The end of a season, the start of a team

A last-second touchdown, followed by a scoreless second half, led to a Southwestern Connecticut championship trophy while, for the first time this year, the club football team did not find their way into the end zone. Strong defensive efforts by both teams contributed to the soccerlike final score of 6-2, while offense seemed lackluster and ineffective. It was early in the first half when UVM decorated the scoreboard with a pair of points coming off of a safety. The rest of the half remained a clash of the defenses, with Southwestern’s only points coming from a snap that occurred with only seconds left and a hail mary pass finding the end zone with zero seconds left on the clock. UVM regained momentum by stopping a two-point conversion attempt before the half. The second half saw only fourth downs and punts, as both teams proved why they belong in the top three nationally. It was not until UVM’s final drive in the last minutes of the fourth that head coach TJ Sawyer fell back onto his passing game — yet it was a little too late. Sophomore wide receiver Jake Bielecki caught a Jack Leclerc pass as UVM made their way down the field, the Leclerc-Bielecki combo racking up more than 50 yards on the drive. From there, Southwestern’s defense took over, triple-covering Bielecki and allowing no further passes inside the red zone. The final seconds ticked away after a Southwestern knee as they defended their spot as Yankee Collegiate Football Conference champions for the second year in a row. The loss marks UVM’s only defeat this season as well as the last game for seven seniors. One of the most notable losses will be team captain senior Chad Foley. He has fond memories of his time with this more-than-extracurricular activity. “No one joins the club to just have something extracurricular to do in the fall,” Foley said. “We all join to compete, get better, develop the program, and win football games.” And that’s just what they’ve succeeded in doing. This season marked the best for UVM club football as it powered through an undefeated regular season and gained the nation’s top spot. After three years with the team, another senior captain, Shane Bluto, has also noticed this improvement, citing the coaches as a large influence. “Our coaches all put an emphasis on playing well together and working together as a team,” Bluto said. “They arranged events where we could see each other outside of practice and just hang out as a team, which really helped in working together.” He feels as though it is less of a team full of great football players and more of a group of friends who just happen to be great football players. “Playing for this team for three years now, I feel as though this is the first time that the team really just seems like a bunch of friends flying around and making plays on the football team,” Bluto said. “We all love our teammates.” Another senior, Nate Dolan, who transferred from the Division II football program at Saint Anslem to play for UVM, termed his transition as different, but “a good different.” “Playing on the UVM team didn’t consume my whole life, like it did at Saint A’s, but we still managed to have good practices and that translated when it came to games,” Dolan said. Dolan said he had a lot of fun playing for UVM and that the players and coaches were great, adding, “I wish I had another year left to play.” Bluto echoed Dolan’s sentiments, adding his comfort with the team he has to leave behind. “I feel as though the base of underclassmen on our team is great,” Bluto said. “They are great guys, and players, who are really going to bring this team places that I don’t think club founder Doug Deluca could ever imagine.” That’s what it’s all about for these guys. Making plays and winning games are great, but what’s more important to these players is growing and developing — growing as a team and program, but also as people. The beauty of club sports is the ability to just have fun. Coincidentally, UVM happens to dominate the field as well, but they are happy to be having fun in the process. “My three years of playing for this team have been more than I ever could have imagined,” Bluto said. “I am infinitely grateful for the opportunity that I had to continue playing the game that I love.”