ESSEX – With the top two seeds going at it during Saturday’s Northern Vermont Youth Football League championship game, it was set up to be a barn burner.
It was just that.
The top-seeded St. Albans Steelers entered the game with an undefeated record, but it was second-seeded Chittenden South Buccaneers that came away with a 26-21 victory at Essex High School to secure back-to-back championships.
“In championship games, it just comes down to execution,” said St. Albans coach Kris Sabourin. “They just executed better than we did, unfortunately.”
The Steelers played from behind most of the game, but found the lead midway through the fourth quarter when they scored a touchdown and converted on a two-point conversion to make it 21-20 for their first lead of the game.
Chittenden South’s final drive was capped by another touchdown run by Jackson Sumner, who finished with over 100 yards rushing and three touchdowns with his final touchdown putting the Buccaneers ahead 26-21.
The Steelers had an opportunity and drove into Chittenden South territory, but turned the ball over on downs ending the game.
Daniel Rafferty and Parker Daudelin both scored rushing touchdowns for the Steelers. Seneca Durocher connected with Landon Underwood on a big pass in the second half for another touchdown.
With the Steelers trailing 20-13 late in the fourth quarter, they put together a big drive that ended with Daudelin getting into the end zone from a yard out to make the score 20-19. Durocher hit Rafferty for the two-point conversion to make it 21-20. Unfortunately for the Steelers, there was still a lot of time left on the clock setting up Chittenden South’s go-ahead touchdown.
“What more can you ask for as a coach when things don’t go your way and yet the kids dig their cleats in and face adversity head on,” said Sabourin. “It was impressive to watch as the kids came together and left it all out on the field. As a coaching staff, I sincerely hope the kids realize how proud of them we are.”
It was a different outcome Saturday than when the two teams faced each other in the regular season, which the Steelers won handedly.
One difference between the two games was Durocher was limited by an injury, which took away his ability to be a threat on the ground.
“Seneca is a gifted passer and runner and when he becomes one dimensional because of injury, it naturally limits him, but you have to give him a lot of credit for battling through the injury,” said Sabourin. “But like I’ve always echoed to the kids, we need to adapt and come together and play mistake-free football. We are a team of 40 and it doesn’t come down to just one person.
“Hats off to Chittenden South,” he added. “They have a great group of kids and a great coaching staff and they improved throughout the year like a good team should and like we did.”
It was with another big step for the Steelers as a program after reaching the semifinals last year and the championship this year with this year’s group of eighth-graders leading the charge.
“When I reflect on the way our team improved from Day one until now, as a coaching staff we couldn’t be more proud of the development of our players, not only in football but in life and how they have grown as people,” said Sabourin.
“This is a very special group of kids and this one loss won’t define this group. They are a tight-knit group and rest assured they will use this as fuel to continue to get better.”