Valley/Old Lyme qualifies for Class S playoffs with 22-7 win over H-K

Valley/Old Lyme's Michael Cullina (13) celebrates a touchdown with teammate Ernest Jean-Pierre during Friday night's 22-7 win over rival Haddam-Killingworth. The Warriors clinched a Class S state playoff berth and the Peqout Sassacus Divisoin title with the win. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
Valley/Old Lyme's Michael Cullina (13) celebrates a touchdown with teammate Ernest Jean-Pierre during Friday night's 22-7 win over rival Haddam-Killingworth. The Warriors clinched a Class S state playoff berth and the Peqout Sassacus Divisoin title with the win. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)

Higganum — Valley Regional/Old Lyme had been hearing it all week from head coach Tim King, reminding his players that Haddam-Killingworth, Friday night’s opponent, had beaten Old Saybrook/Westbrook the week before.

Old Saybrook/Westbrook, the only team that beat the Warriors this season. Make that thumped them, 34-13, on Oct. 6.

“He actually went on the offensive side of the ball (at practice) and was talking trash (to the defense),” Valley/OL senior linebacker Blair Allen said. “He was trying to get the defense all riled up and get in our heads. … ‘Oh, that’s a touchdown. You guys just let up a touchdown, all that kind of stuff.’”

The Warriors' defense showed their mettle repeatedly in the third quarter. They kept H-K from scoring twice from their own 1-yard line and stopped another drive at their 5. They were the difference in their 22-7 win over the Cougars.

The win gave the Warriors their sixth-straight Principal’s Cup, the Pequot League Sassacus Division title, and a berth in the CIAC Class S playoffs.

“Unbelievable,” King said. “They played their hearts out defensively. To stop them on the 1-yard line two times. … That was unbelievable. I haven’t seen a goal line stand like that from us since the Morgan game our championship year (2014). Isn’t it sad that I can remember?"

It will the third postseason trip in four seasons for the Warriors (9-1, 7-1). They’ll have to wait a week to find out who they'll play in the quarterfinals on Tuesday, Nov. 28.

“It’s pretty neat,” King said. “It being our 50th anniversary of football at Valley, it’s kind of special to be able to go back to the playoffs.”

Valley/Old Lyme led 14-7 when it fumbled the ball at its own 41 less than a minute into the second half.

H-K had a first-and-goal from the Warriors’ 7. It moved the ball to the 1-yard line on third down. The Warriors stuffed the Cougars on third down. Allen got to fullback Kevin Dougherty first as the Warriors stuffed the Cougars on fourth down.

“I was reading the guard, reading my keys,” Allen said. “I saw the guard go down, the tackle go out, so I filled the gap like we practiced numerous times and the play was right there for me to make. All that hard work over the years paid off.”

Ian Neviaser, a Valley/Old Lyme senior lineman, said, “We had talked all week about (the Cougars’ double wing) offense. They’ll just keeping pounding and pounding (with the run), and if we got this stop, it would be huge. … I’m speechless. It was crazy. It’s still just hitting me now that all this happened.”

The Warriors fumbled again on their next drive at their 34. The defense held and stopped H-K at the Valley 5.

The Cougars (6-4, 5-3) took the opening kickoff and went 54 yards in 15 plays. Quarterback Cody Ellex scored on a 1-yard keeper to give H-K a 7-0 lead with four minutes, 48 seconds left in the first quarter.

Valley/Old Lyme scored its first touchdown less than a minute into the second quarter. Senior Mike Cullina threw a 12-yard touchdown pass to junior Jae’len Arnum on fourth down to tie the game.

The Warriors scored on their next possession with Cullina throwing a 9-yard touchdown pass to senior Ernest Jean-Pierre to go ahead, 14-7, with 8:47 left in the first half.

Cullina ran for a 1-yard touchdown with 3:51 left in the game. He followed with a pass to senior Cole Ensinger for the two-point conversion.

Cullina completed 16 of 27 passes for 266 yards with an interception.

n.griffen@theday.com

Valley/Old Lyme’s Jae’len Arnum leaps to haul in a long reception during Friday night’s 22-7 victory over Haddam-Killingworth. The Warriors qualified for the Class S playoffs with the win.  (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
Valley/Old Lyme’s Jae’len Arnum leaps to haul in a long reception during Friday night’s 22-7 victory over Haddam-Killingworth. The Warriors qualified for the Class S playoffs with the win. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
Valley/Old Lyme's Jason O'Brien (2) carries a ball past Haddam-Killingworth's Dalton Modern (41) Friday night's game in Higganum. The Warriors clinched a Class S playoff berth and the Pequot Sassascus Divison title with a 22-7 win over their arch rival. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
Valley/Old Lyme's Jason O'Brien (2) carries a ball past Haddam-Killingworth's Dalton Modern (41) Friday night's game in Higganum. The Warriors clinched a Class S playoff berth and the Pequot Sassascus Divison title with a 22-7 win over their arch rival. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)

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