After an unbeaten season and Champlain Valley Union High’s first state football championship last year, hopes were high among Redhawk faithful for another unblemished season this year.
The season didn’t begin the way the faithful had hoped.
On Saturday, Sept. 2, the Redhawks met a Burr and Burton Academy team that was only too happy to exact a measure of revenge for one of its only two losses the previous year. Although the Redhawks won that game, it was a contest that coach Rahn Fleming categorized as “a slobberknocker.”
This year’s contest began with two CVU turnovers early in the game, turnovers that the Bulldogs capitalized on for scores to go up 14-0 early. Receivers Brian Rutherford and Dylan Frere had the ball forced loose on those possessions and before the first quarter was over the Redhawks were down by two scores.
Coach Rahn Fleming said, although he wasn’t happy his team fumbled, he was pleased that both Rutherford and Frere were fighting for a little extra when the ball came out. His recipe for his receivers: Retain the spirit of “get every single yard you can on every single play” blended with a heaping helping of “protect the rock.”
He said he didn’t think that the Redhawks were overconfident. Burr and Burton was just a good team. At home. With payback on its mind.
In spite of being down 14-0, CVU fought back. The CVU coach appreciated how, when the Bulldogs got out ahead, his Redhawks continued to scrape back.
With 1:06 left in the first half, the Redhawks tied the game up at 14-all.
But on the ensuing possession, the Bulldogs came roaring back, taking five plays to regain the lead at 21-14 with 10 seconds left.
Although the Bulldogs added to their lead in the second half, with the energy of a battery-powered Sisyphean bunny, CVU continued to come back. When Burr and Burton stretched its lead to 31-14 by early in the fourth quarter, Rutherford snatched a 22-yard pass in great coverage to make it a not insurmountable 31-21.
But when the Bulldogs recovered an onside kick attempt by the Redhawks to go up 38-21 with just minutes left, there just wasn’t enough track for CVU to win this horse race.
Still, CVU didn’t lie down. Quarterback Ollie Cheer led an 80-yard drive that ended with him diving into the end zone for a touchdown.
Not until there was less than two minutes remaining and the score was 38-28 did his Redhawks concede they might not start this season undefeated, Fleming said.
Getting back on the winning track, the coach said, is “just a matter of cohesion, execution and correcting a couple of mistakes.”
Fleming is pleased with quarterback Ollie Cheer’s progress, proclaiming, “He’s the real deal.”
The coach likes to see how Cheer has been growing into himself and his role since taking over as starting quarterback late last season when Max Destito was injured.
Besides Rutherford’s play at receiver (seven catches for 152 yards and two touchdowns), Fleming was pleased with receiver Jacob Armstrong, who pulled in a long catch for the Redhawks’ first score of the game — and of the season.
Fleming praised Orion Yates, a freshman who “did a terrific job at outside linebacker” and who shows a ton of promise, and for Lucas Almena-Lee, a junior inside linebacker who “was flying all over the field, tackling as if he’d been playing this game for his whole life — and not just for the last four weeks.”
That’s right, junior Almena-Lee came out for the football team for the first time this year after having been a futbol goalie.
Fleming expressed a lot of respect for Burr and Burton quarterback Jack McCoy, who ended up with 282 yards and four touchdowns. He is the third of three brothers who’ve played quarterback at Burr and Burton Academy, all for their father, coach Tom McCoy.
“There’s a real family tradition, and you know, historically, the last one is always the best one. He showed that on Saturday,” Fleming said.
For their next game, the Redhawks travel to St. Albans to face Bellows Free Academy this Saturday, Sept. 9, at 7 p.m.
Whereas the Burr and Burton game was more of a sort of finesse west coast, wide-open style offense, Fleming expects to see a more smashmouth football team this week.
“They’re gonna come right at you and see if you can handle it,” the coach said. “That’s a fun style of football to play, and we’re looking forward to facing it.”