Ravens blank Storm in NEFL playoff opener
BENNINGTON — There's an old adage in sports: It's hard to beat a team three times in the same season.
The Vermont Ravens fell twice to the Southern Vermont Storm in the New England Football League regular season, but Saturday in the opening round of the NEFL playoffs, the Ravens were determined to buck that trend.
The Ravens were the superior team from the opening kickoff and that propelled them to a 19-0 win against the rival Storm squad.
The loss ends any chance of the Storm repeating as Maritime Conference champions, as the Ravens advance to the next round.
The Storm finish the season at 6-2-1.
Neither side of the ball found their groove Saturday afternoon for the Storm and the Ravens had no problem taking advantage of that. After a first drive that ended in a fumble recovery by the Storm, the Ravens went on a long drive that took them to the end of the first quarter and well into the second frame. Slowly but surely, the Ravens wore down the Storm defense and they finished it off with an eight-yard touchdown run.
The Ravens used the running game heavily throughout the drive and throughout the game as a whole. While the Ravens used the passing game in some key spots, it was their running game that truly gave them the advantage. As a team, the Ravens rushed for 130 yards, while the Storm mustered just 34 yards on the ground.
"They didn't throw the ball many times today," said Storm general manager Chris Cipperley. "Our back end was tough, but our front end was weak today. We didn't protect the cut back lanes very well."
The Ravens went into halftime with a 7-0 lead, but built on that in the second half.
The Ravens scored their second touchdown on a three-yard run and their final touchdown on a one-yard quarterback sneak.
The second touchdown was set up from a strong pass from Ravens quarterback Clayton Torres who found a teammate along the sideline. The pass went for 40 yards and set the Ravens up in the redzone.
The Storm players and coaches weren't happy that there was no penalty flag thrown on the play, believing that the Ravens wide receiver had pushed off the Storm cornerback to make the catch.
Storm head coach Kevin Coon and assistant coach Garrett Clairmont yelled excessively at the officials and were thrown out of the game for their arguing. This added penalty put the Ravens on the three-yard line and in a perfect position to score.
Offensively, the Storm just never found any rhythm. Besides a strong drive near the end of the first half, where the Storm got into the redzone, there wasn't much to speak of for big plays from the Storm's offense.
Storm quarterback Will Cole was sacked five times and his offensive line struggled all day to keep him out of pressure. Constantly, the Ravens were in the backfield and forcing Cole to scramble. This caused a lot of incomplete passes, as Cole couldn't find open receivers on numerous plays.
"Will had no rhythm. Will is a rhythm passer," Cipperley said. "Typically, the ball is out in five seconds at the latest. It just has to be out of his hands and we just didn't get the ball in the right guy's hands at the right times. They took us out of our game and it was a hell of an effort by the Ravens."
Cole completed five passes in the first half, but was held to just one completion after the break.
In the end, deficiencies on both sides of the ball piled up for the Storm and it took them out of the game.
"It was a little bit of everything. We didn't block when guys were open and we did block when they weren't open," Cipperley said. "We never had enough flow and didn't run the ball enough today. We have a guy like Colton Dean, who can get five yards a carry and he had zero touches today. We got handled on the offensive and defensive lines and that was the game."
Despite the disappointing loss, there was a lot of good to come out of the 2018 season for the Storm. From another successful regular season to having a permanent home in Bennington, there is a lot to look back on fondly for the squad as they enter the off-season.
"We won a championship last year and some things happened in the off-season that really made us realign what we're doing," Cipperley said. "I'm really proud of where we are and we're pretty close to where we were last year. There are 23 new guys on this team and moving forward, I think we have a good nucleus."
Adam Aucoin can be reached at email@example.com and followed at @AAucoin_Banner on Twitter.
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