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    Wednesday, February 28, 2024

    Instant classic: Cromwell/Portland edges Valley/Old Lyme 28-27

    Cromwell – His team, having outscored its opponents 154-20 this season, was facing a rare deficit a halftime. And yet Randell Bennett, the ever-entertaining coach at Cromwell/Portland, walked back on the field to begin the second half eating a piece of pizza, looking about as concerned as an actor in one of those Corona commercials.

    “We felt pretty good,” Bennett said, alluding to the 21-14 deficit to Valley Regional/Old Lyme. “We thought we could wear them down in the second half.”

    Not even the most ardent program optimist could have imagined how much the Panthers succeeded in tiring out the Warriors.

    Cromwell/Portland had the ball for more than 21 minutes in the second half and escaped with a 28-27 victory before a rollicking full house at Pierson Park.

    Cromwell/Portland, winners of 20 straight, denied Valley on a two-point conversion with 1:08 left. Johnny Beltre batted away Di’Angelo Jean Pierre’s pass at the goal line to preserve a memorable victory.

    Moments earlier, Jean Pierre connected with Jacob Rand on a 38-yard touchdown pass, pulling the Warriors (5-1) within a point.

    “I’d do it again. Ten out of 10 times,” Valley coach Hill Gbunblee said of the decision to go for two. “This is not a game for shy people.”

    Cromwell/Portland had possession of the ball for the first 9:51 of the third period, helped by recovering two onside kicks. A 5-yard touchdown reception on fourth down from Alan McKiernan and Machi Campbell’s 20-yard touchdown catch from quarterback Cole Brisson gave the Panthers (7-0) a 28-21 lead.

    “Definitely the best game I’ve ever been a part of,” Brisson said.

    Valley led 21-7 in the first half, snapping a 7-7 tie when Jean Pierre electrified his sideline with a 68-yard punt return for a touchdown. Quarterback Grady LaCourciere hit Nick Cox with a 30-yard scoring pass on the next possession to give Valley a two-score lead.

    “Jean Pierre is a kid who makes those kinds of plays,” Bennett said. “Not surprising. Valley came in with a great game plan. Much respect to them.”

    The Warriors are still in Class SS playoff contention – and could see Cromwell/Portland again in the SS playoffs.

    “Pretty damn difficult,” Gbunblee said when asked about trying to win with possession of the ball for under three minutes in the second half. “It’s hard to win when you lose time of possession like that.”


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