Victory leads Coast Guard to a well-earned ... victory
The Day, New London, Conn.
NEW LONDON, Conn. — Derek Victory, a freshman newly named as the Coast Guard Academy quarterback, made his first start Saturday to coincide with Parents' Weekend.
"On Friday, the parents are allowed to go to class with the cadets," Coast Guard coach Bill George said. "Ray (LaForte, offensive coordinator) had just him in on Friday to go over some stuff. I looked in and his parents were in there with him for his quarterback review."
The 18-year-old Victory led the Bears to their first win of the season, too, finishing 23-for-38 for 261 yards and two touchdowns in a 37-20 defeat of Nichols in the New England Football Conference opener for both teams.
The Bears were 0-3 in their nonleague schedule and without a touchdown pass before making the move to Victory. Former quarterback Blake Thompson started at wide receiver and caught four passes for a team-high 65 yards.
In addition, sophomore strong safety Joe Rizzardi returned two interceptions for touchdowns, tying the single-season record in just one game. Both came in the first half, the second one giving the Bears a 20-13 lead with 1 minute, 28 seconds to play.
Sophomore kicker Tyler Henning added three field goals and four extra points.
"It was a team win. We had a lot of big changes, some new team dynamics," George said. "It's amazing how (well) we practiced the last few Mondays, Tuesday and Wednesdays (after losses).
"A lot of coaches say how agonizingly hard it is to win a football game. This team did that. I'm proud of them."
Victory, who is 5-foot-9, 165 pounds, said he's wanted to attend the academy since he was in middle school after hearing stories about Coast Guard life from a neighbor as a young boy. He was put on the academy's wait list and, after seven months, received word that he was in.
"This is kind of like my dream come true," Victory said. "It's awesome."
Then came Swab Summer, which was another story. As he concentrated on his military obligations, Victory had to be content with being the Bears' fourth-string quarterback.
"I was thinking more about what was in for me once I got back to the dorms," Victory said. "The thing about being fourth string is that you come to practice every day and do a lot of watching. I was learning by example."
"Derek Victory playing in his first career game, he's the real hero," Rizzardi said.
"The defense already had a foundation. He killed it out there today."
Nichols scored in two plays on its first drive, the first a 67-yard run by Grant Klimek to set up a 4-yard touchdown run by Felipe Njeim.
Coast Guard settled for a 33-yard field goal by Henning on its first possession, then got a 28-yard interception return for a touchdown by Rizzardi to make it 10-6 in the Bears' favor.
With 7:11 left in the half, Nichols capped an 18-play, 95-yard drive with a 1-yard run by Njeim to take the lead at 13-10.
Henning tied it for Coast Guard with 1:46 in the half on a 26-yard field goal and Rizzardi picked off Nichols quarterback Quillian Respass on the Bison's first play from scrimmage, returning this one 30 yards for a lead the Bears would not relinquish.
Victory then threw two 17-yard touchdowns to Collis Brown in the second half, the first of which Brown caught at about the 2-yard line and was able to walk untouched into the end zone. The second touchdown catch by Brown was a one-handed grab in the end zone that came despite a pass interference call against a defender draped all over him. That made it 34-13.
Linebacker Kyle Wood led the Bears with 15 tackles, while noseguard Nick Egersdorf had three sacks, Eli Maurer and Nick Phillips each came up with a fumble recovery and James Rizzo added an interception.
Jake Wawrzyniak was the leading rusher with 15 carries for 80 yards.
"We had some offensive spark," George said. "(Victory) did a great job. He did what he was taught. He kept his composure, his cool."