Coming off a second-place Class B West finish in 2007 and the departure of more than 20 seniors, the Vernon-Verona-Sherrill football team would welcome any indication that this 2008 season, even with a large new cast, could be just as successful.
The Red Devils found an answer on the road last Friday afternoon when it ventured to Phoenix and used solid play on both sides of the ball to beat the Firebirds 21-7.
In this non-league encounter played in 90-degree heat (fitting, given that the Red Devils were playing the Firebirds), both sides would sweat plenty and get banged up, and they played on even terms for much of the first half.
VVS got on the board first, as running back Matt Richmond capped off a drive with a five-yard touchdown run in the opening period.
Still up 6-0, VVS suffered its only blemish when, in the second quarter, Phoenix's Drew Compeau scored from three yards out, then kicked the extra point to push the Firebirds into a 7-6 lead.
Phoenix had the ball again late in the half when quarterback Drew Compeau threw badly, and Luke Voelker picked it off. Quickly, Kyle Mautner drove VVS down the field and, with four seconds left in the half, found Jeremy Roden on a five-yard TD strike.
That, plus Mautner's two-point pass to Roden, gave the Red Devils a 14-7 halftime edge. As the game wore on, both teams saw the energy level sag in temperatures hotter than they had faced in any practice session during August.
Yet VVS would step up on defense, holding Phoenix to minus-12 yards in the third quarter. It also got a bit more cushion when Derek Chmiliewski broke loose for a 40-yard TD run in the third quarter, the last points of the contest.
For the game, Chmiliewski carried the ball 10 times for 99 yards, part of an effort where the Red Devils had 225 total yards, 165 of them on the ground.
VVS now has some payback in mind in this Saturday's home opener when it meets Marcellus at 2 p.m.
A season ago, Marcellus used a last-minute touchdown to beat the Red Devils 19-14 in the opening round of the Section III Class B playoffs.
VVS has not forgotten, and its defense will take dead aim at the Mustnags' highly-touted junior quarterback, Will Fiacchi. For his '08 debut, Fiacchi went 17-of-21 for 216 yards, ran for the winning TD and kicked a 30-yard field goal last Friday in the Mustangs' 23-21 season-opening win over Holland Patent.