ESSEXâ€“As the buzzer sounded signaling the end of the Division II Northern Vermont Youth Football League title game, the cheers erupted from the stands, the bench, and the field, as the North Country Junior Falcons defeated the Winooski Spartans, becoming champions once again.
The team that began the year with an 0-2 record rebounded beautifully, taking ownership of their season and rolling their way through the competition to get the championship game and become the kings of Division II.
"We started out kind of rough, losing our first two games," said coach Paul Gariepy, who after nine years of coaching won his first championship in his first ever victory over Winooski.
It is also Paul's first year with the 7/8th grade team after working with the younger kids, and he and his staff ironed out the early kinks and got the team on track.
"We knew we had work to do to blend this unit into game shape.
"After the second game the units blended together and we started working as a team and haven't lost since. We won eight straight and it's been an exceptional year."
The last time the Falcons hoisted the trophy, the roster featured names like Tre Sanville, Nick LeClair, Bubba Collins and Jacob Buckles.
This year's crew was a blend of speed and size, and they matched up terrifically against the Winooski Spartans.
Said Gariepy, "We had an outstanding performance from our offense, our defense and our special teams. Having a total team involvement pushed us to this level and it is all about those kids. They worked hard, deserved this win, and now they are reaping the rewards."
The players were also pleased with how Gariepy's staff worked and encouraged them all season.
"They are good coaches," said Austin Lamoureux. "They talked a lot about sportsmanship, gave pep talks, and were always on their game."
The Falcons had a lot of players with standout efforts on Saturday.
On defense, while the group as a whole was pretty impressive, Rian Hayman-Jones, Lamoureux and Aidan Hogan were especially effective, either in pass defense, or with a big stop in third and fourth down situations.
"Aidan Hogan came through with a big effort for us. He had some blitzes right through the scrimmage line and made Winooski lose yardage. Also Austin was controlling the outside, and it was tough going against their top guy number 40 (Jack Fitzgerald)," Gariepy said when asked about his defense.
"This is awesome," said Hogan on the win.
He also spoke about what was working for him on the field.
"I was breaking through the lines, going as hard as I could and I tried my hardest.â€ť
On offense, Evan Sarault was once again calm under center, distributing the ball with a blend of hand-offs and passes, leading the team back from a 13-7 deficit at the half.
His two big weapons were names that came up all season long for the Falcons; Garrett Gile and Trey Azur.
Gile's second TD tied the game, and after the Falcons went ahead on Troy Sanville's extra point, Azur sealed the 20-13 win with his running touchdown with 1:51 left to play.
"Garrett and Trey both had a tremendous game running," said Gariepy. "Once they broke to the outside their was no stopping them, they had the speed, and they have had it all year."
Said Azur on his late touchdown, "We thought they might have had a chance to comeback, but I had a lot of confidence getting into that endzone."
North Country had one final award to receive after they game, as Lamoureux was named the team's 2012 Sportsmanship Award winner.
"It feels really good to win the Sportsmanship Award," Lamoureux said. "You need good sportsmanship and if you don't have it, you might as well not play."
A lot of the guys on the team hope that this success will follow them at the varsity level in the coming years.
"I want to go through high school and win most of the games," said Hogan.
Added Azur, "This says that our high school team is going to be strong, and that we have a good chance of winning.â€ť
While whether or not these guys can duplicate the successes that the North Country class of 2012 achieved remains to be seen, you can definitely bet that they will give it their all along the way.