Pictured: Valley quarterback Jack Cox gets a pass just over the hands of H-K defensive lineman John Bruder while the Cougars’ Thomas Perry (77) also applies pressure. (Photo by Marc Silvestrini)
By Marc Silvestrini
HIGGANUM — Valley Regional/Old Lyme scored touchdowns on the first and last plays of the first half and then let its ferocious defense protect the lead in recording a 20-2 win over archrival Haddam-Killingworth in the annual Principal’s Cup game between the two neighboring schools.
“Our defense played a great game tonight — that’s a pretty special bunch of kids,” Valley coach Tim King said. “I thought the guys up front did a great job. We were very stout at the point of attack.”
Though King had high praise for his entire defense, he specifically cited the play of linemen Ben Conrad, Tommy Burch and Kyle Metz and safety Brian Rankin.
“Everybody on defense did a great job for us tonight, but I thought those guys really stood out,” he said.
The outcome enabled Valley to close out its season with three straight wins to finish at 5-5. H-K, which had won two of its last three, finishes at 2-8.
Rankin got Valley off to a flying start by taking the opening kickoff and sprinting 78 yards, virtually untouched, to the end zone to give the Warriors a 6-0 lead with the game 11 seconds old.
“It was amazing how well those guys in front of me blocked,” Rankin said. “They created this gigantic hole, this big, wide gap … all I had to do is run through it. I don’t think anyone ever touched me.”
Following Rankin’s opening salvo, Cougars quarterback Alex Riccitelli and tailback Dalton Modehn led a 20-play, 62-yard drive that ate up all but the final 1:45 of the first quarter.
The drive reached the Valley 9, but a personal foul for a chop block and Jean-Luc Bolduc’s sack of Riccitelli pushed the Cougars all the way back to the Warriors’ 42, ending the scoring threat.
However, three plays after a booming punt by H-K’s Trey Callender pinned the Warriors back on their own 10, H-K lineman Thomas Perry sacked quarterback John Cox in his own end zone for a safety, making it a 6-2 game with 1:04 to play in the opening quarter.
H-K drove inside the Valley 20 for a second time midway through the second quarter, reaching the 18 before the Warriors defense stiffened and forced the Cougars to turn the ball over on downs.
Following an exchange of punts, Valley’s Sean Cordock intercepted a Riccitelli pass to give the Warriors the ball at their 37 with 2:47 to play in the half. A 20-yard Cox-to-Rankin connection, followed by two completions to James Marsden and a 12-yard quarterback keeper by Cox advanced the ball to the Cougars 20 with 26 seconds to play in the half.
From there, Cox hit Jean-Pierre DiAngenlo, twice, a 10-yarder that brought the ball to the 10 with nine seconds to play, and another 10-yarder that DiAngenlo cradled in the left corner of the end zone just before stepping out of bounds with no time left on the clock.
Colbe Andrews’ extra point made it 13-2 at halftime.
A 48-yard burst by Modehn keyed H-K’s deepest penetration of the game late in the third quarter, but the Cougars failed to convert a fourth-and-1 at the Valley 3, ending their third and best scoring opportunity of the night.
Rankin, a senior playing his last game in a Valley uniform, sealed the game with just under five minutes to play when he caught a 25-yard scoring pass thrown by DiAngenlo on a halfback option.
“That was awesome,” Rankin said. “We call it jet reverse, stalk and go.”
Rankin also acknowledged it was the first time they had run the play in an actual game situation all year.
Aside from returning the opening kickoff for a touchdown and quarterbacking the Valley defense from his free safety position, Rankin also caught three passes for 85 yards and a touchdown. Marsden caught six passes for 31 yards while Cox completed 11 of his 21 passes for 114 yards and a touchdown.
DiAngenlo did a little bit of everything for the Warriors, rushing four times for 15 yards, catching three passes for 28 yards and a touchdown and completing his lone pass of the night for 25 yards and another Warrior touchdown.
Modehn, H-K’s all-time career and single-game rushing leader, wrapped up his fabulous four-year career by rushing for 132 yards on 25 carries. He also caught three passes for 12 additional yards while Matteo Piacenti caught three for 23 yards.
Riccitelli completed six of his 16 passes for 35 yards.
“It’s been a bit of a rough season for us,” H-K coach Mike Baklik said. “We had some key injuries, we started off 0-6, but then we came back, got healthier and played better in our last four or five games.
“Sometimes the breaks just didn’t go our way, sometimes we just beat ourselves.”
Baklik added he was pleased with the play of his defense – the Cougars limited the Warriors to 88 yards rushing in 17 attempts and sacked Cox five times — citing the play of three seniors in particular: linemen Perry and Callender and defensive back Andrew Wiese.