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It was late August and the vibe was toxic within Masuk.
The Panthers struggled at an early scrimmage. Assistant coach Justin Scarpetti left the team. A number of players were upset with new coach Dave Brennan. Some parents were outraged with Brennan — David DeGirolamo told Sean Patrick Bowley of gametimect.com, "we want him out."
Things have settled down since then, and on Sunday, Masuk looked like Masuk. It scored 40 in the second quarter as it mashed former coach John Murphy and his new team, New Milford, 71-34.
"We met with the kids. We met with the parents," Brennan said. "The coaches, we're all together. We want to keep the tradition. There's a lot of pride in this community in football. … They are proud of their football, and I'm proud of (the team's) effort today."
Senior Joe DaMota said, "Look at us. Everyone is smiling. Everyone is happy. We're ready to move on."
Masuk and Murphy are likely ready to move on from one another, too. Murphy coached the Panthers the previous 16 seasons, and the two had tremendous success together. Masuk was 159-34-1 under Murphy, giving the latter the sixth best winning percentage in state history, according to the Connecticut High School Football State Record Book. The Panthers played in seven CIAC state finals and won three.
Murphy left Masuk during the offseason, and the relationship between both parties quickly sour.
"We were really pumped coming in (to this game)," DaMota said. "He's a good guy, he's a good coach, but he didn't even give us a handshake at the end of the game."
Murphy said, "I just hope we can move on, put that stuff aside, and they can just leave me be."
The Panthers tore New Milford apart in the second quarter. They ran 14 offensive plays and gained 281 yards with five touchdowns. The defense also scored on a fumble return as Masuk led 54-12 at halftime.
"We were like, 'Listen — we know their offense," DaMota said. "They run the same offense as we run. They run the same defense (we run). There's no way we can't succeed."
Malik Cummings completed 10 of 14 passes for 185 yards with three touchdowns for the Pantherm and ran 10 times for 93 yards. Robert Keene caught two touchdowns, and DaMota ran for 212 yards and scored twice.
Brennan was asked both if he could've imagined that things would change for the better, and that he team would play so well in their season debut.
"I would say it would've been a challenge to do so because, at that time, we were feeling each other out," Brennan smiled. "Lets just leave it at that.
"I'm proud of our senior leadership and how we've actually really come together. Do I think it would've happened so quickly? No."
• • • •
Let it be known that amidst all the ill will between Masuk and Murphy that Cummings sought out his former coach after the game and hugged him.
"He was the one who gave me this opportunity," Cummings told Rich Gregory of the Danbury News Times. "He taught me how to play quarterback. I wouldn't be where I am today without him. I just had to give him my respect. And I respect everything he's doing over there. They're going to be a good team. They have a great program and great coaches. I'm rooting for them."
• • • •
The Day Top 10 state' coaches poll is scheduled to make its season debut today (fingers crossed), and already it looks awesome — the first four ballots sent in each had a different No. 1 team.
The plan is to announce the Top 10 on tonight's WFSB-3 Eyewitness News at 6. It will also be published in Tuesday's paper.
There's also a plan for a sizable blog on Tuesday. Polecat staffers have run a marathon at a sprinter's pace the last five days as they've attended six games. It's caused us to play catch-up, and there's a lot yet to be written. Or blogged. Or whatever.
Thanks for reading.
Vaya con dios….
East Lyme returned just five players with any varsity experience and lost its first four games. It's made gradual improvement and downed Woodstock Academy last Friday, 42-7, its second-straight victory.