Ryan Forbes has delivered standout defensive performances this season for the Essex High School football team. One, of note, was a three-interception effort in a win against Champlain Valley.
So when Forbes had a few drops, including a potential interception, in the victory at South Burlington last week, coach Charlie Burnett’s confidence didn’t waver in the 6-foot-2, 202-pound linebacker and tight end.
“I told him this week in practice, ‘I believe in you and no amount of dropped passes here or there are going to change my mind. You are going to make plays,'” Burnett said.
And Forbes took those words to heart — and then seized the momentum in Friday’s Division I quarterfinal matchup with Colchester.
Stepping in front of a Bobby Brigante screen pass, Forbes returned the interception 38 yards for a game-changing play in the second quarter, helping the No. 3 Hornets roll to a 35-7 victory over the Lakers.
“(Forbes) came out and was the player he was meant to be tonight. Every coach knows defensive points suck the wind out of the sails of the other team,” said Burnett of a turnover that doubled Essex’s lead to 14-0 with 3:28 left in the half. “It’s an awfully hard thing to come back from in that kind of deal. That’s a huge turnaround.”
Forbes also shined on the offensive side of the ball, snagging four catches for 77 yards and a touchdown while Joey Picard connected on all 10 of his second-half passes and finished with 165 yards and four TDs, and the Hornets advanced to the Division I semifinals for the first time in three years. Essex will travel to second-seeded BFA-St. Albans on Friday night.
“It’s a great feeling, probably the most fun I’ve had out here all year,” said Forbes of his effort.
Picard wasn’t surprised to see Forbes make an impact on the game’s outcome.
“He’s just an animal out there. He’s got mitts the size of a baseball glove,” said Picard, who connected on 16 of his 21 passes. “He definitely been a big highlight for us this season.”
On its opening drive, Colchester moved the ball inside the Essex 10-yard line. But the Hornets’ defense stiffened, stuffing Brigante on a fourth-down run. On its ensuing possession, Essex went 13 plays and 95 yards for a touchdown, with Picard tossing a 19-yard TD pass to James Olsen.
Forbes’ INT return gave Essex a 14-0 lead at the half, an advantage the Hornets extended on their first drive after intermission. Picard and Olsen hooked up again, this one on a 14-yard TD after a 11-play, 64-yard drive. Down 21-0, the Lakers tried a fake punt that failed inside Essex territory.
Again, Forbes went to work, catching back-to-back 28-yard strikes over the middle from Picard, the latter for a touchdown and a 28-0 lead with 4:12 left in the third quarter. Picard found Willie McSoley for his fourth TD pass and 10 straight completion late in the fourth quarter to cap an offensive attack that also rolled up 178 yards on the ground. Tyler Warren powered the Essex backs with 92 yards.
“It started on Monday. We knew that the regular season was over and that the new season was about to begin,” Picard said. “We really stepped up, pushing each other and doing anything we can to make sure we had the best week of practice.”
Bobby Brigante had a fourth-quarter rushing touchdown for a Colchester squad that had to adjust without fullback Dylan Meekins, who missed the second half with a knee injury.
“He’s our heart and soul. He’s not just a good player, he’s the emotional leader of this team,” said Perry of Meekins. “I thought we prepared for them and schemed well in what we wanted to do. It worked early, but they had some kids who made some plays.”