Montville — A few Montville seniors lingered on the field Tuesday night, ignoring the steady, cold rain while soaking in a convincing victory in their final high school football game.
Brandon Johnson fought back tears.
"I don't want to leave right now," Johnson said. "I'm probably going to stay for another hour or so … I'm going to miss everybody here. They're like my brothers."
Johnson, along with fellow seniors Kenny Strecker and Anthony Clang, combined for all six touchdowns in a 43-0 rout of St. Bernard/Norwich Tech in the annual game between the cross-town rivals.
Running behind a physical front line that opened up gaping holes, Strecker, the game's most valuable player, rushed for 230 yards and three touchdowns on 15 carries - all in the first half.
The Indians (6-4) simply overpowered the Saints (3-7), bolting to a 36-0 halftime lead. They earned bragging rights until next year's meeting.
"It means a lot because it's an in-town rivalry," Strecker said. "We grew up with these kids and we're friends with these kids. But if we lost this game, I could never, ever talk to these kids again."
The competitive intensity boiled over at times, leading to a few skirmishes, one in the first quarter that resulted in two ejections - one for each team. Both coaching staffs came onto the field to break up the scuffle.
"Both teams are a bunch of really competitive, hard-working kids," Montville coach Tanner Grove said. "A lot of them know this is the last opportunity that they're going to get to play, so early there's going to be some of that stuff.
"(St. Bernard) coach (Scott) Cook and I told the kids just play the game."
Montville seized control from the first possession, marching right down the field covering 65 yards in six plays. Strecker powered in from six yards out for a quick lead. He scored again on the next possession, going in from two yards out.
It was Johnson's turn next. On the first play of the second quarter, he caught a short pass from quarterback Nick Clemons, dodged defenders and pranced into the end zone to complete the 28-yard touchdown play.
The Saints almost found the end zone on the next series. Quarterback Phillip Jenkins hooked up with Sean Hurley for a 70-yard pass play. But, two plays later, Jenkins fumbled the ball away at the Montville 6.
Montville cashed in, as Johnson capped a 94-yard scoring drive with a 13-yard touchdown run. The Indians faked the conversion attempt and Clemons passed to senior Tecumseh Champlain for two points and a 29-0 lead.
Strecker's 19-yard touchdown run finished off the first half scoring. Clang scored the only touchdown in the second half on a 3-yard run.
Montville's aggressive defense was relentless, blitzing on number occasions to help keep the Saints scoreless.
The victory was a consolation prize for the Indians who came into the season with playoff hopes but were hampered by injuries.
"Our goal and objective in the program is to play in December," Grove said. "That will not change. To go out with this group here that faced so much adversity throughout the season with a win this week is real special. They deserved it and earned it."
The Saints also are looking ahead to better days. Cook, a first-year coach, is rebuilding the program. A former Montville coach, he was on the opposite sideline of his brother Jim, a Montville assistant.
"It wasn't a pretty homecoming," Scott Cook said. "Montville is a good team, and I knew that coming in. They've got a lot of seniors on the team, and we're young. I'm not going to make excuses. We got our butts handed to us.
"… The story of the year is, we're just not there yet. We're trying to bring the tradition St. Bernard used to have, but it's just hard when we don't get the athletes that we should be getting."