By – Ray Biggs
Waterville – In a game that was up for grabs, the Waterville Indians simply ran out of chances against Sauquoit Valley.
Trailing 14-6 early in the second quarter, the host Indians drove down to the Sauquoit 12 yard line, only to have a false start penalty and a pair of incomplete passes stall the drive. With an even deeper 22-6 hole as the clock wound down towards halftime, Waterville had another promising drive sputter at the Sauquoit 18. The woes continued in the second half, as a Cole Buschor fumble negated a 40 yard pickup, and Sauquoit Valley’s Sean Hotaling stapled running back Gideon Christian to the turf on a critical fourth down with just over 90 seconds to go.
Even amidst an stark inability to close out drives, Waterville still had the table set for one final shot at a rainy Brothertown Stadium. An Isaiah Spooner touchdown run to start the fourth quarter had slashed the Sauquoit lead to just eight points, and Waterville had the ball back in the final seconds after forcing a punt. The home side took the ball at their own 49 yard line, and quarterback Matt Batson fired a 19 yard strike to top wideout Nick Salm at the right boundary to move the chains on second down to the 30 yard line.
Waterville was in business, but with time running short, the hosts had to go for broke. After spiking the ball to freeze a running clock, Batson looked right back to his top target in the endzone, but the pass sailed to the turf. After another pass was swatted by Sauquoit’s Luke Price to set up fourth down, Batson rolled out to the right and heaved up a prayer to the endzone under pressure.
The pass was intercepted, but as fate would have it, Waterville would get another crack at it. A flag for defensive holding backed Sauquoit up to their own 20, giving the hosts an automatic first down with two seconds remaining. Eventually, even father time runs out of patience. The last ditch pass intended for tight end Sam Tower was incomplete, and Sauquoit Valley held on for a 22-14 road win and sole possession of first place in the NFF East.
Although they came up short, Waterville wasted little time making their presence felt in a pivotal league matchup. Sauquoit Valley deferred off the opening coin toss to give Waterville the football, and not a single snap was taken before the hosts were on the board. Spooner received the opening kick and jetted 85 yards down the left boundary for the touchdown. Spooner’s PAT run fell just short of the goal line, and Waterville held a 6-0 lead just fifteen seconds into the ballgame.
After a big week in which he scored two touchdowns in a win over Beaver River, Sauquoit’s Tyler Ray wasn’t about to let Spooner have all the fun in the return game. Ray brought back the ensuing kickoff to the Waterville 30 yard line, setting the table for a six play, 30 yard drive that ended with his one yard plunge into the endzone. Quarterback Andrew Casteletti scampered into the endzone for the two point conversion to give Sauquoit an 8-6 lead.
Sauquoit quickly got their defense off the field, and would get almost identical field position to their opening drive when the fourth down snap sailed over Waterville punter James Lamont, who dove on the ball at the 29 yard line. Justin Zimmer capitalized a few short plays later when he sprinted to daylight from twelve yards out to give Sauquoit a 14-6 lead at the end of one quarter.
On a drive that began in the first quarter, Waterville began to get its offense rolling, with Spooner leading the charge and some assistance from their opponents. A long run by the Waterville tailback, and a pair of personal fouls on the visitors had Waterville in the red zone at the 12 yard line. Seemingly at the drop of a hat, Waterville went in reverse. Batson saw two pass attempts to the endzone fail, sandwiching a false start penalty that backed the hosts up to the 17 yard line, and Waterville turned the football over on downs.
On their next possession, a 25 yard run by Zimmer got the visitors over midfield. Sauquoit was quick to build on it, with Castelletti slinging a bootleg strike to Anthony Pezzullo to get Sauquoit into the red zone, and Ray carrying the football inside the 10. On the weight of an excellent lead block by Ben Vanderpool to seal the right edge, Ray barreled into the endzone from 11 yards out for his second rushing touchdown of the day, and a 22-6 halftime lead for Sauquoit Valley.
The visitors overcame a scoreless second half showing by their offense, and the furious rally from a stubborn Waterville team as they held on for the league win, and their third win in a row in their first year under the National Football Foundation league banner.
Spooner finished with 96 rushing yards and two touchdowns for Waterville(3-3), which falls into second place and will visit New York Mills next Saturday. Sauquoit Valley (3-3) will take on Cooperstown next Friday night in Sauquoit.