Sweet taste of victory! OV beats U-32, 33-14, in Division-III championship
RUTLAND — The key to the Otter Valley Union High School team’s Division III football team’s 2015 championship, won on Saturday at Rutland High School, 33-14 over U-32, was, in fact, a key.
That key, in the possession of OV Athletic Director Steven Keith, opens the school’s weight room. Two days after last year’s heartbreaking loss to BFA-Fairfax in the 2014 D-III final, 15 Otters asked Keith for that key.
They wanted to make sure a team like Fairfax didn’t push them around again. This year, no one did.
Against U-32 in this Saturday’s championship game, senior OV quarterback Carson Leary absolutely earned many of his 421 yards on 34 carries and five touchdowns — he has a remarkable combination of size, speed and elusiveness.
But Leary credited the team-wide dedication to lifting weights for many of those yards and for much of OV’s 2015 success.
“They’ve probably put in hundreds of hours in the weight room. (Senior lineman and captain) Tyler Allen, for example, went from benching 180 to benching 280,” he said. “That’s the entire offensive line. That’s everyone on the team, pretty much, putting that kind of dedication in. And now we’re state champs.”
Coach Jim Hill also pointed to the line — senior captains and returning starters M.J. Denis, Trevor Peduto and Allen, who have been joined by senior Matt Wedin and junior Jeremy Frasier — and the rest of the Otters’ work ethic.
“Our offensive line really dedicated themselves in the weight room, and it wasn’t just them. It was the backs and the receivers, they all bought in. Our receivers do a great job blocking downfield and creating the big runs for us, but it all starts with that offensive line,” Hill said. “Advice for any kids out there, if you want to win championships, you’ve got to get in the weight room, and our kids did, and that’s why we’re champions right now.”
In all, the Otters picked up 543 yards on the ground this Saturday.
Denis said the linemen enjoy paving the way for backs like Leary, Brent Nickerson (16 carries for 65 yards on Saturday) and Jove Bautista (eight carries, 53 yards).
“It’s a great feeling,” Denis said. “It’s just amazing to watch our backs run, because they do it pretty well.”
The Otters also largely controlled the defensive line of scrimmage, limiting the Raiders to 124 yards rushing on 33 carries. U-32 wrecking-ball fullback Colby Brochu scored twice and managed 95 yards on 17 attempts, 41-yards on one first-half scoring run, but OV mostly contained him.
Raider QB Dan Greene completed four of 20 passes for 95 yards and was sacked once, by Peduto for an 11-yard loss, giving U-32 208 yards of offense compared to OV’s 594, with Leary also completing five of nine passes for another 51 yards.
But despite those number there was some suspense.
The final began like another one of OV’s 10 routs this fall. Leary broke loose untouched for a 68-yard run on the game’s second play. After his own fumble killed an OV drive inside the U-32 10 on OV’s second possession, the Otters scored on their third try: Leary capped a 71-yard drive with a 29-yard run.
U-32 answered later in the quarter, however. Greene completed a 40-yard pass to Zach Schneider to put the Raiders into OV territory, and Brochu scored from 41 yards out after breaking a tackle at the line of scrimmage.
U-32 managed just one first down in the second quarter, but two long OV drives stalled inside the Raider 10, thanks in part to penalties, and the OV lead was just 13-7 at the half.
And the Raiders received the second-half kickoff and moved 69 yards to take a 14-13 lead. Green hit Devin Hanson for a 30-yard gain to put U-32 in range, and Brochu punched it in from 11 yards out.
OV had never trailed this fall, but Denis said the Otters trusted each other.
“At that point we were just telling ourselves to stick with it, keep our heads up. We’re a team, we’re a family, never give up. That’s our real motto, never give up, keep playing hard until the clock hits zero in the fourth quarter, and that’s all we did,” he said. “We always held faith throughout the whole game, and it showed at the end, and I couldn’t be more proud of every guy on the team.”
The Otters moved 83 yards to take the lead. Leary, who had thrown four straight incompletions, hooked up with Bautista with a 21-yard swing pass, and then broke a 42-yard run to set up first-and-goal. Two plays later, Leary busted through a Raider blitz and reached the end zone. Leary also ran in the conversion, and it was 21-14 at 8:03.
OV soon got the ball back, but was stopped short when Hill elected to go for it on fourth-and-two from the OV 36. Nickerson was tackled inches short of the first down. The Raiders had a chance to tie and converted on one fourth-and-three, but then the Otters stuffed the Raiders on fourth-and-one from the Otter 19.
Leary, also a defensive end, said motivation from 2014 played a role in that key defensive stand.
“We remember the taste of last year,” Leary said. “We all know we never want that taste in our mouth again, so it was either stop them, or we’re going to have that taste again, and we weren’t going to let that happen.”
After that play, the Otters allowed the Raiders just one more first down and they marched down the field twice to score, with Leary finishing an 81-yard march with an 18-yard run and a 54-yard drive with a 26-yard run in which he weaved through the U-32 backfield, breaking several tacklers and stiff-arming another Raider.
“He’s the best football player in the state,” Hill said. “It’s as simple as that.”
The Otters were ecstatic their year of hard work had paid off.
“I’m speechless right now. It’s one of the happiest days of my life,” Leary said. “I don’t know what else to say.”
Immediately after the final whistle, most players jumped for joy, shouted and hugged one another.
Denis, overcome by emotion, took just a moment to go down on one knee.
“It felt like completion, and just total absolution,” Denis said. “It’s been a long, full year since the day we lost here last year. We’ve all been just busting our butts in the weight room, as a team, too. The camaraderie and brotherhood, it’s just built over this past year to lead up to this point, and it’s just overwhelming.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected]