Opening Statement

Plainfield — Fellow coaches, self-appointed pundits and various zealots of the sport are going to see the score — New London 77, Plainfield 6 — and think two things of Jack Cochran's return to his alma mater:

Ol' Jack's back to his old tricks running up the score on some hapless foe.

And, geez, it didn't take ol' Jack long to get that New London High School football program turned around.

The thing is, though, neither assumption is accurate, although there is a glimmer of future truth in the latter.

The Whalers showed flashes of being able to blend speed and power into a demoralizing defense, which was largely responsible for their 51-point outburst in the second quarter.

But Cochran, who had his starters out after the first series of the second half and took a knee instead of going for the conversion on the final touchdown, is a long way from proclaiming this team is where it needs to be on Week 1 to give him state title No. 8.

“Not even close,” said Cochran, who previously coached state powerhouses at Bloomfield and New Britain before taking the New London job this season.

“We've got an incredible amount of work to do.”

That's why he pulled quarterback Sam Jones aside after Jones elected a throw a 10-yard pass to the inside receiver instead of tossing the fade to the outside. Never mind that Jones' target, David Reed, took the pass 58 yards for the touchdown.

“He expects us to be perfect,” Jones said.

Perfect the Whalers were not in the first quarter, as passes sailed over their intended targets and a touchdown was nullified by a penalty.

But Cochran's confidence never wavered.

Fourth-and-11 from New London's own 31 less than two minutes into the game? Run the sweep.

Steven Burrows turned the corner for a 15-yard pickup and the first down in a drive that eventually resulted in the game's first score — a 45-yard pitch-and-catch from Jones to Reed.

“I believe a lot in our defense,” Cochran said. “I felt it was a statement early. Take a shot. Put our backs against the wall. I believed our defense would bail us out if it was a bad call.”

It was that defense that accounted for three second-quarter touchdowns on two fumble returns and an interception. Another fumble recovery gave the Whalers the ball deep in Plainfield territory that was immediately converted into a touchdown.

In an attempt to counter Plainfield's offensive explosiveness, Cochran implemented a defensive scheme that relied on quick recognition and pressure.

All he asked of his players was to make split-second reads.

“We just studied all week and practiced hard and came out here and did what we had to do,” said linebacker Richie Vitale, who had more trouble getting out of his shoulder pads and jersey after the game than he did getting through the Panthers' line. The 5-foot-7, 150-pound Vitale had a fumble recovery and shared two sacks.

Defensive end Tyson Bland-Allen caused the first turnover when he slammed into Plainfield quarterback Nathan Lewis on the first play of the second quarter. Reed picked up the ball and took it the final seven yards to give New London the 13-6 lead.

From there it was a matter of repetition by the New London defense:

• There were just two plays by the Panthers before a fumbled snap gave the Whalers the ball back on the 17. Two passes later, it was Jones to Jerome Hudson for a touchdown.

• The next Plainfield possession was cut short after two plays when Austin disrupted a lateral behind the line of scrimmage and Reed picked it up and raced 21 yards for the touchdown.

• Austin took the ball away from a Plainfield running back on a bobbled handoff and broke two tackles on his way to a touchdown.

• Reed returned an interception 33 yards for the fourth of his five touchdowns.

And just like that, despite the Whalers running just five offensive plays in the second quarter, a relatively competitive 7-6 game was turned into a 58-6 rout before the coaches could even belt out their halftime speeches.

“We made mistake after mistake after mistake,” Plainfield coach Patrick Smith said. “They put nine men in the box. We couldn't pass. We couldn't run.

“The responsibility is on me. Apparently they weren't ready to play. ... Hats off to Jack. He's got them ready.”
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