Valley/OL rallies late to stun Ansonia 21-20 in Class S-Large final
New Britain - Hmm ... how can you appropriately describe what the Valley Regional/Old Lyme football team pulled off on Saturday against one of Connecticut's storied high school football programs?
How does one explain how the Warriors won their first state championship when they trailed Ansonia by 14 points with over six minutes left in the Class S-Large state championship game?
And how can one put into words after watching linebackers Justin Cheverier and Dan Figuenick chase down Tyler Bailey and force a turnover in the waning moments of the game, setting up the go-ahead score?
"I have no words," Figuenick said after Valley Regional/Old Lyme scored all of its points in the final 6:22 to stun the Chargers, 21-20, at Willow Brook Park.
Chris Jean-Pierre ran for a 4-yard touchdown with 22 seconds left to tie the game, and Jared Roche's extra point put the Warriors ahead to stay.
Valley beat The Valley.
"I have no idea," Jean-Pierre said about how he and his teammates won. "I'm speechless right now. This feeling is unbelievable."
The top-seeded Warriors finished 13-0. They also snapped the three-year state title run of second-seeded Ansonia (11-2), ranked eighth in The Day's Top 10 state coaches' poll. It was just the ninth championship loss for the Chargers in their 28 state final appearances.
Valley had just scored its first touchdown when Chargers quarterback Jai'Quan McKnight ran for a 93-yard touchdown just a little over a minute later to give Ansonia a 20-7 lead with 5:01 remaining. The two-point conversion attempt, however, failed.
"That was a rip-your-heart out moment," Warriors coach Tim King said of McKnight's run. "But when they missed the (conversion), I knew, 'there it is.' They left the door open for us. And I knew our kids weren't going to give up.
"I didn't know how much we had left in us, but I knew they weren't going to give up."
Jean-Pierre ran for an 8-yard touchdown with 3:26 left to cut Valley/Old Lyme's deficit to 20-14.
Bailey ripped through a hole on first-and-10 from the Ansonia 9 and headed downfield.
Cheverier and Figuenick kept up their pursuit, and Figuenick ripped the ball free. Cheverier recovered the ball at the Chargers' 41-yard line with 3:11 remaining. He finished with a game-high 11 tackles.
"Coach King preached it from day one - hustle," Figuenick said. "I came down and stripped the football. It went right into Justin Cheverier's hands. I couldn't have asked for a better little hop to him."
Valley opted to pound away at Ansonia with its run game using the "Triple Beast."
"We put that play in this week," Figuenick said. "We've been known to be, the last couple of regular season games, to get driven on with the power (running game). So we feel like we should give teams a little bit of their own medicine."
Senior Andrew Tuscano and Jean-Pierre alternated on four carries for a combined 35 yards down to the Ansonia 5.
"We had a bunch of blockers, student body coming through the hole," Figuenick, an offensive lineman-linebacker, said. "We just executed play after play after play. They couldn't stop us."
Ansonia stopped Valley/Old Lyme from getting any further traction. The Warriors had a fourth-and-goal from the 4 with 27 seconds remaining and called timeout.
"We were thinking about a jump pass or something like that," King said. "Chris said, 'Give me the ball.'"
Jean-Pierre said, "I told my coach to switch the formation to the left side (during that drive) because they kept overloading the right. We kept running there."
Jean-Pierre kept the ball on "39 sweep" and scored to tie the game at 20.
"Then it came down to the extra point," King said. "Jared Roche for the last two weeks, since the playoffs started, we go down on the field and kick seven extra points and a field goal. And I am in his ear from the moment he starts, just chattering, saying, 'You're going to miss it' ... everything."
Roche made it.
McKnight threw an incompletion on first down with 12 seconds left. He was flushed out of the pocket on the game's final play and pushed out of bounds to end it.
"Hats off to Valley," Ansonia coach Tom Brockett said. "Credit them. They kept playing. They didn't give up. That's an unbelievable comeback by them."
Jean-Pierre completed 5 of 11 passes for 108, including a 40-yard touchdown to Evan Smith with 6:19 remaining. Jean-Pierre also ran 25 times for 127 yards and two scores.
Tajik Bagley ran 25 times for 149 yards and two touchdowns for Ansonia. McKnight added 11 carries for 149 yards and a score.
"It's incredible," King said. "Coming from a small town in Deep River and Old Lyme, two communities coming together and making one, and going up against a storied team like Ansonia has just been a dream come true. It really has.
"It's just been something that you can't even describe. I don't want it to end."