RUMFORD — After a battle of defenses between Mountain Valley and visiting Winthrop/Monmouth/Hall-Dale in the first half, the Ramblers took advantage of great field position after turnovers in the second half and earned a 20-8 win in regular-season finale Friday.
Mountain Valley received the opening kickoff and orchestrated a 13-play drive to open the game. Unfortunately for the Falcons, Taylor Pelletier fumbled on the Ramblers’ 10-yard line and gave the ball to Winthrop/Monmouth/Hall-Dale.
“I think, for us, the big problem is we are undisciplined at critical times,” Mountain Valley head coach Patrick Mooney said. “On fourth-and-1 and third-and-1, you can’t fumble the ball and you can’t jump offsides. These are things we did all night in critical situations.”
The Ramblers didn’t get much going after a couple of first downs and were forced to punt.
After the Falcons moved it to Winthrop’s 46-yard line, Jacob Blanchard fumbled a high snap on the first play of the second quarter. He recovered the fumble, and on the ensuing run he cut left, broke a tackle then cut back right and ran free for a 67-yard touchdown run. Mountain Valley’s bruising fullback Avery Bradeen punched in the two-point conversion to put the Falcons up 8-0.
It didn’t take the Ramblers long to fire back. Beau Schmelzer started their next drive by returning the kickoff over 40 yards to the Falcons’ 37. A 24-yard pass from quarterback Keegan Choate to Ryan Baird, one of four completions for Choate in the first half, was used to set up a 1-yard touchdown run from Jevin Smith to cut the lead to 8-6.
The Falcons recovered the second-half kickoff on a surprise onside kick. However, an interception by Winthrop’s Gavin Perkins a couple plays later turned ball back over to the Ramblers.
“The last couple of weeks we have executed at times, but then we make mistakes,” Ramblers head coach Dave St. Hilaire said. “That’s one of those that if it had happened in the last two weeks we would have imploded. The kids were mentally tough tonight and they rebounded well. That’s what I was most impressed with tonight, that we lost the ball on that opening kickoff and we didn’t let it distract us from what we wanted to do.”
Later in the quarter, Choate broke three tackles in the backfield to run for a 14-yard gain on third down. That was followed by a 20-yard run from Dylan Boynton to get into the red zone.
“We had max protection and he left the pocket too quick,” St. Hilaire said. “He made up for his own mistake by having a nice run and turning it into a punt return, basically.”
In the red zone, Mountain Valley suffered from two face mask penalties, which set up Smith an easy three-yard touchdown run that put Winthrop up 12-8.
The ensuing kickoff was brought back over 50 yards to the Ramblers’ 29, but Mountain Valley was stopped on fourth-down-and-1 from the 6-yard line.
The Falcons forced a punt and got the ball back once again, but an unsportsmanlike penalty made it fourth-and-7, and Mountain Valley turned it over on downs after a short pass with 3:30 remaining.
“We didn’t want them to have a short field, and that’s been their offense,” St. Hilaire said. “It takes one run for them to bust it, and we didn’t want that to happen.”
It took just three plays for Smith to score his third touchdown of the night, this time from 30 yards out. Choate completed the two-point conversion to make it 20-8 with only 1:48 remaining in the game, essentially sealing the game for the Ramblers.
Smith’s three touchdowns were the difference for the Ramblers, who enter the postseason full of confidence.
“It feels pretty good going into playoffs. I’m ready to do some damage,” Smith said. “We are coming together now. We had some mistakes the last few weeks, but we are clicking at the right time.”
Mistakes made cost the Falcons the game, but next week is a fresh start.
“Basically, what I said to my team is, ‘You have to be a disciplined team for four quarters, you can’t pick and choose when to be disciplined,’” Mooney said. “Playoffs are a new season so this isn’t the end of the world. It’s disappointing, sure, but now it’s do-or-die.”