Terriers Football Title-Bound
The 2016 Rocky Hill football team made history last Monday night at McVicar Field, steamrolling Seymour 42-7 in the Class S semifinals to reach the state championship for the first time in the program’s history.
The semifinal-victory marked another exceptional postseason performance from the Terriers, who defeated Bullard-Havens Tech 56-8 in the quarterfinals a week earlier.
Monday’s showdown with Seymour was billed as one of the more anticipated and competitive playoff games in the state this past week, because the teams were familiar with one another after having scrimmaged the past two seasons.
The game failed to live up to the billing. Instead, the Terriers proved to be the superior team early and often.
“I was not expecting this at all,” Rocky Hill’s third-year head coach Mark Fritz said of the outcome, “The scrimmage is good because we’re playing a quality opponent to get us ready for the season, but you can’t take too much away from it when you get this late in the season. It was so long ago and both programs have come so far and changed so much.”
From the opening kick, the home team was firing on all cylinders, jumping out to a 35-0 advantage at the half.
As always, the team’s potent ground game was in full effect, but it was yet another dominant defensive display which paved the path to the title game.
For the second consecutive playoff game, the stingy unit blanked one of the state’s best offenses until the final minutes of the contest.
“Our defense was clicking today,” said cornerback Jack Hansen, “We focused in practice all week and we have a lot of heart.”
Hansen was ‘in the zone’ Monday night and was responsible for ending three Seymour drives, including the Wildcats initial offensive possession when the junior cornerback deflected a fourth-down pass in the end zone, spoiling the visitor’s best scoring opportunity of the first half.
Seymour entered the red zone twice more in the second quarter, but the Terriers defense stiffened and forced a turnover on downs on both occasions.
“I think it’s just the guys not wanting to give up points. As simple as that sounds, they take a lot of pride in our defense. They take it personally when they do score,” Fritz said of his red zone defense, “When we get an opportunity to keep points off the scoreboard they rise up.”
Hansen also recovered a fumble in the first half and recognized a fake punt early in the third quarter before making a diving tackle on Seymour’s upback, who received a direct snap, “I was covering my man and I saw him flaring out, so I just went and made the tackle.”
Defensive captain Ricky Montalvo added two more sacks and, for the second straight week, was responsible for helping contain one of the state’s best duel-threat quarterbacks.
Seymour signal caller Jaylen Kelley entered the contest with 44 total touchdowns and his backfield mate Bobby Melms had reached the end zone 25 times through the first 11 games.
Kelley tossed a touchdown late in the game, but Melms was held out of the end zone for only the second time all season.
“We knew we had to key and spy on them. Once we got to them, we just had to break down and make the tackle,” said Montalvo, who added that the defense kicks it up a notch when the opposing team nears the goal line, “As soon as someone gets in our red zone, we get really aggressive and really energetic. We’ve worked hard in practice and come game time we’re ready to go.”
The defensive efforts helped set up the offense, who continued to create splash plays on land and aerially.
Grant Nieves ran for 186 yards and three scores, increasing his playoff touchdown total to six through two games.
Joe Catania added 217 yards on the ground and a pair of breakaway scores, from 40 and 34 yards out.
Quarterback Danny Cavallaro didn’t have to take to the skies too often, but capitalized when he did, heaving a 41-yard scoring strike to Dante Baker “The Touchdown Maker”.
It was Baker’s second touchdown reception of the playoffs. The junior also continued to wreak havoc defensively, forcing Kelley to fumble in the first half when he ran him down from his blindside. The strip sack set up one of one of Nieves touchdowns.
The historic team is now on the edge of glory and will battle Ansonia for all the marbles on Saturday, December 10th at Willow Brook Park in New Britain. The Class S state championship game kicks off at 10:30 a.m.
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Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin