Storm come up short in title game
WORCESTER, Mass. — In its first year in the North Atlantic (AA) Conference of the New England Football League after a handful of years in the Maritime (A) Conference, the Southern Vermont Storm won the North Division, then advanced to the championship game against the Worcester Wildcats, the defending champs in AA.
The Wildcats, buoyed by a workhorse performance from running back Zander Givens-Perry, won its second straight North Atlantic title with a 45-22 victory on Saturday night at Commerce Bank Field at Foley Stadium.
"It's a disappointing ending, but I'm proud of what we did," said Storm defensive coordinator and general manager Chris Cipperley. "[Three] years ago, we weren't sure we weren't sure we were going to make it out with a team. This year we jumped up [in class] and lost two regular-season games. I'm damn proud of that."
Givens-Perry carried the ball 26 times for 157 yards and two touchdowns, making life miserable for a Storm defense that only allowed 13.6 points per game before Saturday.
It was a slow start right away for the Storm. On its first two drives, both were three-and-out. At the same time, the Wildcats put together two long drives. The first was 11 plays and the Storm bent but didn't break, forcing Worcester quarterback Tim Bushey into an incompletion on fourth down. After the next 3-and-out, the Wildcats hit paydirt. It was another 11-play drive, but this time, Givens-Perry finished it off with a 16-yard touchdown run. The big play on the drive was a 31-yard pass from Bushey to Martell Hughes.
"We weren't able to protect the cutback. He earns every yard he gets," Cipperley said. "We didn't adjust well."
On the next drive, the Storm only needed one play to find the end zone. After an offside penalty by the Wildcats, Lavante Wiggins took a handoff and went 66 yards for a score. With the two-pointer, Southern Vermont took an 8-7 lead to grab the momentum.
Wiggins led the way offensively, carrying the ball 10 times for 98 yards and a touchdown.
"Offensively, if we had some [longer] possessions, we might have had a better chance," Cipperley said. "I think we had it 10 times, scored on [three] of them."
But immediately it was squashed by No. 7. Givens-Perry corralled the next kickoff and returned it 70 yards to the house to give Worcester the lead back, 14-8.
From there, the Storm self-destructed toward the end of the half. On the next possession, two holding penalties and a sack forced a punt deep in the Storm's end. Four plays later, Givens-Perry scored a 26-yard touchdown for a 20-8 lead. Another holding penalty stalled the next drive and it only took the Wildcats two plays to score again, a 13-yard touchdown pass from Bushey to George Smith.
The Storm scored on the final play of the half, Will Cole to Joe Wiggins for 65 yards on a flea-flicker and it was 27-16 at the break. Cole was 3-of-13 for 109 yards and two touchdowns. Wiggins had two catches for 103 yards and the score.
Worcester got the ball to start the second half, and the Storm forced a punt, seemingly swinging the momentum. But on the subsequent possession, the Storm was penalized four times for unsportsmanlike conduct, moving them back near the goal line. Cole's punt on fourth-and-41 was tipped and blocked and two plays later, Bushey and Smith hooked up for a 2-yard touchdown and a 35-16 lead.
The Wildcats added a field goal and another Bushey touchdown pass before Cole hit Jonathan Resto for a 6-yard touchdown as time expired.
The Storm finish the year at 8-3, while the Wildcats went 10-1.
"The process is about getting better and the only way you do that, you have to challenge yourself," Cipperley said. "That's what [moving] to Double A was about. It allowed us to have the roster flexibility. Overall, I think we did pretty well, but we didn't get the job done. We'll be back."
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