Reviews positive for ECC-SCC-SWC scheduling alliance


Norwich Free Academy lost a hard-fought non-conference game to Cheshire on Friday night, and NFA quarterback Shea McManaway was happy to be a part of it.

“I love playing in these kinds of games," McManaway said after a 35-29 loss to what should be one of the best teams in the Southern Connecticut Conference this season.

"The last two weeks have meant a lot to us. Playing Xavier (in Week 1) and Cheshire, now we know what our identity is. If we had played lesser teams, we might not know.”

This weekend was the first go-around of a scheduling alliance between the Eastern Connecticut Conference, South-West Conference and SCC. It was a marriage of convenience made necessary because many smaller and/or struggling teams in those leagues complained, or, in the case of the ECC, refused to play larger and/or successful schools.

Yes, Ledyard, placed in the ECC Large Division, has a smaller boys' enrollment (383) than Waterford (441) or Bacon Academy (398) of the ECC Medium, despite having a vo-ag program.

And, yes, Hamden (823) and Amity (727) are both Class LL programs with better numbers than Class L North Haven (567), but the latter was moved up to SCC Tier I this season because of its recent success, while the others remained in Tier II.

None of that matters, of course, when programs are struggling. Enrollment and logic are overruled in favor of "scheduling relief", thus the ECC's Division I schools and the SCC and SWC were forced to adjust.

The reviews were more positive than negative among the ECC's participants.

“It’s way better,’’ said Fitch defensive back Antonyo Figueroa said after Friday's 27-20 win over Notre Dame of West Haven from the SCC. “It makes us better playing against a conference with better teams.’’

Notre Dame played for a state title in 2015 and has advanced to the Class L semifinals the last two years.

"We like it," Fitch quarterback Tyler Nelli said. "It gives us a chance to see new teams and to play better competition.’’

East Lyme beat Stratford of the SWC on Friday, 27-14, for its first win of the season.

“It was kind of nice," Vikings head coach Rudy Bagos said. "It’s always good to measure us against teams from the other side of the state. It speaks volumes for the ECC.”

East Lyme receiver-safety Dylan Hatajik said, "A lot of people think the (SWC) is better than the ECC. They probably expected a soft team.”

New London head coach Juan Roman isn't a fan of the scheduling alliance for a few reasons. One was travel. The Whalers had to travel to Masuk last Friday, a 146-mile round trip based on the fastest route given by Google Maps.

"It's just not conducive at all," Roman said after a 50-0 loss. "You have to leave extremely early, and if you get any snafus, any traffic, we thought we'd be out here (practicing on Benedict Field) around 5:05 (p.m.) And we got here at 5:40. The bus got (to New London) at 3:15."

"Theoretically, what if you have bad weather? You're driving an hour and a half to get somewhere when you could be playing somebody within 20 minutes."

Roman said he's all for playing good non-league competition, but doesn't like that the ECC has put New London and the other D1 schools in a tough spot. The league only guarantees them six games with no mandatory crossovers with D3 schools, thus they're only given two interdivision games against D2 teams. It leaves those D1 teams with four open dates.

Division 3 programs Killingly (East Lyme, New London) and Windham (Fitch, Ledyard) both agreed to play games against D1 teams. Griswold and Plainfield did not.

"I think that's ridiculous," Roman said. "When you have that many teams in a conference (13), it does seem strange to have to go play other people. And I understand that some say, 'Well, you know you want (games) to be competitive.' It goes in waves. Killingly is one of the best teams in the ECC right now. Sometimes they're not. Griswold lost to us 90-0 (in 2005), and a year later, they're in the playoffs. It's how it works. Some teams are better on a more regular basis."

Cheshire head coach Don Drust enjoyed playing NFA, which required the Rams to drive well over 60 miles both ways.

"This was a good game for us to play, especially because of the conference we play in," Drust said. "It's a great atmosphere and one we hadn't experienced before. We'll get better because of it."

The second and final round of crossover games are Week 6 (Oct. 13-14) with East Lyme (Guilford) and Ledyard (Notre Dame-Fairfield) both playing an extra non-conference game. The three leagues have already scheduled interleague games for next season, too.

• • • •

Fitch’s option offense with running backs Hamear Stephens and Hollis Scott and Nelli present a lot of problems for opponents. The three accounted for all but one of the team’s 52 carries and four of the six receptions on Friday night. They rushed for 244 yards combined.

And the group showed some good teamwork on their final possession of the first half. Nelli capped an 86-yard drive with a 1-yard touchdown run with 42 seconds left that gave Fitch a 13-7 lead. Nelli fumbled the ball on the play and Stephens was there to recover the fumble. Turned out it didn’t matter, since the officials ruled Nelli had crossed the plane of the end zone before fumbling and awarded him the touchdown.

Ellis said watching the film a day later that the officials correctly awarded Nelli with a touchdown. But it’s nice to know your teammates have your back.

• • • •

Oh, those tricky Vikings.

Leading 7-0 Friday with 35 seconds remaining in the first quarter, East Lyme executed a trick play for a 46-yard touchdown and a two-score cushion in what was eventually a victory over Stratford.

The Vikings ran a double-pass, which went from quarterback Chris Salemme to Hatajik, a former quarterback, in the backfield to Tyler Valdez sprinting down the left sideline. Hatajik hit Valdez with a perfectly thrown ball for the touchdown.

"We tried to run it (last week) against Killingly, but Chris got hurt and we had a sub that hadn't practiced it, Hatajik said. "It didn't work, so we tried it again. We could run that play in our sleep, we practiced it so many times.''

"It looked like its worked all year,'' East Lyme coach Rudy Bagos said with a laugh. "Really, that was only like the second time, once in practice. I'm glad we messed it up against Killingly, otherwise we couldn't have run it again today.''

• • • •

Junior Nick Braga made the most of his six offensive plays during Valley Regional/Old Lyme’s 48-7 win over Morgan School on Friday. He totalled 105 yards and scored touchdowns on half of those plays, two on touchdown passes from Michael Cullina and the third via the run.

It was a welcome sight for coach Tim King, whose team is off to an impressive 2-0 start despite suffering some heavy graduation losses from last year’s Class S semifinalists.

“He won the 100 (meter dash) in the Shoreline (Conference) this spring,” King said, “but this was really the first time he’s been able to translate that sprinter speed onto the football field. It was really a positive step for him and makes us a more dangerous team.”

• • • •

Roman has made it crystal clear to his team that he hasn't liked the way they've played through two games and used himself as an example after Friday's loss.

"I'm not getting across to them the message that I want to get across which is just come out here and play this game as hard and you can," Roman said. "Give it all you've got, and win, lose or draw, you can walk away from it saying, 'okay, I did what' I'm supposed to do.'

"I lost 56-0 (playing) at Central (Connecticut). … I think we played Northeastern and they crushed us. And at the end of the game, at least every player on the other team had to go, 'hey, number 90 (Roman), way to play.' I just kept coming, kept coming. Okay, I'm losing, but that doesn't mean I can't play hard. And this is not about Juan Roman. I'm just giving an example that, you know what, you don't have to stop playing hard."

• • • •

Thanks to Dave Davis (Fitch-ND), Mike DiMauro (Cheshire-NFA), and Vickie Fulkerson (East Lyme-Stratford) for providing copy for this here Polecat.

• • • •

Thanks for reading. More soon.



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