Warriors Claim Principal’s Cup with 22-17 Comeback Against H-K
The Valley Regional-Old Lyme (VR-OL) football team was facing a 17-point halftime deficit when it hosted Haddam-Killingworth in the showdown for the Principal’s Cup last week. Unfazed, the Warriors rallied to score 22 unanswered points in the second half and came away with a 22-17 victory versus the Cougars at Richard B. Blythe Field on Nov. 23.
Senior captain quarterback James Marsden threw a pair of touchdown passes and also ran for the go-ahead score during the fourth quarter in the Warriors’ win over divisional rival H-K. With the victory, VR-OL finished the season with an overall record of 4-6 and went 4-3 in the Pequot Conference Sassacus Division in its first year with Head Coach Hill Gbunblee.
When Coach Gbunblee was reviewing film for the game against H-K, he noticed a common theme with the Cougars’ offense in that they consistently run a spread formation. Gbunblee recognized that formation on H-K’s first possession of the game, but at the line of scrimmage, the Cougars quickly transitioned to a dual tight end formation that was geared toward heavy runs up the middle. H-K used this formation to its advantage to build its 17-0 lead in the first half.
“We came out motivated and excited,” Coach Gbunblee said. “They came out in an offense we’ve seen all year long. We were caught off-guard when they changed it at the line of scrimmage, and we spent most of the first half making adjustments to what they were running.”
H-K opened the scoring with 25-yard touchdown pass from junior Alex Phipps to senior Ryan Duncanson in the first quarter. Senior Nick Glynn later scored on a 1-yard touchdown to double the Cougars lead at 14-0 after one. Senior Kevin Cavrell hit a 23-yard field goal in the second quarter to put H-K up 17-0 at halftime.
“It took us midway through the second quarter for us to really make a good adjustment,” said Gbunblee. “We made moves and changes early on, but they kept running and adjusting to what we were doing. It was definitely a battle between me and [H-K Head Coach Tyler Wilcox].”
In the third quarter, the Warriors got on the board when Marsden connected with senior Sam Mullaney for a 14-yard touchdown pass. Marsden ran in the 2-point conversion to trim the deficit to 17-8 entering the fourth.
In the final frame, Marsden found junior captain DiAngelo Jean-Pierre on a 45-yard passing touchdown to get VR-OL within one score. Marsden converted the 2-point try to make it 17-16.
Later in the fourth quarter, Marsden scored on a 1-yard rushing touchdown to put the Warriors in the lead with a 22-17 advantage. VR-OL’s defense kept the Cougars off the board for the rest of the game to secure the win and keep the Principal’s Cup in Deep River.
Marsden finished with 215 passing yards and 96 rushing yards in the victory. Jean-Pierre tallied 110 receiving yards for Coach Gbunblee’s club.
While he was pleased to finish the 2021 season with a win, Gbunblee will have greater aspirations for the Warriors in his second campaign as head coach come 2022.
“Once the defense got going, things really worked out well for us on offense. I’m glad we were able to come away with the win, but I’m never going to be satisfied with what we do,” Gbunblee said. “It’s my first year as head coach, and all the players and coaches know we left a lot of food on the table this year. But that’s going to serve as motivation going forward. The message next season is going to be to simply finish.”
Gbunblee believes that there are several areas where he can improve as a coach going forward. Gbunblee is already thinking about how he can put those things into practice when the Warriors return to the field next fall.
“I think there’s so many things I can work on. No matter what you do, there is always going to be room for improvement. I’m critical about everything I do,” said Gbunblee. “I’m looking forward to working with this group of guys again next season, and I have confidence that we are going to be a stronger team.”
In addition to captain Marsden and Mullaney, the senior class for the VR-OL football team features captain James Beckham, along with Michael Marino, Tommy Rapp, Connor Lunz, Sean Cordock, Joseph Kuhn, John Baczewski, Daniel Stack, Race Greenawalt, Ian Mackenzie, and Samuel Ibbitson.
Along with captain Jean-Pierre, the Warriors’ junior class includes Jacob Rand, Andrew Yermenson, Michael Galberth, Dylan Sheehan, Nicholas Cox, Ford Macadam, Samuel Bourez, Kevin King, and Adam Metz.
The sophomores on the squad are Grady Lacourciere, Jack Driscoll and Ryder Goss. Max Novak, Matthew Cooper, and Adam Schmelzer are the freshmen on the team.