering moving the Lakers to Division 1 next year.
CVU closed its season at 9-2 and proved it belongs in the new division.
According to CVU senior defensive end Matt Long, the team’s solid season was the result of hard work that began shortly after last year’s announcement that a higher division was going to be the new order in 2009.
“We knew we needed to step up this year,” the veteran said. “We all worked hard in the offseason and were pleasantly surprised (with the season).”
The Redhawks rolled through the regular campaign with an 8-1 record, losing only to Milton High 14-0 at home on a day the offense simply stalled.
CVU closed out with three straight victories and then bumped off a highly-regarded, 8-2 Mount Mansfield Union team in a semifinal nearly two weeks ago, bringing football enthusiasm in the school community to a new level.
The championship game was played in on-and-off rain that became more persistent in the second half, reducing field conditions to slop city, a condition football players don’t mind all that much.
“It was fun,” said sophomore linebacker Drew Nick, wet and muddied.
“The conditions were the same for both teams,” added Long and others.
The difference maker in this contest was Colchester’s smallish but elusive junior running back Devon Grammo, who hotfooted it around and through CVU for 187 yards on 28 carries. The stats included a touchdown trot of 64 yards in the third quarter that put the Lakers up 16-14.
“He (Grammo) is like a fish,” said Nick, who spent a fair amount of time chasing the halfback. “He just bounces off people and keeps going.”
Midway in the first period, Colchester’s vaunted ground game appeared ready to rule as the Lakers marched 64 yards in 12 plays. Grammo gained 52 of the yards. But the CVU defense stiffened in front of the goal posts and held Colchester on downs, J.P. Benoit hauling down a pass receiver at the 1 before lineman Cameron Fitzgerald stuffed Grammo’s fourth-down burst attempt.
But the long march did pay off eventually for the Lakers when a fumbled snap on the Redhawks’ third down from their 7-yard line resulted in a safety and 2-0 lead.
CVU’s defense generally kept the Lakers under control for the remainder of the half, with linebackers Dan Thabault and Eric Palmer, along with Long, playing prominent roles.
The CVU offense got rolling with 36.8 seconds remaining in the half, amassing an unforgettable series of plays that put the Redhawks up 8-2, got the red clackers in the red crowd clacking and left the Colchester side of the field in stunned silence.
Quarterback Konnor Fleming (105 yards in 15 carries) got matters started with a 44-yard bust up the middle from the CVU 20 before being pushed out of bounds at the Lakers’ 36.
On the next play, Fleming threw a perfect pass to end Ryan Busch, who caught it and was knocked out of bounds at the 2.
With 19 seconds remaining, the call went to slashback Benoit, who slashed into the end zone for the touchdown. Fleming added the two-point conversion on a keeper.
Colchester may have been stunned by the sudden turn of events, but the Lakers were not seriously humbled.
With a fired-up CVU set to receive the second-half opening kickoff, the Lakers unleashed an onside boot that was a rocket, bouncing off a Redhawks front liner and back to midfield where Colchester recovered.
On the first play, Lakers sophomore back Alec Kozlowski shot off tackle for 40 yards before Busch and Fleming caught him at the 9. It then took four downs for Colchester to score, the touchdown coming on a 12-yard scoring pass from quarterback Jack Leclerc. The extra point put the Lakers up 9-8.
CVU was then held on downs. After a Fitzgerald punt put Colchester back on its 36, on the first play Grammo got loose on his 64-yard romp into the end zone, with the point-after making it 16-8.
The Redhawks came right back. Starting at their 48, Benoit (94 yards, 14 carries) got the offense rolling with a 17-yard scamper. The lithe halfback added 8- and 24-yard romps before Fleming finished the drive with an 11-yard scoring pitch to Busch (3 catches, 58 yards). A two-point conversion try was fumbled away.
Colchester struck again midway in the final reel, staying on the ground and using muscle in the form of 230-pound fullback Jared Vetters, who rocked into the middle of trenches for 23 yards in four plunges, powering over from the 2 to complete a 62-yard drive.
Down 22-14, the Redhawks tried to pass their way back into a tie in the waning minutes but the Lakers’ pass defenders were ready with two interceptions.
CVU, Colchester, Stats
CVU 0 8 0 6 – 14
CHS 2 0 14 6 – 22
First downs 10 11
Rushing yards 210 290
Passing yards 73 31
Return yards 61 7
Comp-Att-Int 6-16-2 3-10-0
Sacks-Yards Lost 1-6 0-0
Punts-Avg 3-30 6-28
Fumbles-lost 7-1 3-1
Penalties-yards 4-30 5-25
BOOSTERS HOST TEAM DINNER
The Champlain Valley Union High cafeteria had a full house Sunday night for the annual dinner honoring the 80-plus players on the 2009 CVU teams. The dinner was sponsored by the football boosters organization.
Chris Long of the boosters said some 280 attended the dinner, which began about 24 hours after the Redhawks’ narrow loss to Colchester in the Division 2 title contest Saturday at Essex High.
Head coach Jim Provost said that player-of-the-game honors went to end and cornerback Ryan Busch in the championship game and to defensive end Matt Long in the semi-final victory over Mount Mansfield Union the previous week.
It was noted by Chris Long on Tuesday that turnout for games this year far exceeded those for earlier seasons and “was huge” for the championship test Saturday.
— Mal Boright, Observer correspondent