By JOEL LEHMAN
A disastrous first quarter could have cost the Bobwhites their season in a must-win Homecoming game Friday night against Essex.
Instead, BFA-St. Albans (2-3) mounted a wild comeback in front of a packed house at Collins-Perley, staying in the playoff hunt with a 41-28 win over the visiting Hornets (1-4).
Essex built a 21-0 lead in less than 12 minutes, stunning BFA and deflating the Homecoming night crowd. But Noah Rouleau ran for four touchdowns in the second half, including the go-ahead score from 10 yards out with 4:39 to go in the fourth quarter.
“We weren’t expecting them to come out as hard as they did. And it was definitely a shock to us and it kind of took us a little bit to get riled up,” said Rouleau, who accumulated 142 yards on the ground on just eight touches, including touchdown runs of 34, 57 and 20 yards.
The Hornets were led by Elliot Boutin, who was a first-half force and rushed 25 times for 145 yards in the game. He broke off a 45-yard run on his first carry, and on just the fifth play put BFA down 7-0 on a 9-yard run less than two minutes into the game.
Essex drove 62 yards in 5 ½ minutes on its next possession, capped by a score from 4 yards out by Jordan Hines. Then Liam Coulter picked off a tipped pass and two plays later the Hornets scored again, punching it in from the 10 on another Boutin run.
“It looked bleak for awhile there in the first quarter. But we didn’t fold the tent and we put together a pretty nice second half,” BFA coach Geoff Murray said.
Quarterback Mark Connor connected with Bennett Coseo on a 15-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter, and Essex fumbled at the Bobwhite 4 to prevent what would have been a deflating score right before the half.
After the halftime fireworks, Rouleau showed some explosiveness of his own. The junior running back, who was injured the week prior against Hartford, looked fully healthy Friday as he burst for a 34-yard touchdown run on BFA’s first possession of the third quarter to make it 21-13.
His 57-yard run up the right sideline less than five minutes later, plus a two-point conversion pass to Owen Cioffi, tied the game at 21 on a drive that continued only after a gutsy fourth-down conversion by Xavier Pigeon from BFA’s own 40.
Essex went back ahead on a touchdown run by Coulter, but on the first play of the fourth quarter Connor hit Coseo in stride on a 74-yard bomb down the left sideline and again the game was tied.
“We were able to kind of flip the switch there, and in the second half we got some things going,” Murray said. “Noah had some big plays there, Bennett Coseo at receiver, a big catch there. Everything kind of came together in the second half, which is nice to see.”
Inside the final eight minutes, Essex committed two costly fumbles, one on the BFA-25 recovered by Tanner Cioffi who returned it to midfield, and again on the next drive, this time at their own 30. All this after Connor narrowly averted disaster on a punt, recovering a bad snap, rolling and getting off a booming kick to switch the field with six minutes to go.
With the ball at the Essex 30, Connor hit Alec Letourneau for 17 yards, and Rouleau ran it in from 10 yards out. The running back added the insurance touchdown with 2:48 left, spinning and rolling his way through tackles on the next possession for a 20-yard scoring run after an Eddie Branon interception.
“He had some hop in his step tonight and he wasn’t going down for very much,” Murray said. “He was very aggressive, he made some nice cuts, he really pushed the numbers hard and read his blocks well.”
“We hope this is the turning point for our season,” Rouleau said. “We’ve had a little trouble, and we hope we can pick it up from here and win from here on out.”
The win puts the Bobwhites back in the playoff hunt. They’ll be tested again Saturday night on the road against a winless South Burlington squad, which Murray said is one of the biggest teams he’s seen in the state.
“Let’s face it, this was a must win. We had to win this game to get back into playoff hunt. And we did that,” Murray said.