BRANDON — The Otter Valley Union High School football team on Saturday made a winner of new head coach Jim Hill and accomplished something the Otters failed to do in 2010 — come out on top in a home game.
In the Division II and season opener for both teams, OV spotted Springfield the first eight points and scored the next 36 on the way to a 36-16 victory.
Afterward junior linebacker James Greeno — who made the fourth-down tackle in a clinching goal-line stand — and assistant coach Mahlon McCoy did the honors, dumping the celebratory water bucket on Coach Hill.
Hill would have been thrilled to be drenched even if it wasn’t 85-degrees.
“It feels great. I think they say the first one is the hardest,” he said. “Whew. This feels good.”
Hill was happiest for a group of Otters he said have shown unusual togetherness. Many, he said, including senior halfback Alic Case and junior halfback Brett Patterson, each of whom scored two touchdowns, and senior receiver Nate Fitzgerald and junior receiver Chad Lonergan, are willingly sharing time.
“There are no individuals out there. They love playing with each other. They’re a tight group,” he said. “Everybody’s cheering each other on. There wasn’t any selfishness out there ... When you’ve got a team that only cares about the Ws and the team, and not about what they’re going to do, it’s awesome.”
Senior tackle and defensive end Cody Randall, a captain with Case, Fitzgerald and senior lineman Brady Cook agreed the Otters’ attitude and ability could carry them a long way.
“I think we can make it all the way to the end, to be honest with you, and we really work well together,” Randall said. “We’ve had some really great teamwork this year.”
The Cosmos took the opening kickoff and marched 67 yards to go ahead, 8-0. Cosmo quarterback J.T. Therrien completed three of four passes for 54 yards in the drive, including hitting Aaron Wallace for a 20-yard touchdown on fourth-and-15. Therrien also found Kirk Perham for the two-point conversion.
But the Cosmos lost 24 yards in their final three possessions of the half. Hill said the Cosmo coach had always used a power running set, and OV had not prepared for the Cosmos’ spread offense. Once the Otters had a look at it, they made the plays, especially getting pressure from the line and Case (three sacks) at left linebacker.
“I couldn’t be happier with the way the defense stepped up and adjusted on the fly,” Hill said.
By halftime, the Otters scored 22 points. Immediately after Springfield’s TD, Patterson returned the kickoff 49 yards to the Cosmo 38.
“We got that big kickoff return and that really ignited us,” Hill said.
After a Case 17-yard run and a 23-yard toss from OV junior QB Justin Owen (6 for 12, 89 yards) to Fitzgerald helped move the ball to the 1-yard-line, Patterson punched the ball over the goal line, and it was 8-6 at 2:44 of the first.
Two possessions later the Cosmos took over on the 20, and promptly surrendered a safety. Therrien (10 for 14 overall for only 61 net yards counting sack losses) threw the ball away under heavy pressure from Case and Randall and was penalized for grounding, moving the ball back to the 5. He went back to pass again, and threw the ball away while in Case’s grasp for the sack that made it 8-8 at 9:20 of the second.
Fitzgerald’s 31-yard return of the ensuing kickoff put OV on the Springfield 42. The Otters went for it on fourth-and-four, and Owen hit sophomore fullback Mike Winslow on a screen pass, and Winslow broke it open down the right side to make it 14-8. The first of Pike Ladago’s four extra points made it 15-8.
Then a big hit by Case forced a Cosmo fumble for a seven-yard loss that forced a punt from the Cosmo 9, and Jim Winslow returned it 22 yards to the 18. An Owen keeper and a seven-yard completion to Fitzgerald on third-and-three set up OV on the one, and Case went in from there to make it 22-8 with 54 seconds left in the half.
OV sputtered offensively in the third quarter, and the Cosmos showed life in one drive, mostly thanks to Therrien scrambling and using screen passes to offset the OV pass rush. Four Therrien runs, two passes to Perham, and one Perham run moved Springfield 54 yards and gave the Cosmos a first-and-goal from the OV three.
Perham got two yards on first down, but OV stuffed a Therrien sneak as the third quarter ended, and as the fourth quarter opened stoned Perham up the middle on third down. On fourth down Greeno dropped Therrien for a four-yard loss to pump up the Otters.
“I couldn’t believe we got it,” Randall said. “It was awesome. It really got our drive going.”
The Otters marched 55 yards and took five minutes off the clock before punting and pinning the Cosmos on their 17. On the next play, Therrien found Wallace for a short gain, but Owen punched the ball loose and Cook recovered on the Cosmo 13.
On the next play, Case (5 carries, 37 yards) bolted up the middle for a touchdown, and it was 29-8 at 5:19.
Two Case sacks then forced a Cosmo punt from the 5. The Otters got the ball back on the 28, and Patterson (8 attempts, 41 yards) carried. He spun off one tackle, broke it outside and danced in to make it 36-8 at 2:42.
The Cosmo JVs then scored a late TD against the Otter JVs. In all, OV outgained Springfield, 234-172 yards.
Hill said he didn’t mind the Otters celebrating on Saturday, but with a long road trip to Lyndon on tap this Saturday, he wanted them to remember to it was just one game.
“This is a tough division. Every week is a battle,” he said. “One practice at a time. One game at a time. If we can keep taking steps forward, by midseason this is going to be a very good football team.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.