FAIRFAX — Saturday’s semifinal DIII football game pitted the Fairfax/LU Bullets against the Otter Valley Otters one last time in the 2019 season.
Just two weeks ago, the Otters put an end to the Bullets’ undefeated season, earning a 38-36 victory in Fairfax. This weekend, it was the Bullets’ turn to walk away with the win.
“We held a good team,” said Fairfax/LU head coach Craig Sleeman. “They knew they couldn’t run the ball on us, so they just came out chucking it. Our guys responded to that challenge, and it was great to see.”
Fairfax/LU earned the 20-6 victory on Saturday thanks to a solid defensive effort.
“Today, defensively, the secondary did a good job. We didn’t allow any long plays, which hurt us the first time we played them,” said Sleeman. “Coach Redding did a great job with the defensive scheme; we’ve worked on it for a couple of weeks now.”
The first touchdown of the game came three minutes into the first quarter when Jaxon Schaarschmidt took off on a 64-yard touchdown run.
Six minutes later the Bullets forced a fumble; Gage Brown of Fairfax/LU recovering the ball.
The Bullets failed to capitalize on the fumble, heading into the second quarter with a narrow 6-0 lead over the Otters.
Otter Valley forced a fumble of their own with 8:23 on the clock in the second quarter, gaining possession on BFA’s 45-yard line.
The Otters scored on an 11-yard touchdown pass with 4:39 remaining. A bad snap by Otter Valley cost them the extra point.
With two seconds remaining in the half, Noah Brock broke through the Otter Valley defense, scoring a touchdown and putting the Bullets ahead at halftime.
Bullets William Mlcuch intercepted an Otter Valley pass at BFA’s 30-yard line with 5:50 remaining in the third.
The teams battled through the third quarter with no change in the score.
Otter Valley mounted their longest drive of the game in the fourth quarter, but the Bullet defense stymied the effort, shattering Otter hopes once again.
It was Brock who broke up the fourth-down pass into the end zone, ending the drive.
The Otters had their final possession with just under two minutes remaining in the fourth.
On the first play of that drive, Schaarschmidt picked off an Otter pass thrown over the middle and returned the ball for a 20-yard touchdown with 1:20 remaining in the game.
“The big moment for me came when Otter Valley was on that last drive and Jaxson got that pick-six!” said Bullets’ quarterback, Cam Meunier. “He caught the ball at the right moment and went all the way to the house!”
Meunier capped off the 2-point conversion, giving the Bullets a 20-6 victory.
“We’ve been working all week on protecting against the pass, and it worked well today,” said Meunier. “Next weekend is going to be a very different game. It’s going to be a head-to-head, run-heavy game. It’s what we’ve been working at all season.”
The Bullets enjoyed a lengthy celebration at the end of the game, taking time to receive congratulations from friends and family, and to share their thoughts on the game.
Schaarschmidt, whose interception secured the win, smiled broadly.
“I was a little nervous at the beginning of the game. We got beat last time, but this time we played Bullets’ football and just pounded them,” said Schaardschmidt. “I love all these guys, and I love our work!”
Lucas Jones, one of the Bullets’ linemen, was also all smiles.
“In the years I’ve been here, this is the farthest we’ve made it in the playoffs,” said Jones. “Everyone on the team is great. We all come from different towns, but we get along just fine, and we’ll be ready for next weekend!”
Noah Brock shared the two moments that stood out for him in the hard-fought battle.
“I think the most pivotal spot came when Jaxson got that interception and turned it for a touchdown. That put the game away,” said Brock.
“When we got the ball back on the kickoff and could end the game by kneeing the ball, that was another pivotal moment for me in the game.”
Patrick Roling spoke for the linemen.
“It was really tough out there today. I give a lot of props to these guys; they are a tough team, especially on the line,” said Roling, inspecting a few scratches and bruises. “It was a fun, hard-fought game, and that’s what we like.”
Looking ahead to the state championship, Roling was already mentally preparing for the battle ahead.
“Poultney is a run-heavy team and the last time we played them it was a battle to the end. I’m expecting that this time, too.”
Camden Anderson spoke wise and kind words about a worthy opponent.
“I have big respect for Otter Valley,” said Anderson. “They know how to play the game.”
At the end of the game, Otter Valley coach Kipp Denis congratulated the Bullets on their victory.
“He’s a good role model,” said Anderson. “That’s how the game should be played. It meant a lot for him to come over and talk with us.”
Another lineman, Anderson, was also thinking about the task ahead.
“Poultney is a very good team, and we’ll see who can outhit, outlast, and outman,” said Anderson. “The team that can push through is the team that’s going to win.”
Sleeman complimented his players as they celebrated.
“They all played hard. You can’t point to one thing as a factor in a game like this--it’s everybody,” said Sleeman.
“We’ve been climbing that incline. Five years ago it was eighth place, then sixth, then fourth, then third, and this year second place,” said Sleeman. “Every year we’ve progressed where we wanted to be. These kids come from a long way, diverse communities, and you can tell how hard they play for each other.”