Quinebaug Valley Pride wins ticket to state tournament

By Denise Coffey - Staff Writer
Putnam - posted Mon., Dec. 2, 2013
John Sanderson on his way to scoring the first touchdown for the Pride. Photos by D. Coffey.
John Sanderson on his way to scoring the first touchdown for the Pride. Photos by D. Coffey.

The Quinebaug Valley Pride held on to beat Killingly 14-6 in the annual Thanksgiving Day Classic football game held at KHS. Seven straight victories paved the way to the state Class M quarterfinals. This is the Pride’s first visit to the playoffs. On Tuesday, Dec. 3, they will face Valley Regional in Deep River, at 6:30 p.m.

Coach Joseph Asermelly credits his team with having the confidence that comes from hard work and the fight to work together against all obstacles. They are a close-knit group that really loves playing together, he said. “We are executing almost flawlessly and we are playing great,” Asermelly said.

They will need that resilience. As eighth seed, they face a high-scoring offense in the number-one team in a tough state match-up. Asermelly said his players are very excited and are in a great situation. “We believe in ourselves and we’ll go play football,” he said.

Overcoming last year’s 50-7 Thanksgiving Day loss, the Pride went with the strength of their running game and stout defense to beat Killingly. Asermelly named John Sanderson and Raiff Santerre his starting running backs last year when he was in his first year coaching.

Sanderson, who also plays defensive end, scored the first touchdown after a fumble recovery on the third play from scrimmage. He rushed for 121 yards on 23 carries and was named Most Outstanding Player for the Pride in their big win. The senior from Ellis Tech has gained 1,240 yards on the ground this season and scored 13 touchdowns.

Raiff Santerre, a junior from Thompson, scored 14 touchdowns on the season and carried the ball for 1,061 yards. Raiff also plays safety on defense.

Both running backs have similar styles according to Asermelly. Both feed off each other and block well for each other, exploiting the defense, he said.

Together, Sanderson and Santerre are leading their team to the state tournament, a first for the Pride. Senior quarterback Tylor Genest continues to keep the team together with his leadership and mental sharpness on the field. He manages the game well and adds versatile athleticism to the quarterback position.

First-half defensive play was highlighted by an opening series fumble recovery and score. Niko Dimopoulos recovered another fumble and the team had key interceptions by Mike Holmes and Raiff Santerre. The defense held Killingly star running back Tyler Stucke to 28 first half yards on 10 carries. A key fourth down stop and ensuing 55-yard drive was topped off by a 6-yard touchdown run by Santerre. The Pride converted for two points and brought the half time score to 14-0.

In the second half, momentum swung to the Redmen. KHS coach Chad Neal made a quarterback substitution, brought wide receivers into action, and had Tyler Stucke lead the running game. The Redmen scored one touchdown and came close to sending the game into overtime.

A surprise pooch kick by the Pride's Tyler Genest pinned Killingly deep into their own end late in the fourth quarter. The Pride held off a late scoring drive at the 2-yard line and came away with the win.

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