Champlain Valley coach Jim Provost put it succinctly to his team after the Redhawks defeated Essex 27-19 Friday night: "We'd rather win ugly than lose pretty."
The Redhawks (2-0) overcame a strange fourth down gaffe, penalties and miscues to rally for the victory, a win sealed by two Alex Bulla interceptions, the first of which produced CVU's final touchdown.
Each team had five turnovers and the Hornets suffered the most costly giveaway late in the fourth quarter. Leading 19-14, Essex snuffed out a CVU drive at the Hornets' 16 when EHS's Caleb Fontneau stripped Redhawks quarterback Andrew Pitcher of the ball with Cody Greene recovering for Essex.
Two plays later, Philip Wilson pulled in Brendan Gleason's pass but then lost the ball with CVU's Bulla recovering on the Essex 13. Two plays later, Jason Cora smashed in for his second touchdown for a 20-19 Redhawks' lead.
On the following Essex possession, Bulla picked off Gleason's pass at the Hornets' 32 and raced to the endzone for a 27-19 edge.
"It's a neat feeling," Bulla said of his TD interception. "We saw the play roll outside and got a good read on it. It was our pressure from the 'D' line that was causing the quarterback to roll out and made me able to make that catch."
Bulla then cut short the Hornets' last chance with another pick of a Gleason pass and the Redhawks ran out the clock.
"I thought we were in a great position to take control of the game. A couple of turnovers came our way there and I thought we had a chance to finish and we just didn't," said Essex coach Charlie Burnett. "(CVU) found a way to get it done when it had to.
"It's a game of swings and we didn't take care of the football. That's a little bit youth and a little the breaks of the game," Burnett said. "(Bulla) made some good plays out there ... so it's as much their success as our letdown."
Gleason ran for two Essex touchdowns, rushed 16 times for 88 yards and was 12-for-19 passing for 112 yards, one touchdown pass to Greene (17 yards) and two interceptions. He was shaken up on the second Bulla interception and limped off the field.
That touchdown gave the 0-2 Hornets a 19-14 lead and came after CVU turned the ball over on downs at their own 44.
"That's on me and I apologized to me team for that," said CVU coach Jim Provost, who said the Redhawks were waiting in anticipation of the Hornets jumping offside. When they didn't, Povost said, "I failed to call the timeout."
Playing without starting quarterback Bennett Cazayoux, CVU also lost Steele DuBrul three plays into the second quarter. "That's a huge loss offensively and defensively," said Provost, who said he did not believe the injury would keep DuBrul from next week's home opener against Burlington.
Andrew Pitcher stepped in at quarterback and went 3-for-10 for 52 yards and two interceptions.
DuBrul's departure put the bulk of the offense on Cora, who responded with 31 carries for 122 yards and two touchdowns.
"I just fought hard. I tried my best. I did everything I could do," said Cora, who said the Redhawks responded to DuBrul's absence by "just play harder."