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The notion that Valley Regional/Old Lyme would have an undefeated season and qualify for the state football playoffs was a crazy notion not too long ago.
But times have changed quickly for the Warriors. They're the top seed in Class M and will square off against No. 5 Brookfield today at 2 p.m. in a semifinal at Cheshire High School.
It will be the third semifinal appearance in four seasons for the Warriors (12-0). Their 2010 playoff berth was the first for a program that began in 1968.
"Everyone pretty much returned this year except for one starter," Valley/Old Lyme junior Chris Jean-Pierre said. "We knew right then that we had a good chance to become what we are today."
The Warriors had a season-or-two to mature. The likes of Justin Cheverier (running back/linebacker) and Jean-Pierre played as freshmen two years ago. They finished 7-3 in what was supposed to be a rebuilding year last season, losing to only the top teams in the Pequot Football Conference.
"One thing you look at from their stats - the defense has only given up 84 points in 12 games," Brookfield coach Rich Angarano said. "That's pretty good, man. You look at something like that and you start concerning yourself with what they do defensively."
Cheverier has been one of Valley's defensive leaders, but his status for today won't be known until kickoff. He bruised his shoulder late in the first quarter of Tuesday's 48-3 quarterfinal win over Quinebaug Valley. He's also the Warriors' top rusher.
Junior linebackers Tyler Cheverier, Daniel Figuenick and Tajhay Marshall have been three of Valley/Old Lyme's top tacklers. They've been aided by senior defensive ends Peter Barry (6-foot-1, 225 pounds) and Cole Turner (6-0, 260) and sophomore nose guard Jack Anthony Giaconia (6-3, 330), who have tied up opposing offensive linemen.
Seniors Dave Peck (cornerback) and Jean-Luc Poulard (safety) and juniors Andrew Tuscano (cornerback) and Jean-Pierre (safety) round out the defense.
Senior Phil Cohen has completed 68 percent of his passes for 1,775 yards with 27 touchdowns to three interceptions for the Warriors. Peck (12 touchdowns), Evan Smith (six) and Jean-Pierre (six) have been his top receiving targets. Jean-Pierre has also run for six touchdowns when taking direct snaps in Valley/Old Lyme's Wildcat package.
Brookfield (10-3) has lost to only the best in the South-West Conference. League champion Newtown beat it during the regular season (35-7) and conference final (28-7). The Bobcats also lost to Bethel on Thanksgiving (20-0), but avenged that loss in Tuesday's quarterfinals, rallying in the final for a 22-21 win.
Brookfield has had a successful season with a very young lineup. It starts just five seniors on offense and four on defense. Most of its other starters are sophomores who led Brookfield's Pop Warner youth team to the 2011 national championship.
The Bobcats have rushed for 282 yards a game, generally out of the wing-T or double wing. They will also use a spread formation when necessary.
Robert Drysdale (6-1, 220) has rushed for 1,829 yards with 25 touchdowns for the Bobcats while junior Danny Jackson has rushed for 10 touchdowns and Austin Reich eight.
Quarterback Brad Westmark is a two-year starter. He's thrown for 1,364 yards and nine touchdowns. He also directed the Bobcats' game-winning drive against Bethel. Brookfield took over at its own 23-yard line with 2 minutes, 20 seconds left and converted twice on fourth down.
"He was a master in the huddle," Angarano said.
Drysdale scored on a 4-yard run with 38 seconds left.
"They've got pretty good size," Warriors coach Tim King said. "They give you a lot of odd looks (on defense). A lot of teams we play give you the standard 4-3 or 4-2 or 3-4. They kind of give you some really weird looks, and that's always tough. You're always wondering what you're going to see."
"They've got some good athletes. (Drysdale) runs really hard. He's tough. Their wing-T, there's always misdirection and the wings flipping the ball to one another with counters on you. I think the biggest thing is that when they run, they run hard. Their guards who are pulling, they're not big, but they'll whack you."