By John Bonnette
ESSEX – For the third game in a row Bellows Free Academy’s defense played well enough to win, but offensive turnovers proved too much to overcome as Essex slipped past the Bobwhites 21-15 in triple overtime Friday night.
“It really became a defensive battle back and forth,” Essex Coach Drew Gordon said. “We knew it was going to be a one-possession game at the end, and that was before overtime. Once we hit overtime, we knew guys had to make plays. This really was a defensive battle all game long, and it was our defense that won the game.”
The Bobwhites started with the ball to begin the third overtime. As Senior Dominic Liscinsky (23-113) took a pitch to the left he was hit by a swarm of Hornets at the 8-yard line and the ball came out giving Essex a chance to win the game.
“When you get in those overtime situations it is ten yards so anything can happen and it did,” BFA Coach Geoff Murray said. “The reality is I thought we did a nice job of tying it up again and then tough luck on the turnover. Give Essex credit, they capitalized on it.”
Essex’s quarterback Sam Bowen (7-35 TD Rushing, 13-27, 2 TD, 3 INT) took the first play of triple overtime down to the Bobwhite 1-yard line before plunging in from a yard out to steal the victory for the Hornets.
“We had one yard to go, and I did not want to do anything too dangerous in terms of sprinting him out,” Essex Coach Drew Gordon said. “Bad things can happen if you try throwing the ball from there.
“Once we got to the one-yard line we wanted to see if our quarterback could get it in because we haven’t really done that before and it worked out for us.”
However, this game would have never gotten to overtime had it not been for the Bobwhite defense. They shut down the Hornets for most of the game, including creating three turnovers deep inside their own territory, in a scoreless first half.
“We were disappointed with the way the first half went. We were moving the ball reasonably well and anytime we got near the endzone we found a way to turn it over, so we have to be better at finishing drives,” Gordon said.
On Essex’s first possession of the night, driving the ball from their own 38-yard line to the Bobwhite 25-yard line on just seven plays before BFA’s Robert Gamache picked off Bowen at the Bobwhite 10-yard line with 4:42 left in the first quarter.
Then after a three and out gave Essex the ball at the Bobwhite 21-yard line the Hornets quickly drove to the Bobwhite 14-yard line before Liscinksy came up with a big interception at the BFA 14-yard line with twenty-six seconds left in the first quarter.
“We are not the type of team right now that can come back,” Murray said. “It has to be close, especially in this game, if we had been down two touchdowns it would have been tough to come back from. It is a credit to our defense for hanging in there because our offense didn’t give them a lot of field to work with.”
Essex appeared ready to take the lead late in the first half when Daniel Wicks (10-26) raced outside left tackle from the Bobwhite 3-yard line but as he was hit by a trio of Bobwhites at the goal line the ball came out and the BFA recovered in the endzone to keep the game scoreless.
The Hornets would finally sting the Bobwhites early in the second half as Essex took advantage of BFA’s first turnover of the game. Cory Giannelli stretched out to pick off Gamache’s pass across the middle setting Essex up once again inside the Bobwhites 36-yard line.
It would take the Hornets just two plays to capitalize as Bowen hit Peyton Stephenson (2-33, TD) down the right sideline for a 23-yard gain to start the quick drive. Then on Essex’s second play of the drive Bowen rolled to his right before throwing back across his body and finding Luke Meunier in the endzone, to make it 8-0 Essex, with 9:23 left in the third quarter.
“That really wasn’t the design,” Gordon said of the Touchdown. “He went to the receiver backside of the play call because the playset receiver was triple covered.
“He made a great adjustment while he was booting to his right, basically threw it back to his left and put the ball in a great spot. Number seven came and made a great play.”
Despite being down, the Bobwhites’ offense finally got something going late as BFA put together an 8-play, 74-yard drive to knot the score late in the second half.
Liscinsky was the catalyst for the BFA drive as he battled through on runs of 34 and 19 yards to help set up the Bobwhites at the Essex 1-yard line with 5:38 left in the game.
Gamache would then knot the score at 8-8 when he took a slipped in on a quarterback sneak before taking the two-point conversion outside the right end to set up overtime.
“We played really hard, nobody quit,” Murray said. “That was a tough first half where the field was kind of slanted, so to get out of the first half 0-0 we were very fortunate there. In the second half, we talked about how we need to keep grinding and trying to execute, and we will break one, which we finally did.
“I think he (Liscinsky) was feeling pretty good this week, I think he is finally feeling healthy, and it showed tonight. He ran hard and when he was able to get a hole he really hit the hole hard and was not going down easily. That paid off late in the game because he just kept moving his feet. He had a great night running the ball for us.”
After both teams missed field goal attempts in the first overtime Essex would take the lead in the second overtime, as Bowen again rolled to his right before finding Stephenson in the front corner of the endzone, to give Essex a 15-8 lead.
As the Bobwhites tried to counter, Liscinsky broke free on third-and-goal from the 11-yard line before being hauled down at the Essex 1-yard line to set up Gamache for his second goal-line plunge to pull BFA to 15-14 pending the extra point.
“We just said to the line, ‘you just have to get us a yard,’ and they were able to do that,” Murray said. “Robbie does a nice job of sneaking, so that seemed like the right call at that point because we did not need a lot.”
At that point, BFA called a timeout to discuss going for the win or kicking the extra point to extend overtime.
“We called a timeout because we wanted to discuss whether we wanted to take a shot,” Murray said. “But we decided we have a good kicker, so let’s kick it because the defense has been playing pretty well, so let’s extend it another overtime. Sometimes that works, and sometimes it doesn’t.”
The Bobwhites (1-2) will look to rebound when they host Champlain Valley Union Friday night.
“We have to start with one game at a time,” Murray said. “We need to get the lead, do a better job of moving the chains on offense, and get our defense off the field. They have been playing really well, we have to flip that field position and control the time of possession to put some points on the board.”
The Bobwhites have scored just three touchdowns in regulation in the first three games. Moving forward, Murray stressed that finding offensive rhythm is what his team needs.
“I think it is coming, we have had a lot of personnel changes in and out. I think we are settling in,” Murray said. “Usually, over time, as the offensive line starts to gel a little more, now that Dom is back and healthy, we just need a week or two of practice to get the consistent offense going.”
“I thought against Colchester (last week) we were able to move the ball pretty well and get outside. Tonight, we had a little more difficulty outside, so we moved the ball inside. I think it will come, we just need to keep working at it.
“We have to mentally forget about this and move on to next week because CVU is a game that we really have to come out to be ready to go and play a good four quarters.”