Monday, January 17, 2022

Sports

Warriors’ Football Earns First Win with Gbunblee

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Senior captain quarterback James Beckman and the Valley Regional-Old Lyme football team claimed their first victory of the 2021 season with a 28-7 win against North Branford on Sept. 10. Photo courtesy of Mike Yermenson

Senior captain quarterback James Beckman and the Valley Regional-Old Lyme football team claimed their first victory of the 2021 season with a 28-7 win against North Branford on Sept. 10. (Photo courtesy of Mike Yermenson)

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Junior captain Di’Angelo Jean-Pierre has proven himself to be an incredible talent with a sharp mind for football. Jean-Pierre scored the Warriors’ first touchdown of the season.

Photo courtesy of Mike Yermenson

Junior captain Di’Angelo Jean-Pierre has proven himself to be an incredible talent with a sharp mind for football. Jean-Pierre scored the Warriors’ first touchdown of the season. (Photo courtesy of Mike Yermenson)

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Junior receiver Nicholas Cox and the Warriors helped Head Coach Hill Gbunblee earn his first win as head coach of the squad. Photo courtesy of Mike Yermenson

Junior receiver Nicholas Cox and the Warriors helped Head Coach Hill Gbunblee earn his first win as head coach of the squad. (Photo courtesy of Mike Yermenson)

The Valley Regional-Old Lyme (VR-OL) football team kicked off its first season in nearly two years with a lopsided victory over North Branford. The Warriors also began new Head Coach Hill Gbunblee’s tenure with the squad on the right foot with a 28-7 home win versus the Thunderbirds.

Coach Gbunblee and the Warriors have big aspirations this season. VR-OL wasn’t operating like a well-oiled machine right out of the gate, but that’s to be expected after a long layoff. Coach Gbunblee knows the Warriors could have looked sharper, but to get everyone back out on the field after so long felt like a win in itself.

“I had to take my need to push things to the best they can be back a bit, because when you think about it, we haven’t payed football in over 600 days,” said Gbunblee. “We only have two returning varsity starters, and we have people on the team who haven’t even played football before. We were missing some key players, too. Putting it in perspective, we were able to score 28 points and come out relatively healthy. You have to be grateful for things like that.”

The Warriors got their offense going in the first quarter when junior captain wide receiver Di’Angelo Jean-Pierre hauled in a 43-yard reception and run off a pass from senior captain quarterback James Beckman. The Warriors converted a 2-point conversion after the touchdown when senior full back John Baczewski punched it into the end zone on a 3-yard run to make it 8-0.

Beckman connected on another touchdown pass in the second quarter, this time with senior captain James Marsden for 18 yards and the TD. The extra point kick was no good and the Warriors had a 14-0 lead over North Branford entering halftime.

In the second half, James Marsden made his way back into the end zone in the third quarter for another touchdown. The Warriors scored another two-point conversion on a pass from Marsden to Jean-Pierre to make it 22-0. In the fourth quarter, North Branford’s defense made the game a bit closer after a pick-6. The Thundebirds scored the PAT and moved the score to 22-7. After that, the Warriors added another touchdown on a 48-yard run from Marsden to make it 28-7, and that would be the final.

The Warriors’ cadre of captains had a big impact on the field against North Branford, and Coach Gbunblee knows that the rest of the team clearly looks to Beckman, Jean-Pierre, and Marsden as leaders off the field as well. Marsden is a difference-maker on the baseball diamond, basketball court, and football field.

“Marsden is nursing a bit of an injury from the baseball season, but he’s cleared to throw now. He’s getting there,” said Gbunblee. “He’s such a driven athlete, and he’s completely locked in with the team. He knows that the team will rally around him. He’s not a rah-rah, vocal person, but he leads more by example.”

Beckman has taken control of the quarterback position, and won that position after turning in impressive performances this summer. Beckman also is also a student body leader as class president.

“Beckman is a cerebral, intelligent player. He’s fiery and always plays with a chip on his shoulder. From the time he was a JV quarterback his freshman year, he’s done nothing but work. He’s won the starting job,” said Gbunblee. “He’s a representative on the school board, and he’s the class president. He takes the lead at meetings. He calls out roster names for the coaches. Before day one, he played a captains’ role automatically with the kids before he was ever named captain.

Jean-Pierre has taken on a captain’s role this season as a junior. Jean-Pierre has tremendous talent on both sides of the ball, and that was on display against North Branford.

“Di’Angelo has been relentless in his drive. He’s an incredibly intelligent football player. He knows the game so naturally. He’s a great role model for the rest of the team,” Gbunblee said. “He’s another lead-by-example kind of guy, too. He’s a super athlete. He shuts down one half of the field on defense. When the others see that, they know that they no excuse for not doing taking control of the other half. The kids voted on their captains, and we looked it over. The votes spoke for themselves.”

The Warriors have a style that they are honing this year, and it’s dependent on the hard work from the guys in the trenches on the offensive and defensive lines this year. Coach Gbunblee was glad to see the impact that his linemen had on the first game.

“I’m old school in my approach. I grew up running the ball, and I believe in the O-line and the D-line. They are the heart and soul of the team. We go as they go. We established the run,” Gbunblee said. “Looking at the team last night, I think that I’m pleased with the effort of our kids. I’m pleased with the level of intensity that we had. There are mistakes we have to clean up. I’m never satisfied, though. If you show me a game that was flawless, I guarantee we can find holes.”

Coach Gbunblee was thankful that the Warriors got to play their first game at home this season. Gbunblee felt the gravity of the event after walking the field prior to the game.

“As an assistant, I walked the field at the beginning of the game. I did it as a player, and I do it as a coach. Before this game, I centered my thoughts before speaking to the kids while walking the field. I took in the home stadium. It was a blessing to play our first game at that stadium,” said Gbunblee. “The Hill is a special place to me. Taking it all in, it was incredibly special for me. At the same time, I don’t really smell the roses too much. My mind is always running. This is a special moment, but I am also thinking whether they are coming out in a three-front or a four-front. I wish I could turn it off sometimes.”

Coach Gbunblee is excited to watch what the Warriors can do this year. He believes that this win is the first a many to come, which may also include some postseason success as well. Gbunblee believes in his student-athletes, and he called on the tri-town area to come take notice before they miss the fireworks this season.

“Our kids are just completely dedicated, and you can see the passion that they have for this game. The turnout has been tremendous and we’ve already seen just how much they jell and how quickly have come together,” said Gbunblee. “If you’re not bought in to what these kids are doing, you’re really going to miss a show. We have something special going on.”

2021 Valley-Old Lyme Football Schedule

Home games at Valley Regional High School unless otherwise noted

Sept. 10: Valley-Old Lyme 28, North Branford 7

Saturday, Sept. 18: at Coginchaug/Hale-Ray/East Hampton at Coginchaug High School at 1 p.m.

Friday, Oct. 1: at Morgan at Peters Complex at 6:30 p.m.

Saturday, Oct. 9: vs. Cromwell-Portland at Lyme-Old Lyme at 1 p.m.

Saturday, Oct. 23: at CREC Co-op at Civic Leadership High School at 11 a.m.

Friday, Oct. 29: vs. Stafford-East Windsor-Somers at 6:30 p.m.

Friday, Nov. 5: vs. Granby-Canton at 6:30 p.m.

Saturday, Nov. 13: at Old Saybrook-Westbrook at Old Saybrook High School at 11 a.m.

Thursday, Nov. 18: at Rockville at 6:30 p.m.

Tuesday, Nov. 23: vs. Haddam-Killingworth at 6:30 p.m.



Chris Negrini is the Assistant Sports Editor for Zip06. Email Chris at c.negrini@shorepublishing.com.

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