The Lonesome Polecat (SE Conn variant): New London was an opening-night success
The opening week of the high school football season produces many emotions. It’s also a time for coaches and players to adjust to the rhythms of four quarters in sometimes hot weather, the glare of Friday night lights, game officials, personnel packages and sideline organization.
They are occasionally sloppy, too, with cramps from insufficient hydration, holding calls, false starts and delay-of-games.
All of which made New London’s 20-7 win over Capital Prep/Achievement First on Friday night a welcome sight. The Whalers were disciplined, hydrated and composed most of the night, unlike some of their brethren from in and out of the Eastern Connecticut Conference.
Not bad for Johnny Burns, coaching New London in his first varsity game.
“It’s my responsibility to set the tone,” Burns said. “But I have a coaching a staff who takes that tone and they echo it. When it comes to discipline, our players know the consequences of lacking it in practice. It’s not something we tolerate or expect. To see them have a first week and first game where they could be disciplined, the credit goes to the kids and the staff. But that’s the expectation from drill to drill.”
New London committed but two penalties in the first half and led 13-0 at halftime. The Whalers finished with seven penalties overall.
“Our record wasn’t that good (4-6) last year,” senior Jacob Commander said. “We want this to change. We have to work harder and be better. We want a championship.”
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Waterford was a first down away from its first win in more than a year Saturday. Third down and five with the clock ticking.
That's when Waterford assistant coach Tim Lineburgh, a program alum and also an assistant coach with the 2018 state championship basketball team, began yelling "push the truck! Push the truck!"
The offensive line did its part, paving a lane for senior Marcus Lovell, who carried the pile well beyond the sticks. Victory formation ensued as the Lancers won, 14-13.
"The linemen always talk about 'push the truck, push the truck,'" Waterford coach John Strecker said. "At one point, they actually were pushing a real truck around the parking lot at school. All around the lot where the flagpole is. Tim was yelling at them 'push the truck' before that play."
Waterford's offensive line joined senior Marquis Smith among the key figures in the win. Smith had a 25-yard gain from scrimmage on a run, a blocked punt and a notable hit on third down, jarring a ball loose from a Ledyard receiver.
"My coach Mike (Strecker) told me to shoot for the outside shoulder during the punt block," Smith said. "I jumped as high as I could. I feel like I think too much sometimes. I just wasn't thinking at all. I just went for it."
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Fitch lost its season-opener at Hamden on Friday, 6-0, because it was sloppy on offensive and special teams.
The Falcons defense did all they could and more to help the team win, though.
Fitch held the Green Dragons’ to 116 yards, five first downs, and helped get the offense good field position in the loss.
Steve Cantres had two interceptions for Fitch and Noah Charron recovered a fumble for Fitch.
“Our defense played fantastic,” Falcons head coach Mike Ellis Jr. said. “We stopped their jet (sweep) game. We played their option really well. Besides a couple of power plays that they snuck through, we were able to shut down their power play that they had.
“It’s too bad we gave them that long pass at the beginning of the game.”
Hamden converted on fourth-and-16 from the Fitch 43-yard line early in the game when Chris Wallace and Chris Pigatt hooked up for a 37-yard gain. It set up Jeremy Jupiter’s 1-yard touchdown run with 7 minutes, 32 seconds left in the quarter.
The Falcons wouldn’t have been in that position defensively, though, had they not fumbled a punt return after forcing the Green Dragons to go three-and-out to start the game.
Fitch's defense got stronger as the game went on. A missed block on a punt attempt led to quarterback Tyler Nelli getting tackled for a 21-yard loss early in the second quarter and gave Hamden the ball at the Falcons’ 15. The Fitch defense didn’t let them get past the 7 and turned it over on downs.
The Falcons’ defense gave the offense great field position with over seven minutes left in the game after Brandon Hamilton sacked Wallace for a 7-yard loss, forcing Hamden to punt from its own 14. Fitch started its final drive from the Green Dragons’ 47.
“Other than (that touchdown), it’s 0-0,” Ellis said. “Now we still didn’t score, but the defense played fantastic.”
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Few ECC head football coaches have walked the sidelines longer at their respective schools than A.J. Massengale and Tanner Grove.
Massengale is in his 15th season at Stonington and Grove his 13th at Montville.
“I still feel like I’m one of the new guys,” Massengale said. “It doesn’t feel like it’s been that long. It goes fast.”
Only Plainfield’s Pat Smith, who’s in his 19th season, has been in charge for more years at one ECC program. Killingly’s Chad Neal (15th season) is another member of the coaching veterans club.
There’s been an injection of new coaches in recent years.
Ledyard’s Clay Killingsworth is in his first year as is New London’s Johnny Burns. Jason Bakoulis is beginning his second season at Norwich Free Academy. Waterford’s John Strecker is in his fourth season.
When informed of his veteran status after Montville’s 28-7 win over Stonington on Friday night, Grove laughed and responded: “Thanks, I appreciate it.”
Grove and Massengale have great respect for each other. Their relationship dates deeper than their head coaching days.
“A.J. and I go back a long time,” Grove said. “We played freshmen football against each other and came up through the coaching ranks. He’s got a good young team that definitely plays hard from start to finish. They’re very well coached. I think they’re going to be a real tough out in the future.”
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Programming note — the Day Top 10 state coaches’ poll makes its season debut Monday night.
There’s no telling who’ll start as No. 1 if the preseason GameTimeCT/New Haven Register media poll is a bellwether.
Six teams received No. 1 votes in the preseason GameTimeCT/New Haven Register media poll — three-time Class LL champion Darien, Class LL runner-up Greenwich, Class L champion Hand, Class M champion Killingly, and Class S champion St. Joseph (which was moved up to Class M this year).
Darien finished No. 1 for the third straight year last season in both the Day coaches’ and GameTimeCT/New Haven Register media polls, but some key losses to graduation led to it opening at No. 4 in the preseason media poll.
New Canaan, with four players who have committed to FBS teams, was No. 1 in the preseason media poll for the second straight year, followed by Greenwich and St. Joseph.
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Attention, New London fans who plan on attending Friday’s game at Notre Dame of West Haven — the game has been moved to Law at 7:30 p.m. Renovations haven’t been finished yet at ND’s home field, Veteran's Stadium, prompting the move across the border into Milford.
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Thanks to TEAMDAY~! members Mike DiMauro and Gavin Keefe for providing notes on New London-Cap/Ac, Waterford-Ledyard, and Montville-Stonington.
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That's all for now. More soon.
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