Big-play Windsor stops Otter Valley in D-III football final

RUTLAND — Top-seeded Windsor made key plays on both sides of the ball vs. the No. 3 Otter Valley Union High School football team in Saturday’s Division III final at Rutland High School.
As a result, the Yellowjackets completed an 11-0 season with a 42-6 win, while the defending champion Otters settled for an 8-3 record and a setback in what was the program’s third straight appearance in a D-III final.
Windsor scored touchdowns of 34 yards on third-and-12, 10 yards on fourth down, 46 yards on third-and-18, and 23 yards on fourth and 10; returned a kickoff for an 80-yard score after OV scored late in the first half; and picked off five passes, two in the end zone.
In a postgame comment in which he correctly guessed yardage statistics (the Independent had the Otters outgaining Windsor, 366 to 365), OV Coach Jim Hill gave credit to the Yellowjackets.
   OTTER QUARTERBACK Tyler Rowe rushes for a first down against Windsor Saturday.
Independent photo/Trent Campbell
“They made all the big plays. We turned the ball over, but they forced those turnovers. Whenever it seemed like we had something going they would come up with a big play. I don’t know, but yardage-wise I would say we were pretty close to them, but they just made the plays when they needed to,” Hill said. “And they did that all year. That’s why they’re undefeated state champs. They deserve it.”
Hill also praised his team, which lost starting tailback Rexall Bautista early on to a season-ending knee injury and then won two playoff games — including the Otters’ 38-36 upset of No. 2 Woodstock — without injured standout fullback Brent Nickerson. 
“To get to this point and overcome all the adversity, I’m proud of them. I’m proud of that they accomplished,” Hill said.
OV had won six straight after back-to-back one-sided losses to Woodstock and Windsor, a winning streak that coincided with installing sophomore Tyler Rowe at quarterback and juggling the front seven on defense.
“The coaching staff did a great job this year,” Hill said. “We evaluated every kid and made some adjustments.”
The Otters also returned to the final after graduating the state’s leading rusher and four out of five starting offensive linemen, all of them good enough to play for Vermont’s winning Shrine team.
“The fact that we got here was pretty impressive,” Hill said. “A lot of people didn’t give us a chance.”
But Saturday belonged to the Yellowjackets. On their first possession, they faced third-and-12 from their own 34, but quarterback Scott Balch (four for nine, 123 yards, three touchdowns) found Jake Tucker in the middle of the field behind the OV defense, and Tucker took it home to make it 6-0 at 8:14 of the first.
OV needed one play after the kickoff to move to the Windsor 7. Rowe hit Tyson Cram in the left flat, and he broke a tackle and raced to make it first-and-goal. Windsor needed one play to get the ball back: Rowe tried to hit Will Ross in a crowd, and Balch picked the deflected pass off in the end zone.
Windsor then moved 80 yards to make it 14-0 at 1:20 of the first. Strong running by Hunter Judd (27 carries, 162 yards) helped move it to the OV 10. On fourth down Balch hit running back Hunter Patenaude in the back of the end zone. Balch bound another running back, Dakota Page, for the conversion.
OV moved again, helped in part by a 23-yard Collin Parker run and three completions to Ross. On second-and-one from the Windsor 21, Rowe was hit as he threw, allowing Judd to pick it off his pass in the end zone.
Windsor punted, one of just two on the afternoon, but a dropped pass on fourth-and-nine from the Windsor 24 killed an OV drive. Windsor then faced third and 18 from the OV 46. But a reverse to Patenaude fooled the OV defense, and he went around the right side for the score to make it 20-0 at 3:23 of the second.
The Otters responded, moving crisply down the field on three completions to Cram and one to Conor Mackie. Parker capped a 76-yard march by plowing in from the 3 at 1:16.
And Judd promptly returned the kickoff 80 yards to make it 28-6 after Balch ran in for the conversion. Hill said it was the first kick return for a score the Otters had allowed this season.
OV advanced to the Windsor 23 in the half’s remaining 59 seconds, with two completions to Payson Williams helping, but a sack and an interception on a tipped ball ended the threat.
Windsor’s defensive game plan was evident: The Yellowjackets allowed shorter completions, but nothing over the top. Cram broke the one play for 53 yards early, and Ross caught a ball for 24 yards, but no other OV pass play gained more than 16 yards. OV averaged 11.3 yards per completion and 6.6 yards per attempt.
Windsor added touchdowns on its two third-quarter possessions. At 7:51, Balch hit Patenaude from 23 yards out on fourth down to cap a 61-yard drive, and at 0:14 Judd scored on a 13-yard run to finish off a 78-yard march.
OV reached Windsor territory all four times after the break, but were halted by two interceptions and a fumble, and turned the ball over on downs once.
Parker rushed 10 times for 51 yards, and Cram ran seven times for 36 yards. OV rushed effectively, picking up 128 yards on 19 carries. Ross caught nine balls for 84 yards, and Cram snagged five passes for 100 yards. Williams and Mackie caught four balls each. Cram, Ross and lineman Greg Whitney made good plays defensively. 
Hill said Saturday snapped a string of excellent performances for his Otters.
“We played our best football down the stretch,” Hill said. “We just didn’t have it today, and they certainly did. Give them credit.”

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