Alex Provost fights for extra yards during CVU’s quarterfinal win over Middlebury last week in Hinesburg. OBSERVER PHOTO BY AL FREY
Comeback win vaults Redhawks into state championship game Saturday
By Lauren Read
Not much went according to plan on Friday night for the Champlain Valley Union High School football team.
First, the bus trip to Hartford for the Division 1 semifinals hit a snag when a bus showed up late.
Then, the usually offense-rich Redhawks struggled with turnovers and only found the end zone once in the first three quarters.
But, as the clock ticked down on the season, CVU found its identity.
The Redhawks scored with just over a minute to play — and Oliver Pudvar hit the extra point — to give No. 3 Champlain Valley a 14-13 win and a spot in the program’s first D-1 state final.
“It is a thrill for our kids,” CVU head coach Rahn Fleming said. ”It’s a memory they’ll get to keep for the rest of their lives.
“But the goal is not yet accomplished.”
CVU will take on No. 4 Essex on Saturday at Rutland High School at 5 p.m. to determine who takes home the state title.
“The last five or six weeks, every game has been the biggest and most important game we played,” Fleming said. “To go to a state championship is a big deal, no question, but it’s also just another opportunity for this club to experience another first.”
The Redhawks took an early lead in Friday’s semifinal, scoring on a 15-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Max Destito to receiver Jack Sumner.
But the Hurricanes responded to tie the game 7-7 before the end of the first quarter. And that is where the two teams stayed, trading possessions and turnovers in a back-and-forth semifinal.
Hartford broke the deadlock with 5 minutes, 40 seconds to go in the game, capping off a nearly-10-minute drive with a touchdown pass that gave the home team a 13-7 lead. But the Hurricanes missed the extra point, which came back to haunt them.
Champlain Valley responded on its next possession, steadily marching down the field and getting all the way down to the 5-yard line. But there the drive stalled and CVU’s state championship hopes came down to a 4th-and-5.
“That trust that our players have in one another, in our coaches and in who we’ve become over the course of the season, every last one of us shared the thought ‘we got this’ and there was no panic,” Fleming said. “So right to the last snap, nobody thought we weren’t going to do it.”
Destito found Sumner with a touchdown pass to tie the game. Then it all came down to Pudvar, who had a rare field goal miss earlier in the game.
Pudvar hit the extra point and gave CVU a 14-13 lead. The Redhawks made one last defensive stand, blocking a field goal with 15 seconds remaining to book their spot in the title game.
“I said, just take a breath and kick the ball,” Fleming said of his message to his kicker. “And he looked at me and he goes ‘oh, I got this coach.’ He is that kid who is like the more tense the situation, the deeper the calm runs inside that guy. He went out and did what he does.”
Now CVU heads to its first-ever D-I title game and will face Essex, which handed the Redhawks one of their two losses in the regular season.
“We’re going to have to play our best football and our guys are going to need to be mentally and emotionally and physically firing on all cylinders,” Fleming said. “We’re not going to just go do the same thing we’ve done every game all season long, but we’re not going to change who we are either.”
Essex has won four games in a row, including a 42-28 win over top-seeded Rutland in the semifinals. It was the first loss for Rutland all season.
CVU lost to the Hornets in the regular season, 28-14. It was the first time that the Redhawks had been held to 14 points or less during the season, before Hartford did it in the semifinals.
While the offense will get a lot of attention, the CVU defense will have a tall task of shutting down a complete Essex offense.
“They are as balanced an offense as I think there is in the state right now,” Fleming said. “Powerful runners and just a stable full of receivers that we have to pay attention to. I think their ability to run the ball and pass the ball on turf will be improved from what it is on grass, just as ours will.”
No matter what happens, with two teams and coaching staffs that are familiar with each other, the Division I final is going to be a lot of fun.
“It’s going to be two teams that fought hard to get there,” Fleming said. “Both of us giving our best for 48 minutes.”