By John Nestor
Special to CIACsports.com
MaxPreps photos by Richard Massie
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NEW BRITAIN – Chris Jean-Pierre and Justin Cheverier came through to spark a fourth-quarter rally in a game that Valley Regional/Old Lyme will never forget.
Jean-Pierre accounted for three touchdowns and Cheverier forced the game’s only turnover to set up the game-winining drive as the top-seeded Valleycats (13-0) rallied for a 21-20 victory over No. 2 Ansonia in the Class S-Large championship game at Veterans Stadium.
It was the first state title for Valley Regional in its first appearance in a state title game. Ansonia was making its 28th championship game appearance and was denied title No. 20. The Chargers had won three straight titles and had not lost a playoff game since a loss to St. Joseph in the 2010 Class S final.
Ansonia led 14-0 after three but that only set up a wild fourth quarter that featured four touchdown, including three by Valley in the final 6:19.
Jean-Pierre capped the comeback with a four-yard TD run on fourth and goal with 22 seconds left that tied the game 20-20. Jared Roche gave the Valleycats their first lead of the day, 21-20, when he split the uprights with the extra point.
“I was a little worried because we were four yards out,” Valley Regional coach Tim King said. “He basically said `give me the ball’ and he took the ball and ran it. I wasn’t sure if he got it. When I saw the refs hands go up, it was incredible.”
Ansonia got off a couple of plays from deep in its own territory in the final seconds but was unable to move down field and quarterback Jaiquan McKnight was pushed out of bounds on a scramble to end the game and set off a Valleycats celebration.
It didn’t seem likely anything would happen after the game except yet another Ansonia title celebration. Valley looked down and out after Tajik Bagley scored on a 13-yard run to give Ansonia (11-2) a 14-0 lead with 3:22 left in the third quarter.
The Chargers took that lead into the fourth and the quarter was about halfway over before the Alleycats started their comeback.
Jean-Pierre threw a 40-yard touchdown pass to Evan Smith with 6:19 left to make it 14-7. Tajik Bagley, who rushed for for 149 yards and two TDs, stepped out of bounds at the five on the ensuing kickoff but he was bailed out when quarterback Jai’Quan McKnight ripped off a 93-yard touchdown run to make it 20-7 with 5:01 left. An unsportsmanlike penalty on Ansonia after the play moved the ball back to the 18 on the extra point try and a pass from McKnight to Tyler Bailey fell incomplete.
“It feels like our hearts have been ripped out” Ansonia coach Tom Brockett said. “”We make a play; go 90 yards to make it two scores with five minutes left. We were playing lights out defense for 40 minutes. Last eight minutes we collapsed.”
It proved to be a costly penalty.
Jean-Pierre led Valley right back down the field and capped a five-play 58-yard scoring drive with an 8-yard run with 3:26 left. Ansonia’s ensuing possession started at the 10 after McKnight collided with Bagley on the kickoff but once again it looked like the Chargers were going to move out of trouble.
Bailey ripped through a hole and picked up 21 yards but was stripped by Cheverier at the Ansonia 41 with 3:11 to go.
Valley drove down to the six where it had first and goal. Jean-Pierre ran all four plays and found pay dirt around the left end to complete Valley’s stunning comeback.
PASSING: Ansonia, McKnight 3-6 38. Valley Regional Jean-Pierre 5-11 108