Pictured: Blue Devils running back Anthony Toth powers downfield, dragging a couple of Valley/Old Lyme defenders with him, late in the fourth quarter of Saturday’s Pequot Conference win. Toth rushed for 102 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries. (Photo by Paul Augeri)
By Tom Hennick
“Experience? We don’t need no stinkin’ experience.” — With apologies to John Huston and his film, “Treasure of Sierra Madre”
DURHAM — Members of the Coginchaug/Hale-Ray/East Hampton football team might just make that adaptation of the famous film quote their new mantra after an impressive 14-0 Pequot League win over Valley Regional/Old Lyme at the Wally Camp Athletic Complex on Saturday.
In this, a year that was supposed to leave the team beset with multiple challenges due to a lack of experience, the Blue Devils moved to 2-0 on the young season with a dominating performance over their rivals from Deep River.
“From year to year, you never know what you’re going to get,” said winning coach Mike Eagle. “But coming off (a year off due to COVID), who knows what’s going to happen? Anything can happen. We worked really hard, we had a really dedicated week of practice. We studied film and got better and better as the week went on.”
The Blue Devils defeated Valley (1-1) for the first time since anyone at the field Saturday could remember with a smothering defense and just enough timely offense.
On defense, Coginchaug shut down what figured to be a high-powered passing offense featuring two quarterbacks offering two different looks. Valley netted only 4 total yards rushing and 109 through the air, but rarely advanced the ball beyond midfield and never really sniffed the end zone.
“We saw (the two-quarterback look) on film and knew it was coming,” Eagle said.
The Devils’ defense set the tone early. With James Beckman at quarterback, Valley came out throwing. After one first down, Coginchaug’s Jake Manning picked off an errant pass and returned it to the Valley 36. After gaining 10 yards, Coginchaug lost the ball on a fumble, but got it right back by shoving Valley in reverse, forcing a punt from the Warriors’ 18.
Taking over on the Valley 37, Coginchaug needed six plays to reach the end zone. A nifty option run by quarterback Braden Lankarge picked up one first down and a third-down completion from Lankarge to Jackson Hill brought the ball to the Valley 5. From there, running back Anthony Toth, whose best work was yet to come, barreled into the end zone to give the Devils a 6-0 lead. The conversion failed.
After receiving the kickoff, Valley switched to strong-armed left-handed QB James Marsden, but Coginchaug’s defense remain impenetrable. Midway through the second quarter, Valley went back to Beckman with similar results.
The Devils forced and recovered a fumble and got down to the Valley 14 late in the quarter, but that drive stalled and a botched snap led to a failed field goal attempt.
The score remained 6-0 through halftime and into the third quarter as neither team could muster much offensively. Valley went back to Marsden at quarterback, and with just over three minutes to play in the quarter, Coginchaug’s Jason Johnson picked off a pass near midfield. He returned it 15 yards, and a facemask penalty set Coginchaug up at the Valley 30.
Lankarge scampered for 17 yards to the Valley 13, then Toth picked up 10 yards on three carries, bringing the ball to the Valley 3. On first down, Lankarge rolled to his left and into the end zone for a touchdown. Lankarge, who was resourceful and effective most of the afternoon, then found his way into the end zone for a two-point conversion to make it 14-0 as the quarter came to an end.
At that juncture it might as well have been 114-0. The Blue Devils’ defense, with the help of a few ill-timed penalties against Valley, completely shut the door. Defensive contributions came from everywhere.
Eagle cited the work of Dalton Bates in the middle of the line, as well as Toth, Jason Johnson and Zach Parker among others as key contributors.
“It was important to keep pressure on them up the middle and to contain them from the getting outside,” Eagle said. “Our edge guys and our linebackers did a really nice job.”
And as the game wound down, it was up to Toth to put on a one-man show from his running back position to seal the deal.
Taking over on its own 20 with just over six minutes to play, Coginchaug proceeded to run out the clock. After a 6-yard run by Manning, Toth carried the ball seven straight times from his own 26 to the Valley 23, racking up four first downs in the process. On several of those carries, he appeared to be stopped at the line, but kept his legs churning and muscled down the field with numerous Valley defenders draped all over him, unable to bring him down. By the time Toth finally got a breather, the ball was on the Valley 23 with just over a minute to play.
“To be honest, I was hoping they might give someone else the ball,” a smiling Toth said at game’s end. “I just had to keep the legs moving. I do a lot of squats. Keeps the legs strong.”
Toth finished with 102 yards rushing, 51 on the clock killing drive, and one touchdown on 18 carries.
“Valley’s a good team,” a satisfied Eagle said. “They’re big, they’re strong and very athletic. But I think we’re pretty good, too.”
No one who was at the Camp Athletic Complex on Saturday would disagree.