By Mal Boright
After narrowly succumbing to Essex High’s relentless air assault last Saturday, coach Jim Provost and his 2-1 Champlain Valley Union High football team will head for the Northeast Kingdom Saturday to meet the 1-2 St. Johnsbury Academy Hilltoppers.
“They are kind of a mystery,” Provost said Monday of his gridders’ next foe.
St. Johnsbury blasted Spaulding High of Barre 32-14 on Saturday for its initial victory of the campaign. But on the previous Saturday at their field, the Hilltoppers got squashed 42-0 by Burlington High, a team CVU popped 33-13 at home in the season opener.
“They (St. Jay) thumped Spaulding pretty good, so we have a lot to get right this week,” Provost said, recalling that the Hilltoppers came to CVU last year and put up a scrap before finally bowing.
Provost said he looks for St. Johnsbury to “mix it up a lot on offense.”
However, the Redhawks and their road followers are unlikely to see the massive air mail special delivery offense with which 3-0 Essex filled the air Saturday, laying a nerve-wracking 33-26 loss on the ‘Hawks that left players and spectators alike with strained necks from looking up for almost three hours.
And up there was where Hornets’ senior quarterback Joseph Picard operated, throwing 48 passes and completing 26 for 403 yards and five touchdowns. It was a blitz in every sense of the word.
“Actually, our defense played pretty well once we got past some missed assignments that resulted in three touchdowns,” said Provost.
By most accounts, the game provided an enthralling afternoon for spectators and players alike, along with more hair loss for the coaches.
On its first play after stopping an early first-period CVU 64-yard ground-pounding march at its 16, Picard unloaded a first down 84-yard pass and run bomb to sophomore wide receiver Cody Greene for the first score of the game. Tyler Warren kicked the point after.
Moments later, after the Hornets got the ball back on the first of three interceptions by linebacker Ryan Forbes, Picard went two-for-two, covering 38 yards to score, the pay dirt pitch a 13-yarder to Warren, who added the point. The score stood 14-0 with almost four minutes remaining in the first reel.
It looked like an impending blowout, but having now experienced the Essex quick-strike aerial circus, the Redhawks reached deep for their defensive stubborness and went to work, outscoring Essex the remainder of the game.
CVU quarterback Steele DuBrul passed 26 yards to Ryan Beaudry just before the end of the period and Max Whitcomb knocked the extra point through the wickets. Just moments later, a Brad Bissonette interception (one of five for the CVU defense) gave the Redhawks the ball at the Essex 31, and it took just four plays for halfback Alex Bulla (20 carries, 67 yards and two catches for 20 yards) to smash into the end zone from the 10. Whitcomb again booted the point.
From then on the game was two for the seesaw, Essex going in front 20-14 by halftime on a 26-yard Picard scoring pitch to the pesky and elusive Greene (six catches for 166 yards, three touchdowns).
Early in the third period, on the third play following the second half kickoff, CVU linebacker Jason Cora picked off a Picard pass and got the ball to the Essex 24. Just three plays later, DuBrul bolted into the end zone from the 7 to deadlock the score at 20.
Essex responded with a 75-yard sortie, Picard hitting running back James Olsen with a 15-yard six-point pop for the touchdown, Warren got the point and Essex led, 27-20.
It was the score that gave Essex the lead for good, but at the time who was to know, especially after DuBrul, his team backed up to its own 2-yard line and facing a second down. He sneaked into the line, burst into the open, turned on the flat-out gear and romped 98 yards for his second touchdown of the day and sixth in three games.
DuBrul during the contest carried the pigskin 27 times for 259 yards. For the season, he has stepped his way to 636 yards, while passing for another 305 yards and three scores
A try for a two-point conversion after a 15-yard penalty failed by a foot or two when Beaudry caught DuBrul’s pass but was nailed just shy of the end zone.
In the fourth quarter, after an exchange of punts, Essex put up its final score on a 39-yard Picard to Greene hookup.
Down by seven after Essex failed to pass for a two-point conversion, CVU got one last good opportunity when Beaudry pulled down a Picard first down pass to give CVU the ball at the Essex 13 with four minutes and 39 seconds left. DuBrul charged to the 8 on first down, but a third down roll out pass to the right side was intercepted by the ever-present Forbes, who made a leaping grab of the ball. Essex then ran out the remaining 3:09.
Provost praised the work of his lines against the beefy Essex front set (roster has four players 260 pounds or more). Co-captains Harvey Ottinger and Alec Distler spent the afternoon swapping muscles in a lengthy contest that had 147 offensive plays, 77 by Essex.