Maybe it was the early Saturday morning start. Or perhaps it was the challenge of facing an unfamiliar opponent that filled in for Section 9 rival Pine Bush at the last minute.
Whatever the reason, Valley Central found itself in a 14-0 hole to non-league foe Spring Valley midway through the second quarter.
But thanks to some gritty play and an opportunistic defense, the Vikings rallied to within a touchdown and appeared headed for a storybook finish when they drove inside the Spring Valley 10-yard line with less than a minute to go.
Valley Central’s comeback bid ended, however, when quarterback Dylan O’Banks’ fourth-down pass was batted down in the end zone.
Although his club fell to 0-4 with the 14-7 loss to Spring Valley, Vikings coach Andrew LaVallie lauded his team for its spirited effort.
“You look at our sideline and our guys never have their heads down,” he said. “They’re always ready to get back in and take the next swing.”
LaVallie said the defense played very well after spotting Spring Valley (2-0) an early 14-0 lead.
“The offense is so close to clicking,” he said. “It’s going to take another week to get it fully there.”
The two teams played at the rather usual starting time of 10 a.m. with the temperatures hovering around 40 degrees. After Pine Bush had to bow out after quarantining due to Covid-19 related issues, Valley Central scheduled Spring Valley, which also had a game called off.
“We never really played each other,” LaVallie said of the Section 1 school. “We went in not knowing what to expect. They came out and hit us a couple of times. And then our guys responded and continued to pound.”
On its first possession, Spring Valley’s drive sputtered inside the Vikings’ 15. But after Valley Central failed to get any yardage on three plays, the visitors took advantage of a shanked VC punt that ended up going backwards.
Starting at the Vikings’ 10, Spring Valley took a 7-0 lead on running back Ruchel Paul’s 7-yard touchdown run with 5:23 left in the first quarter.
Paul got loose again to score on a 27-yard TD sprint to up the Tigers’ lead to 14-0 with 8:23 left in the second quarter.
With the Vikings’ offense picking up nominal yardage in the first half, the defense came up with a big stop at the end of the half to limit the damage. Spring Valley quarterback Dylan Bellefleur hit running back Rashid Hopson with a 19-yard pass to put the visitors on the Vikings’ 32.
But the Vikings defense stiffened to end the threat and the scored remained 14-0 at the half.
It stayed that way until Vikings senior Randy Rosario shifted the momentum in a big way by returning a punt 35 yards to the Spring Valley 32 with 7:00 remaining in the game.
“I saw that lane and I just wanted to hit it,” Rosario said. “I wanted to go straight down and get a touchdown. I didn’t make it, but we got close.”
On the first play following Rosario’s punt return, senior wide receiver Logan Sherwood made a leaping catch of O’Banks’ pass over the middle and jetted 32 yards into the end zone to cut VC’s deficit to 14-7 with 6:52 remaining.
“I had the corner beat and Dylan got me the ball in a perfect spot,” Sherwood said.
The Vikings got one more chance when linebacker Scott Sledzianowski intercepted Bellefleur’s pass over the middle at the Spring Valley 44 with 3:20 remaining.
O’Banks and Rosario hooked up on a 22-yard pass play to move the ball just inside the 10. But the drive ended in frustration as O’Banks’ final throw into the end zone was knocked down.
“The last play we had trips on the right side and we had a guy open, but we didn’t see him,” LaVallie said.
O’Banks finished with 76 yards passing and 26 yards rushing. Rosario had three catches for a team-high 44 yards.
Bush Etienne (16-77) and Paul (9-74) were Spring Valley’s leading ground gainers.
Although he wishes the Vikings had a better record, Rosario is thankful he’s gotten the opportunity to play spring football.
“It was stressful at the beginning because I didn’t know if I was going to have a senior season and it upset me,” he said. “Then once I heard we were having a season, I knew this was my chance.”
Valley Central returns home Friday at 7 p.m. for a Section 9 Class AA contest with Monroe-Woodbury.
“We’re an 0-4 football team, but we’re getting better every week,” LaVallie said. “We just have to get the right pieces to click.”