Nov. 12, 2009
By Mal Boright
There is plenty of spring in the steps of Champlain Valley Union High football players, mentors, parents, boosters and supporters these days.
Courtesy photo by Terri Zittritsch
Champlain Valley Union High football players Ryan Busch (17) and Derek Goodwin (28) defend a Mount Mansfield Union High pass during Friday’s playoff game. Goodwin came down with the interception, and CVU won, 21-14, to earn a trip to the Division 2 championship game against Colchester High on Saturday.
And it is completely justified.
Consider that some nine months ago, the school’s athletic officials and coaches were trying to keep the program in Division 3, where last year’s team missed the playoffs.
Move up to Division 2 as the Football Coaches Association wanted in its redrawing of the state’s high school football landscape? Yikes!
And so it came to pass that the Redhawks were hiked to the higher division.
“We have our work cut out for us,” head coach Jim Provost said at the time of the announcement.
Work the team did and, as a result, the 8-1 Hawks will take on top-seeded, 9-0 Colchester High at 1 p.m. on Saturday at Essex High for the Division 2 state championship.
To get to the Big One, the Redhawks, to the surprise of many, stopped second-seeded and red-hot Mount Mansfield Union High, 21-14 Friday night at Burlington High.
The Cougars, behind a crushing ground game, had won five in a row before the fateful meeting with CVU. Included in that streak was a blowout victory over Bellows Free Academy of St. Albans, which was seeded second in the Division 1 playoffs before losing to Rutland High.
Colchester this week presents another serious challenge.
“We will need an even greater effort than last week,” Provost said. “Colchester is well balanced. They can run and pass.”
The Lakers gained the title test with a 12-7, semifinal home victory over fourth-seeded Middlebury on Friday night. Colchester was paced by three backs with significant yardage: Devon Grammo (79), Alex Kozlowski (75) and Jared Vetters (62).
Grammo was the most consistent runner over a season in which the Lakers put away with relative ease such CVU victims as Burr and Burton, Middlebury (26-6 early), Rice Memorial and North Country Union. On the last day of the regular season, Colchester nipped Milton High 14-0, a team that defeated CVU in Hinesburg by the same score.
‘Rock solid’ defense stops MMU
Provost gave a lot of credit for the Mount Mansfield victory to what he termed, “a defensive plan that was rock solid.”
After showing an occasionally soft pass defense in a 31-20 win over Fair Haven Union the previous week, the Redhawks picked off five Cougar passes and shut down the MMU ground game in the second half.
The interceptors included Ryan Busch twice, Derek Goodwin, Mikey Bean and Konnor Fleming, who put a wrap on the contest with just seconds to go.
Some serious angst was felt on the CVU side of the field early in the second quarter after the Cougars blocked a 25-yard Brian Cherhoniak field goal try to take over at their 22.
It took just five plays for the MMU ground machine to churn up 78 yards in propelling itself into the far end zone. Elusive halfback Ian Shaw collected 69 of the yards, first on a 17-yard scoot and then, on a third-and-one play at the 48, crashing through a phalanx of would-be tacklers and zooming the final 52 for what became a 7-0 MMU lead.
Shaw, who had 81 yards at the half, would be held to just 9 more with linebacker Drew Nick — “He had at least a dozen tackles,” Provost said — giving special attention to the MMU offensive star, who had 1,500 total yards on the season.
The Redhawks got into the scoring business following a Matt Long block of an MMU punt and recovery at the Cougar 15. Fleming passed 16 yards to Busch and Cherhoniak kicked the point-after for the tie.
CVU went ahead in the third quarter after Busch’s second pick gave it the ball at its 20. With Fleming running for 36 yards and passing for another 23, the Redhawks rolled 80 yards in 15 plays. Freshman halfback Tyler Barnes gained the last 6 yards for the score. The point after was wide.
Long, literally the defensive end to foes’ offenses, took charge after CVU held MMU and forced a punt from the 14. The lanky defender charged through, blocked the punt and fell on the ball in the end zone for the score.
Fleming then scooted into the left corner for the two-point conversion and CVU led 21-7.
Mount Mansfield came to life in the final reel and marched 64 yards for a score with 4:02 left, quarterback Ben Dolan running in from the 5. Ben Christie kicked the point-after.
With 3:33 remaining, CVU’s Cameron Fitzgerald’s clutch 35-yard punt got the Redhawks out of potential trouble at their 14 so that Bean and Fleming could then snuff out Cougar drives with interceptions.
“My passes felt good,” Fleming said later, having completed 7 of 17 for 77 yards. He also ran for another 81 yards for a 158 total for the night.
J.P. Benoit caught four passes for 23 yards and ran for another 20.
CVU, MMU, Stats
CVU 0 7 14 0 – 21
MMU 0 7 0 7 – 14
First downs 8 7
Rushing yards 114 153
Passing yards 77 27
Return yards 48 41
Comp-Att-Int 7-17-1 3-14-5
Sacked-Yards Lost 0-0 3-13
Punts-Avg 6-32 4-18
Fumbles-lost 3-1 2-1
Penalties-yards 6-45 1-5