Coming up with a big play at the opportune time often is the difference between winning and losing.
The Rutland football team made the key defensive plays to secure a 14-12 win against Otter Valley on Alumni Field Saturday morning.
The Raiders led 14-6 heading into the fourth quarter, but the Otters balanced offensive attack wasn’t going away kindly.
Otter Valley took over possession after a punt and senior quarterback Alex Polli moved the Otters down the field.
Polli opened the drive with a 14-yard pickup to Noah Drew. After a trio of incompletions, Otter Valley was tasked with a fourth down conversion. The veteran signal caller wasn’t fazed and found Brady Diaz for 14 yards and the first down.
Polli completed his next four passes with the last one finding the end zone to Dylan Gaboriault.
With a sure-fire two-point conversion attempt coming up, the Rutland defense locked down. Polli threw the ball over the middle and it was broken up.
Polli intercepted Raiders quarterback Evan Pockette on the ensuing drive, so the onus turned back to the Rutland defense.
The Otters were driving for the winning score, but found themselves in another fourth down situation. The Raiders stepped up again and thwarted Otter Valley’s chance.
Those two plays were a few of the many plays Rutland had to make to bend but not break Saturday. A drive to start the second quarter also looked like a probable score for the Otters on the Raiders 5-yard line, but Rutland buckled down and held them out.
“We had the good fortune to win. I thought the kids played hard,” said Raiders coach Mike Norman. “We were just able to make a couple more plays than (Otter Valley). I thought our defense stepped up when they had to. From a coaching standpoint, it’s a little nerve-wracking.”
“(Rutland) is more physical than us and it shows. We’re a D-III program and they’re a D-1,” said Otters coach Kipp Denis. “We’re trying to teach them that they have to step up their game. We’re getting better and better and better.”
Both teams younger quarterbacks impressed in the early going of Saturday’s action.
Sophomore Eli Pockette started with the lineman group and was efficient on his first drive under center, going 8-for-11 and capping off the drive with a 2-yard touchdown pass to Collin Kimball. Eli Pockette’s 17-yard pass to Kimball to start the drive and 15-yard pass to Stefano Falco were highlights of the opening drive.
“Eli has gotten a lot better as the year has gone on,” Norman said. “All the kids have improved. That’s the goal, to keep football going and give the seniors a good experience, but get these younger guys that are coming back, some stuff to work on.
“We’re running plays that we’ve run in our offense (in 11-on-11 football). Everyone has their own way of doing this.”
Five-foot-3 freshman Luca Polli was just as strong for Otter Valley when he stepped on the field. The younger Polli was fearless moving the Otters down field. His 29-yard pass to Aidan Blier put Otter Valley on the Rutland 2 and he found Derek Raymond for a touchdown on the next play.
“(Luca) was poised throwing it out here on Alumni Field, going against D-I Rutland” Denis said. “What a better learning curve than that, before hopefully going back to D-III and playing some tackle football next year.”
Eli Pockette threw for 132 yards, while older brother Evan threw for 98 yards. Slade Postemski made six receptions for Rutland.
Alex Polli had 176 yards through the air and Luca Polli had 156 yards. Blier was the younger Polli’s favorite target with seven receptions for 108 yards.
The teams will meet in the regional tournament in a week and a half, so the Otters will have another crack at their Rutland County foe.
Rutland is 4-3 and hosts Middlebury on Wednesday. The Tigers won on a last-second field goal when the teams played last.
Otter Valley is 2-5 and hosts Fair Haven on Wednesday.