The Old Saybrook-Westbrook football team (OS-W) squared off against Valley Regional-Old Lyme (VR-OL) in a matchup of two undefeated Pequot League opponents on Oct. 6. OS-W remained unbeaten by claiming a 34-13 victory over the Warriors in Deep River. The Rams improved to 5-0 overall and 3-0 in the Pequot’s Sassacus Division. VR-OL dropped to 3-1 overall and 2-1 in the division.
OS-W Head Coach Mike Marone was pleased with his team’s victory, including the performance of senior quarterback Victor Pascoe, who rushed for 222 yards and three touchdowns, while picking off three passes on defense.
“[Pascoe] is a superb football player and a fierce competitor. He’s fierce on the field and an absolute gentleman off the field,” said Marone. “That kid doesn’t stop. He just works in the weight room and with the running program. It shows on the field.”
VR-OL Head Coach Tim King felt his team put together a solid effort, but the Warriors couldn’t overcome their mistakes and penalties.
“It did not go the way we wanted it to go. The penalties and the turnovers were crucial. The first penalty early in the game, that really turned out to be important, but there’s no excuses,” said Coach King. “We were going to try to run the ball with [Nick Braga], but it seems like we were playing behind the sticks all the time. We’d get a good gain, but then we’d get a penalty. We were always trying to catch up to the chains.”
The Rams and Warriors played a scoreless first quarter, but right before the whistle, Warriors’ senior quarterback Mike Cullina broke off a 30-yard run to get Valley into the red zone. Cullina later ran for a first down on 4th-and-inches, after which senior Jake Kruszewski rushed for a 5-yard TD up the middle. Brian Funk kicked the extra point to make it 7-0 Valley. On the Rams’ next drive, Pascoe reeled off a monster TD run of 79 yards, and Cooper Pavlovich’s kick knotted the game at 7-7. On the following drive, Valley ran a draw to Kruszewski on a 3rd-and-10 for a gain of 45 yards. Cullina followed by rushing 25 yards to the end zone, but the Rams’ blocked the extra point, and the Warriors led 13-7. OS-W came back with another long drive down the field that culminated with senior Vincent Dyer’s 9-yard touchdown run and a 14-13 lead.
Dyer’s TD was one of the signature ground-pounding runs that he prides himself on.
“I like to think of myself as a straight-forward, hard-nosed football player,” said Dyer. “I like to run as hard as I can. Even though I can’t make the best cuts in the world, I just run hard and try to get six yards a clip.”
The Rams forced Valley to punt on its next drive, after which Pascoe broke away for a 57-yard touchdown run that made it 21-13 with 1:30 left in the half. Both teams then exchanged interceptions as they each took a shot down the field. Pascoe picked off Cullina and, a few plays later, Jason O’Brien intercepted Dyer on a misdirection play. Nothing came of either grab, and the half ended with the Rams up 21-13.
Even though the Warriors put two touchdowns on the board in the second quarter, those were the only two scores the Rams’ defense allowed in the contest. Coach Marone felt that his squad played a great game on defense and gave a lot of credit to Dyer since he calls the plays on the field.
“We work defensively during the week. When game time comes, Vinny calls the whole game. Not me. Vinny Dyer. For me to cut that loose is huge for me. It’s the biggest compliment I can give him,” said Marone. “He’s a defensive quarterback. He had more tackles in the back field...that kept that team in the hole.”
On the Rams’ second possession of the second half, they marched down the field on a drive that included some big gains. Pascoe had a 26-yard run, and he also found junior receiver Max Thomas for a 26-yard reception. The drive ended with a 3-yard touchdown run from the Rams’ QB to make it 28-13. Pascoe intercepted Valley on the subsequent series. On the Warriors’ next drive, Cullina threw a 12-yard pass to Ryan Santos and a 15-yard pass to O’Brien. However, just a few plays into the fourth quarter, Pascoe struck again by hauling in his third interception on the night.
The Rams converted this possession into their final score after a handful of penalties from Valley and some gains on the ground by Pascoe and Dyer. Dyer’s 15-yard touchdown run extended OS-W’s lead to 34-13. On the Warriors’ final drive, Braga and Kruszewski both picked up multiple yards on screen passes. Later on the drive, Pavlovich forced a fumble, Cory Bartlett scooped it up for a 60-yard return, and then the Rams’ offense rushed for a couple of first downs to run out the clock.
Bartlett was happy to contribute to the victory with his big defensive play, and the game had special significance for him since he was a member of the Warriors just two years ago.
“It was definitely a big moment coming back to this field. It was a little emotional, but I came out and played a game like any other,” said Bartlett, a senior. “This was a defensive game. We made a couple of mistakes here and there, but we recouped, and we have really good chemistry, and we played really well.”
Additionally for the Rams’ offense, Dyer ran for 101 yards on 19 carries. Along with his 222 rushing yards, Pascoe also went 4-for-7 for 71 yards in the air. It was a huge night for Pascoe, but he gave his team all the credit for the win.
“It was a great team win. Everyone contributed. It was a big rivalry game, and you’re just excited to go out there and play. A little nervous because you’re playing on the hill under the lights,” said Pascoe. “I just went out and played hard, the team played hard, and we got a nice win.”
For the Warriors’ offense, Mike Cullina ran for 35 yards on six carries and went 18-for-27 for 163 yards passing to an array of different receivers. O’Brien had 67 yards receiving, and Ernest Jean-Pierre picked up 44 yards on three receptions. The Warriors ran for 126 yards as a team with Kruszewski gaining 50 on three carries. Josh Donahue led the defense with 11 tackles, and O’Brien had 10 tackles with an interception. Blaire Allen and Ian Neviaser each had eight tackles, while Roan Sullivan and Cullina both had seven. Sullivan also notched a sack for a loss of seven yards.
Even in the defeat, Coach King was proud of both his guys and the Rams for the class and sportsmanship they displayed while duking it out on the gridiron.
“Very classy. They handled themselves very well, and they were very gracious with it. It was a hard fought game, and they came out on top,” said King. “Both teams are going to move on and, hopefully, and we can win out the rest of the season.”
Coach Marone had nothing but praise for the Warriors, calling them one of the best programs in the Pequot League.
I just want to extend my respect to that coaching staff and that team,” Marone said. “They are the program to beat, always. I think the world of Tim King as a person and a coach.”