By Robbie Maher
Fueled by a power run game and timely takeaways, the BFA Fairfax Bullets were able to punch their tickets to the Division III state championship next Saturday after ousting Otter Valley by a score of 20-6.
After dropping their only game of the year to the Otters just two weeks ago, BFA was able to quickly put that memory behind them. On the Bullets’ first play from scrimmage, Jaxon Schaarschmidt ripped off a 55-yard touchdown scamper to put BFA up 6-0.
The early momentum did not appear to startle the pass-happy Otters though, as junior Alexander Polli was able to find holes in the Bullet zone coverage to keep the chains moving.
Even so, as the Otters were appearing to build some momentum of their own fueled by the intermediate passing game, BFA’s Gage Brown was able to get a hit in on Polli and jar the ball free. BFA was able to recover the loose ball and take over possession.
“Coach Redding did a great job putting together a defensive scheme… and we were able to limit a good team with a quarterback who knew what he was doing,” BFA coach Craig Sleeman said.
Although the Bullets were unable to cash in offensively off of the strip-sack, they were able to rattle the Otters’ offense and drain several minutes off of the game clock.
Even so, with six minutes to go before the half, the Otters were back on the move.
After converting a fourth-and-sixteen earlier on the drive by way of a strike to his receiver, Polli connected with Dylan Gaboriault on a crossing pattern for a twelve-yard touchdown to knot the game at six apiece.
Now it was the Bullets’ turn.
Behind a strong offensive line and crafty Running Backs, BFA ran the game clock all the way down to just under ten seconds to go in the half before senior Noah Brock found a gap in between his left tackle and guard and bolted to the endzone for a twelve yard score.
Despite being up 12-6 on the scoreboard, the Bullets did not put the ball in the air one time in the first half and were as one-dimensional as could be. This allowed for Otter Valley to consistently stack the box.
The trend continued for the Bullets all throughout the second half as BFA did not throw the ball once in the contest.
The BFA predictability -specifically in the second half- made it increasingly difficult to move the ball, and the frustration began to mount.
Toward the tail end of the third quarter, a Fairfax player was heard yelling to the sideline that “something needs to be fixed on offense.”
When asked after the game about the incessant running attack, Sleeman said it was not a concern.
“The last four games we have probably thrown the ball five times, and it is just not us. We want to get better at what we do, and that is not something that we base our team on. If somebody can stop our run game then good for them…” Sleeman said.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, after a solid opening half that saw Polli complete nine of fifteen passes for 82 yards and a touchdown, the Otter Valley air-raid continued into the second half – just not very successfully.
On their first snap of the second half, the Otters turned the ball over by way of an interception that set BFA up with great field position.
Once again, the Bullets were unable to cash in on offense and punted the ball back to the Otters.
Each team would scuffle on offense throughout the second half, but with just under two minutes to go in the contest, Otter Valley had a chance to win the game with a score as they trailed 12-6.
On the first play of the potential comeback drive, Polli dropped back in the pocket and fired the ball right into the hands of a waiting Schaarschmidt who was able to navigate through a series of potential tacklers and put the game on ice with a pick-six touchdown.
“Today, defensively our secondary did a great job. We didn’t allow any long plays which we did the first time against them, but we did a good job of forcing them to throw underneath consistently,” Sleeman said.
Schaarschmidt would finish the game with 129 yards on the ground to go along with his interception returned for a touchdown. Brock was the only other tailback to carry the ball for the Bullets as the senior finished his final home game with 69 rushing yards.
Meanwhile, the Bullets defense finished the day with three interceptions and a forced fumble, capping off a tremendous team effort.
“We have built this program back up. Every year we have progressed with what we want to do. These kids come from many communities, and you can tell how hard they play for each other,” Sleeman said.
BFA will travel to Rutland next Saturday to take on the winner between Poultney and Windsor.