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    Friday, February 03, 2023

    Valley/Old Lyme beats Gilbert co-op to advance to CIAC Class SS final

    Valley Regional/Old Lyme’s Nicholas Cox (2) and DiAngelo Jean-Pierre (6) celebrate a touchdown in the Class SS football semifinals against Gilbert/Northwestern Regional/Housatonic Regional at Valley Regional High School in Deep River Sunday, December 4, 2022. The No. 6 Warriors won the game 26-14 to advance to their second state final and will play No. 5 Barlow on Saturday. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Valley Regional/Old Lyme’s Nicholas Cox (2) keeps off Gilbert/Northwestern Regional/Housatonic Regional’s Colby Sanden (1) in the Class SS football semifinals at Valley Regional High School in Deep River Sunday, December 4, 2022. The No. 6 Warriors won the game 26-14 to advance to their second state final and will play No. 5 Barlow on Saturday. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Valley Regional/Old Lyme players celebrate their win over Gilbert/Northwestern Regional/Housatonic Regional in the Class SS football semifinals at Valley Regional High School in Deep River Sunday, December 4, 2022. The No. 6 Warriors won the game 26-14 to advance to their second state final and will play No. 5 Barlow on Saturday. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Valley Regional/Old Lyme’s Joseph Montazella (50) celebrates a sack in the Class SS football semifinals against Gilbert/Northwestern Regional/Housatonic Regional at Valley Regional High School in Deep River Sunday, December 4, 2022. The No. 6 Warriors won the game 26-14 to advance to their second state final and will play No. 5 Barlow on Saturday. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Valley Regional/Old Lyme’s Jacob Rand(1) attempts to move past Gilbert/Northwestern Regional/Housatonic Regional’s Aiden Avenia (23) in the Class SS football semifinals at Valley Regional High School in Deep River Sunday, December 4, 2022. The No. 6 Warriors won the game 26-14 to advance to their second state final and will play No. 5 Barlow on Saturday. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Deep River — It was a few days before Sunday’s CIAC Class SS football semifinal and Hill Gbunblee, the head coach of Valley Regional/Old Lyme co-op, was running down all the things that made the Gilbert/Northwestern Regional/Housatonic Regional co-op so good.

    Gbunblee concluded the scouting report and added, “We are good, too, and not to take anything away from them but they haven’t seen a team like us before. Not all year.

    “They haven’t seen a team like us.”

    The Warriors proved Gbunblee right. They hurt the Yellowjackets in the first half with the pass and contained the latter’s high-scoring run game for a 26-14 win on Sunday afternoon at Richard B. Blythe Field.

    “The teams that they’ve played, they’re athletic, they’re explosive, but they’re not always sound in all parts of the game,” Hill said following the game. “We don’t have a lot of numbers (there’s 39 players listed on their roster) so, as a result, we have to take (advantage) of what we do have. We focus on the details. We make sure we do the things that we have to do right.

    “They’ve played some teams that are explosive. They’ve played some teams that might play defense (well), (they’ve) play some teams that might play better offense but they haven’t played a team as well-rounded (as us) and that is what I knew coming into this game.”

    Sixth-seeded Valley/Old Lyme (11-1) advances to its second state final and will play No. 5 Barlow on Saturday at a site and time to be announced.

    The six state championships games will be split between Rentschler Field and Arute Field at Central Connecticut State University.

    Barlow (10-2) knocked off top-ranked Cromwell/Portland, 40-35, in the other Class SS semifinal. The latter was the only team to beat Valley/Old Lyme during the regular season (28-27, Oct. 28) in a Pequot Football Conference game.

    The Warriors were aware of just how good seventh-seeded Gilbert (9-3) was defensively. It held Windham to 85 yards on 32 carries in last Tuesday’s 34-0 win, the first time the Whippets had been held under 20 points this season.

    Valley thought it could take advantage the Yellowjackets’ pass defense and did just that. Senior Nick Cox caught two touchdown passes from junior Grady Lacourciere during the first 16 minutes of the game.

    Cox was wide-open on his first catch for a 33-yard touchdown to tie the game at 7 with 6:49 left in the first quarter.

    “(We knew) they were going to overload one side and that I’d be left alone on the other side,” Cox said. “(It’s) exactly what happened and we took advantage of it, especially in the first half.”

    Cox caught six passes for 89 yards for the Warriors and Lacourciere completed 10-of-16 passes for 125 yards with an interception.

    “They followed six (Valley/Old Lyme senior DiAngelo Jean-Pierre),” Hill said about how the Yellowjackets defended the pass. “They put Freddie Camp on (Jean-Pierre). So, okay, if that’s the case, I told Nicky, ‘You’re going to eat. You’re going to eat a lot today. Just understand, that’s what’s going to happen.’”

    Cox and Lacourciere hooked up for a 13-yard touchdown pass on the first play of the second quarter to put the Warriors ahead to stay, 14-7.

    Senior Jake Rand had 16 carries for 80 yards and a touchdown for Valley/Old Lyme and Jean-Pierre scored on a sweet 57-yard run that saw him dodge and escape numerous would-be tacklers before cutting to the outside and down his team’s sideline.

    Gilbert scored on the game’s first offensive play with Camp running for an 89-yard touchdown. The senior finished with 11 carries for 117 yards and two touchdowns and had an interception.

    Aiden Avenia added 19 carries for 87 yards the Yellowjackets.

    The Warriors defense played very sound against Gilbert after Camp’s long touchdown run. They allowed just 137 yards on 50 offensive plays the rest of the game

    Sophomore Matthew Cooper had two sacks for Valley/Old Lyme and senior Andrew Yermenson added an interception.

    “Looking over there at that hill,” Cox said of the one that overlooks the field, “that was just unreal. I’ve never seen that many people at a football game. I’ve played it all my life and so many people I know are up there and just love this program and have been rooting for us all year.

    “To do (this) in front of our fans on our field in the state semifinals, it’s just special. That was amazing.”

    n.griffen@theday.com

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