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Southington learned quickly what it's capable of this season.
The Blue Knights opened Friday at rival Glastonbury, perhaps the toughest game on their regular season schedule. They did so having graduated over half of their starters, meaning that all the noobs were going to get a trial by fire.
Tyler Hyde, Southington's new starting running back, scored on a 57-yard run with over five minutes left to give his team a 16-9, come-from-behind win.
"We have a lot of underclassmen, a lot of really good juniors that are filling in the roles that were left empty by the seniors who graduated last year," Blue Knights senior Stephen Barmore said. "I think we did a great job of digging down today."
Southington and the Tomahawks played twice last season. The Blue Knights won the regular-season meeting. Glastonbury beat them in the CIAC Class LL quarterfinals. They were the two superpowers of the Central Connecticut Conference's Division I, and it's a bit unusual that two conference superpowers started the year against one another.
"I definitely like our schedule a lot more than last year's," Barmore said. "Get all the big tests in early and see what we're made of, instead of last year when we really weren't tested until Week 6 when we played these guys. So it's nice to get these big tests early. It really gets you geared up for the season."
The Blue Knights played terrific defensively against Glastonbury. They allowed only 26 yards rushing and didn't allow a big play until late in the fourth quarter.
Seniors Zachary Maxwell (defensive end) and Zachary Jamele (linebacker) were especially disruptive. They also combined on a safety on the first offensive play of the second half.
"Jamele is a rock in the middle," Southington coach Mike Drury said. "He makes a ton of plays. He's so quick and athletic and strong. And Zach Maxwell, anybody would be hard pressed to really contain him throughout an entire game."
Barmore said: "They're both unbelievable players. Maxwell was all-state last year, and Jamele, I think, will be all-state this year."
Southington led the entire game until the Tomahawks finally broke a big play. Anthony Anismov caught a pass over the middle from Jalen Ollie, had three defenders crash into him, bounced off of them, and ran for a 71-yard touchdown. It gave Glastonbury its first lead of the game, 9-8, with 5 minutes, 57 seconds remaining in the game.
The Blue Knights regained the lead 53 seconds later. The offensive line, featuring three new starters, cleared a hole for Hyde, who raced for his touchdown.
The Blue Knights hadn't scored a touchdown up to that point of the game.
"Our offense is certainly a work in progress, as you saw today," Barmore said, "but I'm extremely confident that we have a ton of weapons. And I think that we're going to be a very potent offense by the end of the season."
Barmore threw a pass to Jason Rose for the two-point conversion and a 16-9 lead.
Glastonbury had the ball late in the game, but Maxwell sacked Ollie to force a fumble, and Jamele recovered the ball. That allowed Southington to run out the clock.
"We like to say we don't rebuild, we reload," Drury said. "The guys stepped up and filled their roles and played a great game."
• • • •
New London had a good start to its season Saturday as it beat Plainfield, 45-18, at the Coast Guard Academy.
Things will get even better in the coming weeks for the Whalers as running backs Orrin Parke, Rashan Young and Devon Sousa will become available. Parke dislocated a finger during the preseason, Sousa is banged up, and Young, a Ledyard transfer, will become eligible.
"Thank God this week we get Orrin Parke back, which is huge," New London coach Duane Maranda said after Saturday's game. "Within the next week-and-a-half, we get our three running backs back. But my hat goes off to Jacob Epps, Dante Alston and Nico Ramos for going back there and getting the job done."
Another bit of good news for the Whalers is that they might be playing home games at Cannamela Field soon. The field is missing a press box and bleachers after the latter was torn down to put up new ones.
"The past two weeks they've (construction workers) made a lot of headway," Maranda said. "I'd say they're probably 60-to-65 percent done. I think they're going to be able to finish them, at least to the point where we're going to able to use them for Oct. 4 (against Ledyard game)."
Maranda added that the team is holding a fundraiser and selling seat cushions.
• • • •
Greenwich pulled off quite a trick on Sunday — it scored just one offensive touchdown, yet still shocked West Haven with a last second, 22-21 win.
Cardinals' linebacker Kendrick Pozo scored on a 20-yard fumble return to give his team a 7-0 lead on Thursday, the day the game began. West Haven regained the lead, 13-7, when thunderstorms postponed the game in the third quarter.
Special teams gave Greenwich its second touchdown when the game resumed Sunday. They blocked a West Haven field goal, and Austin Longi picked up the ball and ran for an 95-yard touchdown. It gave his team a 14-13 lead.
The Blue Devils regained the lead, 21-14, and had the ball with 2:35 left in the game. Head coach Ed McCarthy elected to take a safety as his team had fourth-and-goal at their own 1-yard line.
McCarthy's gamble didn't work out as it began unraveling when Longi returned the punt to the West Haven 36.
Quarterback Jose Melo ran for two yards on fourth-and-one. He followed with a 24-yard pass to Longi to put the ball at the Westies 1.
Longi ran for the game-winning on the next play with 31.5 seconds left.
"That was one of the best games I've ever been involved in," Greenwich coach Rich Albonizio told David Fierro of Hearst Inc. "I'm proud of the way our character came out at the end of the game."
• • • •
Derby set the bar high on Friday for the most gonzo comeback of the season.
Who are we kidding — no one is going top the Red Raiders' improbable rally in their 49-45 win over St. Paul of Bristol. They trailed by 18 points with over eight minutes left, and Michael Kreiger's 6-yard run with 40 seconds left concluded their insane comeback.
Yep. An 18-point deficit. Twenty-two unanswered fourth-quarter points. Last-second win.
Derby's Ricky Bartone ran for a 1-yard touchdown to cut the Falcons' lead to 45-27 with 8:13 left. Michael Kreiger followed with an 11-yard touchdown to Tyler Dobek. Kreiger's conversion pass to Sal Frosceno made it 45-42.
The Red Raiders' recovered the onside kick, setting up Kreiger's game-winning run.
Brian Eliasson intercepted Marchi to ice the win for Derby.
GameTimeCt.com overlord Sean Patrick Starfish taped the final minutes of Derby's game-winning drive, made even better by the esteemed George DeMaio going berserk calling the game for WELI.
• • • •
MORE wacky comebacks — the Windsor Locks/Suffield/East Granby tri-op edged Coventry/Windham Tech/Bolton, 34-33, after falling behind 19-0.
Jarvis Miller ran 16 times for 320 yards and four touchdowns for the Raiders. That included a game-winning 35-yard run with less than two minutes left in the game.
(Theoretically, Miller would've run for 640 yards had he carried it 32 times.)
The Patriots almost won as Devan Valdes returned the ensuing kickoff for an 86-yard touchdown with 1:19 left. WL/S/EG stopped Vinny Marciano on the two-point conversion, and Jake Marconi recovered the onside kick to ice the game.
• • • •
Newsome ran for three touchdowns during the Chargers' 52-7 beat-down of Torrington on Friday. He has 758 points, passing former Ansonia great Alex Thomas (747).
Newsome ran 10 times for 183 yards in Friday's win — all in the first 11 minutes. He needs another 1,292 yards rushing to pass Thomas for the state career rushing record. Thomas ran for 8,279 yards from 2004-07.
Newsome already holds the state records for most yards rushing in a season (3,763 in 2011), most touchdowns in a season (62, also in 2001), and most career touchdowns (122).
• • • •
Xavier received just four first-place votes in The Day of New London state coaches' football poll, yet it begins the season as the No. 1 team.
The Falcons were among the five teams that received at least one of the 13 first-place votes. They've won a state-record three successive CIAC Class LL titles and Wednesday's 30-22 win over Staples of Westport was their 39th victory in their last 40 games.
Ansonia, the defending Class S champion, is second. It also received four first-place votes.
Xavier earned the top spot because it had more points than the Chargers (364-352). Seven coaches voted Xavier second, whereas just one voted the Chargers second. Most voters (six) picked Ansonia third.
We're guessing the Falcons finished ahead of Ansonia in the voting because of league affiliation. Xavier plays in the Southern Connecticut Conference, which won three of the CIAC's four state titles last season (and nine out of a possible 17 over the past four seasons).
The Chargers, fair or not, always get knocked for playing in the generally derided Naugatuck Valley League. The league has won 30 CIAC state titles, however Ansonia accounts for over half (18).
Woodland (2004-05, Class SS), Holy Cross (2006, SS, and 2011, Class S), and Seymour (2007, Class SS) are the only other NVL schools to win a state title this millennium.
(We're still amazed the NVL took Derby in when the latter was trying to get out of the SCC. The Red Raiders publicly insisted that they could turn around their losing program by leaving the SCC and jumping to the NVL. It wasn't a positive sell by Derby to get into the NVL, but, hey, it still got in.)
BACK ON POINT — No. 3 New Canaan and No. 4 Norwich Free Academy each received two first-place votes in the state coaches poll. St. Joseph of Trumbull was fifth.
Sixth-ranked Greenwich received the other first-place vote. Southington, Middletown, Windsor and West Haven round out the Top 10.
Shocked that Newtown didn't make the Top 10. The defending SWC champions return nine on offense and five on defense. They beat Pomperaug on Friday, 26-7.
• • • •
The top two teams flip-flopped in the New Haven Register Top 10 media poll as Ansonia supplanted Xavier as No. 1.
Ansonia picked up one first-place vote and had 14. The Falcons lost two and had 12.
No. 3 New Canaan gained two firsts while Hand lost both of its. No. 4 NFA also lost its one first-place vote.
The rest of the Register Top 10: 5. Middletown, 6. Southington, 7. St. Joseph, 8. Newtown, 9. Greenwich and 10. Masuk-Monroe.
Ned Freeman's computer ratings for CalPreps.com and MaxPreps.com: 1. Ansonia; 2. Xavier; 3. New Canaan; 4. Southington; 5. Staples; 6. NFA; 7. Hand; 8. Masuk; 9. North Haven; 10. Windsor. It takes a few weeks for the algorithm to start figuring things out (much like the voters), but once it does, it's scary accurate.
• • • •
Wolcott has a tough game ahead of it this week against Naugatuck, and it's waiting to find out if head coach Jason Pace will be part of it.
The Eagles beat Sacred Heart of Waterbury on Friday, 62-6, a violation of the CIAC's score management policy. The CIAC can suspend a coach one game should his team win by more than 50 points, but only two have ever been punished since the rule was implemented in 2006.
It's safe to assume that Pace will be cleared. Sacred Heart athletic director Jon Carroll told Mark Jaffe of the Waterbury Republican-American, "My coaching staff felt that there were attempts to keep the reins on the game. From our perspective, the score was fairly lopsided at halftime (47-6) and both teams put the JVs in and the score was what it was."
The Rep-Am reported Monday that the CIAC was still waiting for a report from game referee Sean O'Brien.
It looked as if the 51-point rule would be repealed by the CIAC's football committee for the 2012 season, but New Canaan coach Lou Marinelli swayed his fellow committee members with a passionate defense of the rule.
Marinelli has had to manage the score a few times to avoid breaking the rule. The Rams led Hand of Madison on Wednesday, 50-7, early in the fourth quarter.
• • • •
They do things a little differently at New Canaan.
For starters, Dunning Field has a swank $80,000 digital scoreboard capable of showing video (it was paid for via fundraisers).
A Rams' volunteer tracks stats on an iPhone, which is linked with a computer that updates game information in real time on the team's website.
After Marinelli's postgame talk to his players after Wednesday's win, Marinelli remembered to tell his players that they had yoga the next day. Reckon one doesn't hear that after most state games.
One final thing New Canaan does is hold up giant placards with four pictures on each side to call plays so that the team can run its no-huddle, fastbreak offense. The system has been used by others and was made popular by Oregon under former coach Chip Kelly, but the Rams' choice of photos was worth a laugh.
Among the photos — Martha Stewart, a stick figure, Oreos, the Hulk, and our personal favorite — Roy Scheider in "Jaws" throwing chum into the ocean as the Great White surfaces behind him.
"The God's honest truth, the kids make it up," Marinelli said of the pictures. "The kids know what it is. Half of the time I don't know what it is. I got to ask my son, 'Johnny, what is that? Oh, OK.'"
We dearly hope the "Jaws" photo is a play call for a jumbo package with 6-foot-5, 244-pound defensive lineman Connor Buck lining up at tailback.
• • • •
Hand coach Steve Filippone wasn't bothered as much with the score of Wednesday's game as he was with his team.
"It was a tremendous disappointment," Filippone said. "This team brings back five players (who started) from last year's team, and we're two-platooning, so we had 19 kids playing in their first varsity game. So the score is irrelevant.
"The effort, the courage, the willingness to stick your nose in a take a hit, give a hit, we didn't do that. Part of that is youth. You have to play in the game. You have to be in the battle. Practice doesn't do it for you. God knows our scrimmages didn't do it for us. We killed everybody we scrimmaged, but it's going to take time. If we give them time and we bring them along, by midseason we can be competitive. The teams we have in the second half of the season, if we're not competitive by then, then this is going to be a very common thing for us."
Starting from Oct. 18, the Tigers play at Fairfield Prep, at Shelton, Xavier, at West Haven, and Notre Dame of West Haven.
• • • •
Masuk of Monroe earned itself a spot in the Connecticut High School Football State Record Book when it scored 40 in the second quarter of Sunday's 71-34 ransacking of New Milford. That tied Torrington for the fifth-most points scored in a quarter (Torrington scored 40 during its 80-39 rout of St. Paul of Bristol on Oct. 7, 2011).
New London holds the record with 50 second-quarter points while drilling Plainfield, 77-6, in its Sept. 17, 2005 season-opener.
Back to Masuk v. New Milford — the 105 points ties the game for 17th for the most combined points in a game in the modern era (post-1930), according to the Record Book.
The modern-day record is 120 points, set on Nov. 5, 2010 when Guilford beat Law of Milford, 67-53.
The 1902 NFA team holds the pre-1930 record when it beat Bulkeley-New London, 130-0.
• • • •
Should you be tired of hearing about the SCC, take heart — the FCIAC edged it, 9-8, in the Week 1 SCC-FCIAC Challenge. Should you be an SCC fan, take heart — there are still some FCIAC v. SCC games left to be played. …. So when did holding mattress fundraisers become a thing? New Milford will be conducting one, and head coach John Murphy said that the one run last season when he was at Masuk brought in a nice haul. … ATTENTION AD AND COACHES — please update your rosters at ciacsports.com. Too many of you don't provide rosters anymore, so Matt Fischer built a beautiful website that takes care of this issue. Instead, too many of you have not taken the time to input your rosters. Some of you inputted names without numbers, which is dumb. Why bother putting in a halfhearted effort when not doing it at all would've been easier? You want us to promote your athletes, and we'd like to do it, but it's hard to write stories or run photos when we can't get names. Or the numbers have been changed but not updated on the roster. Okay, end rant.
Vaya con dios…