HIGGANUM — Having started the season with a woeful 2-5 record, Valley Regional/Old Lyme football turned its season around by winning its final three games, including a 20-2 win over Haddam-Killingworth on Tuesday.
In the case of a youthful Valley Regional/Old Lyme team, a 5-5 season represents a hopeful future.
Highlighting the young roster was freshmen standout DiAngelo Jean-Pierre, who had a receiving and passing touchdown against H-K.
“He is one of the best freshmen I have seen in a long time,” Valley Regional/Old Lyme coach Tim King said. “Since probably his cousin, Chris Jean-Pierre who was our quarterback for our state championship team and ended up going to UConn. He is just terrific, he is a good student as well so he is a well-rounded player”
Senior Brian Rankin was also a key contributor with two touchdowns of his own in the final game of his high school football career.
“We had a couple of tough games against good opponents,” Rankin said. “We just didn’t pull it out, we made mistakes but it did really show that we could do something special this year. It’s too bad that we didn’t, I love all these guys so much and it feels good to finish like this.”
Valley Regional/Old Lyme grabbed the lead on the first play of the game, a 70-yard kickoff return by Brian Rankin to give his team a 6-0 lead.
Haddam-Killingworth mustered its only two points on a safety later in the first quarter.
On the final play of the first half John Cox completed a 10-yard touchdown pass to Jean-Pierre for a 13-2 lead as the teams headed to the locker rooms.
The score would remain the same through the third and most of the fourth quarter as the presence of the Valley Regional/Old Lyme defense gave the illusion of a much larger deficit.
“The defense has been great all year long,” King said. “At the beginning of the year I said our front is very stout. They showed it down at the goal line, 4th and goal from the 2-yard line and we stopped them. That is a tribute to that front and coach Sanchez.”
With 4:46 left in the fourth quarter, the Warriors executed a trick play as Jean-Pierre connected with Rankin for a 34-yard touchdown and a 20-2 lead.
With the win, Valley Regional/Old Lyme reclaimed the Presidents Cup which is awarded annually to the winner of the rivalry game, a game Haddam-Killingworth won a season ago.
“We have a really good junior class,” King said. “Our freshmen class and sophomore group have really blossomed. We are losing some quality seniors but some of the younger guys have stepped up.”
Among the young returning core are junior quarterback John Cox and junior wide receiver/safety Clobe Andrews.
“A couple of the younger guys are so talented,” Rankin said. “They’re all ridiculous, they are so much better than I was at that age honestly so I am super excited to come and watch them next year.”
With his first season officially behind him, Jean-Pierre is confident in his team looking forward.
“I think we could possibly win a state championship,” Jean-Pierre said. “I hope everyone gets in the weight room and we all click. We probably clicked the fifth game this year. I really hope we come together as a team in the first game.”
Haddam-Killingworth’s ended the season 2-8 after an 0-6 start.
“This season didn’t go the way we planned,” Haddam-Killingworth coach Mike Baklik said. “It was a rough one. I hope these kids got something out of it and learned some life lessons. We battled through some adversity, sometimes we conquered it and sometimes things got the best of us but that is how it goes. You learn all these life lessons here and hopefully they see that.”