Message received, Montville rolls into playoffs
Tanner Grove stood in the rain and delivered a sermon to his Montville High School football team following a 24-14 loss at Fitch on Oct. 1.
The message: The season wasn't over, but the Indians couldn't play that poorly anymore.
"I got on the guys about their sloppy performance and for being lethargic," Grove said. "It was really hard for me to do, but I think it was something that had to be done."
The Indians got the message. They tore through their next seven opponents and earned the second seed in tonight's CIAC Class S quarterfinals.
Montville (9-1) will play host to No. 7 Cromwell (7-3) at 6:30 p.m.
The Fitch loss was startling for many reasons. The Indians had finally beaten nemesis New London, 21-19, two weeks prior and looked like a serious state-title contender.
Montville turned it over twice deep in its territory in the first half, leading to one Falcons touchdown. Defensively, it struggled to contain quarterback Derek Baldoz. Baldoz, running the option, rushed for 86 yards and three touchdowns and completed 6 of 13 passes for 95 yards.
Grove delivered one of his more passionate speeches afterward.
"It's a very veteran group," Grove said. "Every coach would love to have a veteran team, and after the Fitch game, a hard thing to do with a veteran team is to lay into them. Seniors like Tyler (Girard-Floyd), Skyler (McNair), Cody (Bigelow), I have a great relationship with them. I don't have kids, and parents always say that they hate to reprimand them. That, 'it'll hurt me more than it hurts you.'
"I said, 'Hey, if you want a shot at redemption in the playoffs, you have to get in. Understand that with that loss, we may have to be on the road.' We didn't know at the time that three (losses) could still get you in. We kind of used that as a battle cry the rest of the year. All we talked about was that we had to win each one and can't afford any losses."
Since then, Montville has won by an average score of 47-11.
"The kids have really responded week in and week out," Grove said. "(The season) can get to be a grind, but every Friday night since then there's been a sense of urgency. We like to jump on people a little bit and then lean on the running game."
Girard-Floyd has rushed for 1,575 yards and 22 touchdowns while McNair has run for 548 yards and seven scores.
McNair, who also plays free safety, has a team-high 71 tackles. Bigelow, a linebacker, has 65 tackles, and fellow linebacker Kenny Strecker has 61 tackles.
Cromwell played itself into the playoffs after forcing six turnovers in a 30-0 win over Coginchaug of Durham on Nov. 24.
"I like their quarterback (Anthony Morales) a lot," Grove said. "They've got a slot wide receiver (Brett Director) who they hand the ball to on jet sweep or throw bubble screens to him. (Running back) Josiah Simmons is a pretty good player, too."
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