BRISTOL — On paper, Saturday’s Division III football quarterfinal looked like it should be a close game. The host No. 4 Eagles were 6-2, visiting Otter Valley was 5-2, and both had similar results vs. common foes.
Instead, the Otters played what Coach Jim Hill said might have been their best game of the season, and left Bristol with a 49-0 victory.
“They just played outstanding, and they’re getting better every game,” Hill said.
Mount Abe coach Ernie Senecal acknowledged his team did not play its best, but also said there was a reason for that.
“We picked the wrong day and the wrong team to play our worst game of the season,” Senecal said. “But I credit Otter Valley.”
The Otters showed offensive versatility, rushing for 294 yards and throwing for 228 for a total of 522, according to Hill’s figures. Mike Winslow (27 rushes for 151 yards), Carson Leary (11 for 101) and quarterback John Winslow (five for 42) led the attack on the ground, while John Winslow completed 14 of 24 passes.
“They’re a real good team with good balance,” Senecal said.
For Mount Abe, Tommy Lee Hodsden ran 20 times for 86 yards, and Austin Lafayette ran 11 times for 31 yards. Eagle quarterback Joey Payea completed four of 13 passes as Mount Abe managed 155 yards total. Defensively, Mike White recovered two fumbles and Kyle Mailloux picked off a pass.
Hill said before the game he knew that containing the explosive Hodsden would be his main goal defensively, and that his team studied film carefully and executed well.
“I was more impressed by my defense than anything else,” Hill said. “The entire defense stood out. They gang-tackled.”
Senecal said OV’s approach of stacking the line against the run and letting cornerbacks John Winslow and Vytas Nielson play man-to-man against the Eagle receivers proved to be effective.
“They did a real good job shutting down Tommy Lee and shutting down Austin … like no one else has this year,” he said.
OV scored two touchdowns in each of the first two quarters. In the first, Mike Winslow was the workhorse in a drive that he capped with a six-yard run. Leary scored on a five-yard run next, a play set up by a 57-yard pass from John Winslow to Joey Scarborough.
In the second quarter, John Winslow tossed a 34-yard TD pass to Derek Bassette. Lafayette blocked that extra point; other than that, John Winslow kicked five of six points-after. Mike Winslow capped the first-half scoring with a four-yard run, and a two-point conversion made it 28-0.
OV tacked on three touchdowns in the third quarter: A five-yard Mike Winslow run, a two-yard Leary run set up by his 51-yard burst, and a 13-yard John Winslow keeper.
Next up for the Otters is a Friday semifinal with undefeated defending champion Woodstock, which has not really been challenged in two years. But OV has never played Woodstock, and Hill said the Otters will not be intimidated. He also believes their offensive balance and improving defense gives them a shot.
“Somebody is going to beat them eventually. Why not us?” he said.
Regardless, Hill views OV football’s future as bright.
“We’re really excited about the direction of the program,” Hill said. “We’re very young, and we have a lot of guys coming back.”
Likewise, Senecal noted the Eagles’ record has improved every year for four years, and the team has made the playoffs for three straight falls.
“We still feel good about the season, and we still feel good about what we have coming back next year,” he said.
After a game in which both coaches’ praised both teams’ sportsmanship, Senecal also said he thought OV could surprise on Friday.
“If they play like that next week, you never know what can happen,” he said.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.