Warriors Take 21-6 Loss to Cromwell-Portland
DiAngelo Jean-Pierre reeled in a 24-yard TD pass from fellow senior captain James Marsden when the Valley Regional-Old Lyme football team took a 21-6 home loss to Cromwell-Portland on Oct. 9. (File photo by Wesley Bunnell/The Courier)
Senior captain quarterback James Marsden and the Warriors moved to 1-3 on the season with last week’s defeat and now get ready to face the CREC Co-op team on Saturday, Oct. 23. (File photo by Wesley Bunnell/The Courier)
The Valley Regional-Old Lyme (VR-OL) football team hosted Cromwell-Portland (C-P) on Oct. 9 and took a 21-6 defeat against the Panthers in a Saturday afternoon matchup at Old Lyme High School. With a record of 1-3, the Warriors now look ahead to the second half of their season in which they will return a key piece of their offense.
Junior captain DiAngelo Jean-Pierre caught a 24-yard touchdown pass from senior captain James Marsden to give VR-OL a 6-0 lead in the first quarter versus C-P, but the undefeated Panthers responded with 21-straight points to get the victory, scoring one touchdown in each of the first, third, and fourth quarters. The Warriors turned the ball over five times in the loss.
“I thought we played hard. We came out with the right mindset. We thought we matched up well against them,” first-year Head Coach Hill Gbunblee said. “Their play style is similar to what we have. We went in with healthy respect for what they do. But if you turn the ball and don’t execute to the best of your ability, you aren’t going to win games. That’s the way football works.”
The Warriors are being led by three captains in Jean-Pierre, Marsden, and senior quarterback/defensive back James Beckman this season. The team’s players voted for the captains, and Coach Gbunblee said that the trio’s effort both on and off the field is backing up that decision.
“They exude all of the characteristics we are looking for in leadership. Their actions on the field, off the field, accountability, responsibility—they exude that in spades,” said Gbunblee. “Their teammates selected them, and the coaches confirmed that. Whether it’s offseason work, weight room, team meeting, chalk talk, conditioning—you can always count on those three being there and leading it.”
Coach Gbunblee has also been impressed by the early season play of senior Connor Lunz, a fullback/defensive back. Lunz didn’t play football as a sophomore and was unable to play last year since the season was canceled. However, with Lunz now returning to the gridiron, Gbunblee said that he’s become a force on the Warriors’ defensive line and always competes with a high-intensity motor.
Those four players are just a few of the athletes in Warriors’ large cast of upperclassmen. Of the 30 players on this year’s roster, 23 of them are either junior or seniors. Gbunblee said having an older roster allowed for VR-OL to not have to start from scratch this season. However, the Warriors’ coach added that everyone is still adjusting to competing at the highest level following the yearlong layoff from competition.
“It has allowed us to not start from scratch, but even with a team that’s heavy on upperclassmen, losing that year has been impactful,” Gbunblee said. “Even with juniors and seniors, those kids lost the opportunity to watch the previous juniors and seniors. They couldn’t learn the in-between lessons of being a leader and football player that aren’t necessarily overt. They’re figuring things out on their own.”
As the Warriors look to bounce back from their loss to C-P, Coach Gbunblee said that the team is focused on establishing its ground game. VR-OL will be aided by the return of junior running back Jacob Rand, who has been sidelined since the team’s opening week victory against North Branford. With Rand back in the fold, Gbunblee is looking to get him up to speed, so the junior can once again be a focal point of the team’s offense.
Even more than running the ball effectively, Coach Gbunblee said this year’s squad is prepared to battle in each and every contest. Despite the 1-3 start, Gbunblee and company understand that the 2021 season is far from finished.
“I’m a firm believer in establishing the run. That’s one of the biggest things we’re trying to do. Establishing that run shows that we have longevity and toughness. That’s always been the focus for me. Getting kids back from injury back from injury so that we can put together a good campaign is imperative,” said Gbunblee. “Playoffs are out of the picture, but our season isn’t over. There’s a never-quit attitude. We’re going right back to work.”
Following a bye week, VR-OL will return to the field to face the CREC Co-op team at Civic Leadership High School in Hartford on Saturday, Oct. 23 at 11 a.m. In order to finish the year strong, Coach Gbunblee knows that the Warriors need to buy into the system and improve upon their mistakes. As the season unfolds, Gbunblee wants the Warriors to demonstrate that they’re still a formidable opponent in the Pequot Conference.
“It’s going to take complete focus and buying in from everyone. We have a lot of young kids, which I’m beyond thrilled with. To have the young kids understand they’re an important part of the program is incredibly vital,” Gbunblee said. “We embrace the role of being a spoiler. Every opportunity we have to do that, we will. We’ll embrace that for now.”