Otters shut down Eagles in opener
BRANDON — The Otter Valley Union High School football team scored touchdowns on eight of its first nine possessions and held visiting Mount Abraham to minus yardage through three periods on Saturday, when the Otters defeated the Eagles, 56-7, before more than 500 fans on the first football game at the newly rebuilt Markowski Field.
The victory on the new field made the day more meaningful, said junior OV quarterback Zakk Williams, who completed five of six attempts for four touchdowns and 115 yards.
“It was fun for the team,” Williams said. “And it helps out the community, because they helped us out a lot with it.”
Williams credited OV’s linemen — Evan Bathalon, Garrett Gregorek, Dick Poro, Cory Thibodeau and Alex Smith started on offense, and Keke Frye and Lance Schu joined Chapin and Smith starting on defense — with allowing the Otters to amass 431 yards of offense and limit the Eagles to 31 yards.
“They did an amazing job. From there, we were able to do what we wanted on offense and defense,” Williams said.
OV coach Dennis Perry said it was a good day for his Division II Otters and their backers.
“Opening day, new field, it was very exciting for the fans,” Perry said. “As far as our team goes, execution was really, really good today, so I’m very pleased.”
Coach Ernie Senecal said his D-III Eagles would have to regroup after playing talented OV and refocus on this Friday’s more important and almost certainly more winnable game, at D-III rival Winooski.
“Our attention needs to turn to Winooski,” Senecal said. “We’ll get ready, and next Friday we’ll go up there and play a team that hopefully isn’t this good. I think we will kind of get back to our level.”
OV did not get votes as a D-II playoff team in the preseason Rutland Herald poll, but Senecal begged to differ, pointing to both the Otters’ balanced attack and swarming defense.
“We had some missed assignments, but really just hats off to Otter Valley,” he said. “Their guys just beat us right across the board … I think they’re going to be a good team, I would guess one of those teams that’s going to challenge for the playoffs in D-II.”
Trouble began almost immediately for the Eagles. After a respectable Shawn Thurber kickoff return, they took over on their 31 yard line. Frye then dropped running backs Nick Ouellette and Sam Lieberman for consecutive losses, and after a penalty and linebacker Pete Bautista’s sack of sophomore QB Ian Shaw, and it was fourth and 34 from the 7.
Casey Babcock then returned a Lieberman punt 15 yards to the 23. Runs by fullback Andrew Piper and Bautista, the tailback, moved the ball to the five, and from there Williams hit senior receiver Joey Massores on a slant for the first score at 7:12. Gregorek added the first of his eight points-after.
On the next Eagle series, Babcock dove to intercept a tipped pass at the Eagle 18. After a penalty, Williams threw over the top to Massores from 23 yards out, and it was 14-0 at 4:50.
More bad news for Mount Abe came during that series, as junior middle linebacker and starting offensive guard Mark Flowers, who had made or was in on three of the five Eagle tackles to that point, was injured and did not return.
The Eagles again went three-and-out, thanks in part to a sack by Frye and Gregorek, and OV took over at the Eagle 48. At 11:22 of the second quarter, Bautista punched it in from the 2 to make it 21-0.
Craig Camara recovered an OV fumble at 6:13 of the second quarter to stymie OV’s next drive, but Massores dropped Shaw for a five-yard loss on a third-and-three play, and the Eagles had to punt again.
The Otters took over on their own 36, and on a second-and-two play Colby Frazier, spelling Piper at fullback, broke a counter play for 37 yards. Only Dan Cox’s downfield tackle prevented a score. Two plays later, Babcock won a jump ball with an Eagle cornerback in the end zone, and it went for a 25-yard TD pass at 3:48 that made it 28-0.
At 1:23, Williams went deep down the middle to Nate Fitzgerald to make it 35-0, and that score stood at the half.
OV went deep into its bench after the first offensive and defensive series of the second half and did not throw a pass. In the third quarter, Frazier (seven carries, 94 yards) scored on a 1-yard run at 9:51. Bautista (12 carries, 65 yards) ran for 28 yards on first-and-10 from midfield to key the drive. Eric Pillon and Joey McCoy later added one-yard scoring runs for OV.
Senecal played Lieberman at QB in the fourth quarter. Lieberman guided the Eagles to four first downs and one score, his own 18-yard run at 0:27, a play set up by his 26-yard completion to Nick Moon.
Lieberman led the Eagles with nine carries for 30 yards and finished one-for-four passing for 26 yards and one interception, by Alic Case. Shaw, facing OV’s first-string defense, went one-for-six for six yards and an interception.
Senecal said he felt his skill players did not play poorly, but that the Eagle coaches would be studying how to improve the line play. He noted that the setback does not hurt the Eagles in the standings, and his team will treat Saturday as a learning experience.
“I told the guys (there were) no playoff implications, take it and try to get better,” he said.
Perry said he found out that his offense has potential, and that his defense is possibly as good as he and coordinator Jim Hill had hoped it might be.
“I was pleasantly surprised,” Perry said. “I learned we had some pretty good players.”