For three and a half quarters, Champlain Valley football took every shot that its opponent, the weather and injuries threw at them in the Division I state championship on Saturday, Nov. 13 in Rutland.
Midway through the fourth quarter, the Essex offense finally broke through, scoring on a six-yard touchdown run to go up 21-13. The Hornets made that score stand and held off a furious late push from the Redhawks to win the D-1 state title with a 21-19 win.
“Whether it’s a win or a loss, our guys feel the outcome of the game, we will remember this moment and we will be inspired by this moment to get better every single day, even in the off season,” said CVU coach Rahn Fleming. “We’ll come back next year.”
Champlain Valley Union High School stepped on to the field to warm up in the pouring rain. Soon after kickoff, that changed to snow. The changing weather and the snow that soon blanketed the field affected the Redhawks’ running game.
“It made the footing, the ability to plant your foot and go north-south hard,” Fleming said. “A lot of our own game is edge game, which means you got to eventually be able to plant your foot and go north-south.”
“Both teams played in the same conditions. The weather created an equal dose of adversity for both the Hornets and the Redhawks. Adapting to that adversity became one of the competitive measures of the game,” Fleming said.
After the two teams traded scores in the first half — Jack Sumner scored on a 1-yard scamper on the first play of the second quarter and quarterback Max Destito hit Alex Provost with a 11-yard TD catch in the final minute of the first half — Essex opened the second half with a different game plan in mind.
The Hornets dialed up a heavy dose of running back Oliver Orvis. The senior ran the ball 22 times in the second half, mixing in a couple of breakout runs with lots of CVU stops.
But the senior broke through for the six-yard TD run to give the Hornets the 21-13 lead.
“We prepared as thoroughly as a team can prepare defensively,” Fleming said. “They performed, with a few breakdowns. Bottom line, they got in the end zone more than we did.”
On the next CVU possession, the offense went to work. The team moved down the field in fits and starts, converting two fourth downs to get them into striking distance of the Essex end zone.
The Redhawks hit pay dirt when Destito found Eric Guczek-Nasab with a 20-yard touchdown pass to close the lead to 20-19.
But CVU could not convert on the two-point conversion and trailed by 2 with 3:31 to go in regulation.
It looked like luck might be on their side when the Redhawks recovered the on-side kick on the ensuing kickoff, getting a chance to start a game-winning drive on the 45-yard line. But the drive stalled and CVU could not convert a final fourth down to hand the ball back over to the Hornets.
With no timeouts left for CVU and under two minutes on the clock, Essex was able to hand the ball to Orvis and run out the clock.
“I’ve got nothing but love for this team. They have reset the course of the program. They have reset the culture of the program,” Fleming said. “We are going to build on what we started this year, moving forward.”
CVU will take some time before looking completely forward as they reflect on a senior class that helped the Redhawks to its first Division 1 title game and turned the program into a contender.
“‘Make excellence our standard, not our goal.’ These words rolled out of the mouth of Angelos Carroll at a team meeting last summer. Our captains latched onto it immediately,” Fleming said. “Our seniors bought in as the season approached. It is one thing to seek excellence. It is another thing to discover it within, nurture it, and manifest it on the ball field.”
As the team watched its opponent celebrate on the other side of the field, Fleming said that this group is ready to build off this championship game appearance. With quite a few of the team’s key cogs returning, including Destito, Sumner and others, he said CVU is already planning for next season.
“We’re going to keep training them up,” Fleming said. “We’re going to make them stronger. We’re going to make them faster and we’re going to turn them loose.”