By RICH KELLY
For the Star Beacon
It was a long time coming, and the first two plays of the game made it seem like it would be even longer.
The Grand Valley Mustangs, behind stellar play from their front seven on both sides of the ball, though, overcame a problem which has plagued them all season to snare their first win of the season, a sound 39-20 win over the Southington Wildcats to begin defense of the Northeastern Athletic Conference championship they won last fall
In dropping their first five games, the Mustangs had gotten into the habit of shooting themselves in the foot. The Wildcats punched the Mustangs right in the nose on the first play with an onside kick which no Mustang even blinked. After recovering the ball at the GV 40, the ball never even got snapped and the Mustangs were flagged for an offside violation.
“I started thinking ‘Oh No, not again!’” GV coach John Glavickas said after being asked his thoughts on the onside kick. “Mistakes have hurt us all season. Obviously, they saw something in game films that they felt they could exploit. That first play, and then the penalty, really woke our kids up.”
The Grand Valley defense stepped up after the onside kick and held on downs at its own 24 yard line. After Jake Vormelker gained 4 yards, he handed off to Jason Hart over right tackle. He broke to the outside and raced 60 yards, setting up Vormelker’s 12-yard scoring run on the next play, and it looked like the Mustangs had punched the Wildcats right back.
Using five and a half minutes in going 55 yards, though, got Southington (3-3, 0-1 in NAC) right back into the game after Austin Casper took the ball in from a yard out.
That is when the Mustang front seven took over the game, led by Glenn Zaller and Jason Takacs.
“They had some success running the ball outside early in the game,” Glavickas said. “Coach (Clint) Sims made an adjustment by moving Glenn (Zaller) further outside at linebacker to contain the ends more, and everybody did a nice job shutting down the inside as well.”
Takacs dominated inside much of the time thereafter.
“We’re missing Ray Marsch right now,” Takacs said. “He’s out with an injury. My job is to call the defensive signals for the line. All I wanted to do tonight was make sure everybody knew their assignment on every play and to get them right.”
He was on the money most , if not all, night. A radio crew broadcasting the contest back to Trumbull County was impressed enough with his play in the middle to label him as an “absolute beast” by game’s end. He earned the accolades.
In holding Southington (1-5, 1-0 in NAC) to only 151 yards in the game, that front seven played squash with an undermanned Wildcat line, including 5 sacks on the night. Three of those were from Luke Baldwin, as the Wildcats attempted to open things up more in the second half. Rolling to his left much of the time, Austin Casper did not see Baldwin coming faster than a blue bullet train, and it wasn’t until late in the game, after several big plays from Grand Valley broke the game open, that Southington used miscues from Mustang reserves to tally two late touchdowns
“We are shorthanded, quite a bit,”
Southington coach Ryan Slone said. “We are missing one of our top three backs, and we had some linemen get banged up, so we’ve moved some kids around. We don’t have much depth to start with, so making changes really hurt us at times tonight.”
Dillon Nezbeth had the early success for the Wildcats, and ended up with 75 yards on 20 carries. Casper gained yardage early on, but being constantly chased in the second half saw his rushing yardage disappear in a hurry. The Wildcats passing game was greatly lacking, accounting for only 38 yards on 6 of 16 passes.
In scoring 20 points in the second period, though, Grand Valley made big plays that gave it a big lead, and they made big plays again in the second half to maintain control.
GV (1-5, 1-0) moved 66 yards in 12 plays to score early in the second quarter. On fourth down from the 14, Vormelker found Hart in the end zone to break the 6-6 tie.
Vormelker then picked off a Casper pass and returned it 17 yards to set up the Mustangs at their own 47.
Rolling around left end on an option play, the senior Mustang quarterback pitched the ball backward over his shoulder to Hart, who dashed 14 yards to the 18, and Vormelker took the ball to the house on the next play.
Special teams got into the act shortly thereafter, effectively breaking the Wildcats’ backs along the way.
Zaller broke through to block a punt at the Southington 26, and Vormelker found Hart deep in the back of the end zone on the next play for a 26-6 lead.
“Southington’s bread and butter is running the ball,” Glavickas said. “Once our lines settled in and took over, we made a few plays again to keep control of the ball. It was just so good for us to settle in like we did and play Mustang football again without shooting ourselves in the foot like we have so much this season.”
Efficiency was the name of the Mustang offensive efforts for the night. They rang up 228 yards on just 32 carries, and Vormelker hit on 5 of 8 passes for 106 yards. Two of the three incompletions were balls on the money that wide open receivers dropped, or the game might have become much more of a blowout.
Kelly is a freelance writer from Jefferson.