Storm zip past Hitmen, advance to title game

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BENNINGTON — One play in the second half of the Southern Vermont Storm's semifinal against the Haverhill Hitmen was a microcosm of the night.

Early in the fourth quarter, with the Storm ahead by two touchdowns, Lavante Wiggins took a handoff through the line and ended up 1-on-1 with the safety. Wiggins decided to go through the defender, eliciting woos from the crowd and the Storm on the sideline.

Behind Wiggins, quarterback Will Cole and the offensive line, the Storm advanced to the New England Football League's AA Division championship game with a 25-6 win over the Hitmen on Saturday night at Mount Anthony's Spinelli Field.

"It was one of the big plays of the game and it got us the momentum back," Wiggins said. "We needed the big play to bring back the energy. I don't like going around guys, so I decided to go through him."

The Storm took the ball to start the night and drove down the field with ease. Cole capped the opening drive with a 23-yard touchdown pass to Jonathan Resto to give the Storm a 7-0 advantage.

"We stuck with our gameplan, everyone is healthy and guys stepped up and played hard," said Storm head coach Pat Seaver.

The Hitmen answered a few minutes later, taking advantage of a short field. Starting at the Storm 29, it took five plays before Hitmen quarterback Isiah Ocasio-Pantoja rushed in from seven yards out. The extra point failed, making it 7-6.

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The Storm defense set up the next score. Ocasio-Pantoja was intercepted by Juaywan Scott who had a strong return back to the Hitmen 20. Two plays later, Wiggins rumbled in from a yard out to make it 13-6 after the two-pointer missed.

Wiggins led the way on the ground, carrying 11 times for 85 yards and the score.

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"The offense came together, Lavante was on it, Will did a good job of taking the defense apart," Seaver said. "We [had a good] mix of run and pass."

A big play ended the first half of a good note for the Storm. With less than a minute left in the half, the Hitmen started from their own 5-yard-line. After a 25-yard-pass, the ball was fumbled and the Storm jumped on it. On the first play after the change, Cole threw his second touchdown of the day, a 30-yarder to Joe Wiggins where he out-jumped a defender.

"It's good to have a lot of weapons," Lavante Wiggins said. "If they pack the box, we have four or five receivers we can get the ball to, it's more opportunities to put points on the board."

Cole competed half his passes, 5 out of 10, for 143 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

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The Hitmen had a couple of opportunities to come back in the second half, but on each drive, the Storm defense came up with a big play.

Near the end of the third quarter, on a 4th and 11, Manny Gordon came up and sacked the quarterback to get the ball back. Then, Ocasio-Pantoja threw incomplete on a fourth-and-long.

"The line put a lot of pressure on the quarterback and we also had great pass coverage, working as a team," Seaver said.

The Hitmen were held to 179 yards of total offense.

Now, the Storm will play in its second championship game in three years, after winning the title in 2017 in the A Division. They'll face the Worcester Wildcats on Saturday in Worcester's Foley Stadium.

"We're going to go forward with everything we have," Seaver said.


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