Storm pull out last-minute win

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BENNINGTON — The Southern Vermont Storm have a flare for the dramatic.

Back in October, they used an improbable Hail Mary pass to secure a Maritime Conference championship and a magical end to the season.

Nine months later, the magic returned.

Down by a point with less than a minute to go against the rival Vermont Ravens in a rematch of last year's title game, Storm quarterback Will Cole found Jordan James down the sidelines. James outran his defender to score a 63-yard touchdown to secure the game. After a failed two-point conversion, the Storm won 26-21 to start the season on a winning note.

James, who had three receptions for 121 yards and two touchdown catches, reveled in that moment.

"That's what you play for," James said. "That's the moment you want. Late in the game, you get an opportunity and you take advantage of it. We rallied together and everyone did awesome. You can't ask for more as a team."

There's a chance the Storm wouldn't have even found themselves in that situation if it wasn't for a gutsy call made on their previous touchdown. After Cole found Kristopher Briggs for a 22-yard touchdown pass to cut the Ravens' lead to one, Storm coach Kevin Coon made the call to go for the two-point conversion and possibly the win. That call didn't work out, but on the ensuing kickoff, the Storm recovered their own onside kick to set up the final drive.

When asked if he regretted the decision of going for the two, Coon's message was clear.

"With the game on the line, I trust my quarterback and I trust my offense to put it in," Coon said. "I would not take that back. I stand by it. It blew up in our face, but our guys never gave up. They showed grit. We needed a miracle again and we got it again."

When the Storm and the Ravens meet up, it's almost a guarantee that fans are in for a tight contest and one that is filled with emotion.

That was clear from the opening introductions when the Storm played audio of last season's final play and it continued until the final whistle.

The first half got started with the Ravens grabbing control early. The Ravens found some early success on the ground and used it to grab the lead. On the fifth play of their first drive, running back Akeem Williams got loose around the corner of the defense and jetted to the endzone for a 30-yard score.

That early blemish must have flipped a switch for the Storm because they started locking in defensively soon after.

Other than a few plays here and there, the Ravens struggled to crack the Storm defense. After the early score, the Ravens failed to get into the redzone the rest of the half.

Much like it did in their championship matchup last fall, it took a while for the Storm's offense to kick into gear. They eventually grabbed a touchdown late in the half to knot the score at seven heading to the break.

The late first half momentum carried over for the Storm as they scored again on their first drive of the second half. That would be the last score they would get until late in the game.

A pair of touchdown passes from Ravens quarterback Clayton Torres to Jeric Tyler put the Ravens in the driver's seat late, before the final two Storm scores.

Though the Storm committed too many penalties and couldn't stop the Ravens at moments in the game, they still came up with key plays when they needed them late. Whether it was the onside kick recovery or the interception by James when the Ravens were driving, among other plays, the Storm stepped up in those key moments.

Cole was impressive under center. He threw for 329 yards and had four touchdown passes, along with 45 yards on the ground. Alex Hansen was solid on the ground with 64 yards rushing on 14 attempts. Michael Waters was Cole's favorite target, leading the team with four receptions. His 91 yards receiving only trailed James for the team lead.

The Storm credit themselves as being a resilient bunch and games like Saturday's hammer home that point.

"That's what this team is going to be about," Coon said. "I told our guys in the huddle after the game that if they battle adversity like this every week, we're going to win another championship because nothing can stop us."

The Storm return to action next Saturday at 6:30 p.m. at Alumni Field in Keene, N.H.,against the Monadnock Marauders. The Marauders had a bye week this week, so that will be their first game. Their next game at Storm Stadium is August 4 against the Twin City Riot.     

Adam Aucoin can be reached at aaucoin@benningtonbanner.com and followed at @AAucoin_Banner on Twitter.


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