Some games are so entertaining and exciting that there shouldn't be any losers. That's how Rocky Hill’s 50-42 overtime loss to Bloomfield felt last Friday night.
The nearly three hour game featured a little of everything. 13 touchdowns, highlight-reel plays, blocked kicks, sunshine followed by heavy rain, and a drone which circulated over the field during the second quarter.
It was ultimately the 13th touchdown that was the difference. The decisive score came on the first possession of overtime with Bloomfield facing a fourth and goal from the 14-yard line. Warhawks quarterback Dexter Lawson Jr. connected with Thomas Norman on a wheel route in the corner of the end zone. Lawson accounted for all of Bloomfield’s touchdowns, with five coming threw the air and two on the ground.
Bloomfield converted the two-point conversion following the go-ahead touchdown and the Terriers had an opportunity to send the game into double overtime, but Joe Catania was stopped three feet short of the goal line on fourth down.
Catania’s final carry didn’t have the result he wanted, but the hard-charging junior had nothing to hang his head about. He finished the game with 250 yards and three touchdowns and had several leg-churning runs that solidified him as an equal partner with backfield mate Grant Nieves.
Nieves also scored three times on the ground and almost single handedly saved the day when returned a kickoff 77 yards, setting up his own five-yard scoring run, which tied the game at 42 with 4:06 to play in the fourth.
Following Nieves touchdown, the home team had a chance to win it in regulation when Ricky Montalvo forced Norman to fumble the ensuing kickoff, which was recovered by Matt Osgood near midfield. The Terriers moved the ball into scoring position, but kicker Damon Lonero had his 30-yard field goal attempt blocked by Norman as the rain intensified and time expired at McVicar Field.
“I have all the confidence in the world in Damon. They were getting close all night. The snap was a little slow and they got to it, but that's football,” Rocky Hill head coach Mark Fritz said of the potential game-winning kick, “No matter where we were on the field, we were going to kick that ball at the end of the game to try and win it. Damon has made 45-yarders in games, so it was a no-brainer for me.”
It was a stinging loss for the home Terriers, who held a 35-20 lead midway through the third quarter and had completely dominated time of possession for the first 30 game minutes.
Bloomfield’s offense woke up and began a series of long drives, reeling off the next 22 points, including a go-ahead touchdown on fourth and 22 when Lawson connected with Russell Thompson-Bishop for a 24-yard score. The ball appeared to make contact with the ground prior to Thompson-Bishop gaining possession, but the official who signaled the touchdown was behind the action and high school football doesn’t have a convoluted replay system like the National Football League.
The loss was hard to swallow, but their coach liked the effort he saw on the field.
“I was proud of them and the entire coaching staff,” said Fritz, “They’ve worked incredibly hard for this opportunity and we played well tonight. I’m just so proud of them.”
One of the many bright spots for the Terriers was the incredible play from the offensive line, which paved the way for Catania and Nieves to do what they do best. Lonero, Krist Veli, Lukasz Zduniak, Anthony Feliciano, Luke Devine, and Greg Fern all play vital roles in the team’s effective ground game.
Catania thanked and gave credit to the guys up front and Fritz loves how the unit has played through the first three games.
“They’re a great group of kids. We have four seniors and a junior that have worked incredible hard. They are all best friends and you can see that translate onto the field,” said the third-year coach, “They love being offensive linemen and it pays off for our running backs. They create huge holes and they love the style of football that we play.”
The defense allowed 50 points, but three of Bloomfield’s touchdowns came following interceptions, two that allowed the Warhawks to take possession in Rocky Hill-territory. Montalvo, the defensive captain, have several tackles, a forced fumble and sack.
Coming into the game, the defensive side of the ball was instrumental in the team’s success over the first two games of the season, a 49-15 victory over Avon and a 42-8 wallop of Northwest Catholic.
The team can lean of their experience from a season ago when they lost in similar fashion to Bloomfield, but rebounded to win their final seven games of the season. Bloomfield went on to win the Class S championship and the game against Rocky Hill was their closest margin of victory in 2015.
“They’re the defending state champs for a reason. They have a great team,” added Fritz, “We’re just going to take it a week at a time and stay focused. We’ll move onto Plainville and see what happens.”
The team will be highly motivated going into their annual date with the Blue Devils of Plainville this Friday, Sept 30. Rocky Hill won last season’s game 48-20 and will be looking for similar results this season. Tinty Stadium at Plainville High School is the venue for the conference game, which kicks at 7:00 p.m.
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Volleyball has won four of their first seven games to start the season. Seniors Victoria Cholodecki and Okara Kramer are leading the team in kills and Amaya Feitel is the team’s setter, leading the team in assists. The Panthers have an important road test this Friday, Sept 30 in Clinton against Morgan. The conference match starts at 5:30 p.m.
Boys’ soccer defeated Windsor 2-1 last Tuesday to register their first win of the young season. Joey Terranova scored the game’s first goal and then assisted to Ben Weyman for the go-ahead goal in the victory. The team followed up the victory with a 3-0 shutout of Platt on Friday night, improving their record to 2-0-3.
Girls’ soccer entered the week 4-0, winning a trio of games last week. Madison Lewicki and Amanda Kapuscinski each scored in a 3-2 win over Avon and Lewicki scored the game’s lone goal in a 1-0 triumph over E.O. Smith. The Indians closed the week with a 6-1 victory over Platt.
Eagles football got back on the winning track, defeating Bristol Eastern 36-0. JV football also chalked up another victory, defeating Bristol Eastern 33-0 last Saturday morning. The Eaglets are now 3-0 and have outscored their first three opponents by a combined 87-3. Luke Kelleher continues to score multiple touchdowns on a weekly basis and Josh Cronkhite leads a defense that has yet to allow a touchdown.
Middletown football soundly defeated South Windsor 37-14 last Friday night. Both teams entered the contest 2-0, but Blue Dragons quarterback Tyshaun James added five more total touchdowns, giving the senior a dozen through the first three games. Stone Belzo had 10 tackles in the victory for the Blue Dragons, who will attempt to keep their perfect record intact against Hartford Public at Dillon Stadium on Friday, Sept 30 at 7 p.m.
It took two years, but the football-shaped pendulum has swung back towards Middletown in their fiercely competitive rivalry with Wethersfield. The Blue Dragons erased the memory of two straight losses to the Eagles with a 34-3 victory last Friday night under a Harvest Moon at Middletown High School.
Middletown quarterback Tyshaun James was simply amazing, again---totaling four touchdowns, with three scores coming on the ground. The 6’4 senior has put the rest of the state on notice, amassing 609 yards and seven total touchdowns over the first two weeks of the season.
“It feels great to get the win. Not because we lost the last couple of years, but just because we got the win. That’s all that matters,” said James, “Our line and receivers helped out a lot today. They make my job a lot easier.”
It took a while for James and company to get into a rhythm, but the floodgates opened once they did.
James broke a scoreless tie with 2:22 left in the first quarter when he scored from 12-yards out. The duel threat signal caller darted left and tip-toed past the pylon, providing the Blue Dragons a lead they would not relinquish.
Middletown’s offense was held in check for the next dozen minutes before deploying their hurry-up offense after taking over at their own 36-yard line with under two minutes to play in the half.
James lured in the Wethersfield defenders with two short passes to Nico Cavaliere, pushing the team beyond midfield. Following a time out, James connected with Justin McMillian on a skinny post and the speedy senior broke a tackle before sprinting the rest of the way to complete a 47-yard pitch and catch.
“I saw the linebacker that was covering him walk up to blitz, so I knew once Justin got across the safety would be like 15 yards back and wouldn’t be able to get there in time,” James recalled, “Justin was quick enough and I hit him with it.”
The last-minute strike provided the Blue Dragons a 13-3 cushion at the break and killed some of the momentum that Wethersfield had gained in the second quarter.
The shorthanded Eagles, playing without star running back and linebacker Jamal Bagley, had cut the deficit in half when kicker Austin Stefano connected on a 28-yard field goal with 8:35 left in the second quarter. Stefano’s field goal was preceded by a pair of well-delivered deep passes from quarterback Tim Blaisdell, who connected on a 32-yarder to Stefano and a 35-yarder to Stevenson Paul.
The Eagles again threated to add more points on their following drive, but back-to-back sacks forced them out of scoring position.
“We were in field goal range, but we had a sack that took us out of field goal range. Then they had that quick score on us,” said Wethersfield head coach John Campanello, “I still thought we could come back because we were down at halftime last week, but to their credit they did a nice job and had a couple of big plays in the second half. Middletown is a good team and we knew they would be a challenge.”
The biggest difference in the contest was the battle in the trenches, which Middletown completely dominated. Wethersfield had only six yards rushing in the first half and the Blue Dragons sacked Blaisdell eight times in the game. Derrick Vereen tallied four of the sacks and James Johnson (2), Stone Belzo, and Camryn Wynn registered the other quarterback takedowns.
Middletown’s offensive line, led by captain guard Payton White, also did their part, protecting and paving the way for James, who finished with 160 yards on the ground.
James continued his ground attack in the second half, scoring his second rushing touchdown on a 67-yard dash to the end zone with 4:57 left in the third and another early in the final quarter when he scored from 15 yards out on a play that resembled the unstoppable Randall Cunningham QB-sweep from Super Tecmo Bowl.
“As a senior quarterback and a captain everyone is going to look at me,” he said when asked about his comfort level on the field, “My coaches have been helping me out a lot on things like staying in the pocket and being calm.”
Senior Abdul Perry finished off the game’s scoring when he blocked a punt and scooped up the ball as he crossed the goal line. Perry’s fantastic special teams’ effort ended any doubt of a third straight loss to Wethersfield.
The convincing win ended a two-year drought against Wethersfield. The Eagles won 24-19 a season ago and 14-0 the previous season, but prior to 2014 Middletown had owed Wethersfield, defeating them for three straight seasons from 2011-2013 by a combined score of 103-17.
Middletown (2-0) now travels to South Windsor to take on the upstart Bobcats on Friday, Sept 23. The Blue Dragons easily won last season’s contest 41-0, but South Windsor looks like a different team this season, winning their first two games. Rye Street Park in South Windsor is the venue for the battle of the unbeaten, kickoff is 6:30 p.m.
Wethersfield (1-1) returns to Cottone Field for a three-game home stand, beginning with Bristol Eastern this Friday at 7 p.m. The Eagles have won the last four in the series against the Lancers, including a 14-6 triumph last season.
The team’s veteran coaching staff is hoping that the young team can grow over the next three games and clean up some of the early-season errors.
“We are young and we’re making young people mistakes. Some of the inexperience and mistakes are hurting us, but hopefully we can decrease those mistake and get on the right track,” added Campanello, “I’m hoping we can move on from this game, learn from it and start talking about Bristol Eastern. Hopefully we can get into next week and start to build from there.”
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The Terriers volleyball team got off to a slow start, losing their first two contests, but rebounded to defeat Manchester last Wednesday. Senior Sam Brady dished up 16 assists and added seven kills in a straight-sets victory over Manchester. The team has a home date with Maloney this Friday, Sept 23 at 5:15 p.m.
Girls’ soccer won their home opener, shutting out Maloney 1-0 last Tuesday. Grace Moore tallied the game’s only goal and goalie Samantha Steinman thwarted every shot she faced. The Terriers also shutout Plainville 2-0 last Friday and welcome New Britain to Rocky Hill High School for an important game this Friday, Sept 23 at 3:45 p.m.
Football has a humongous home game this Friday, Sept 23rd against Bloomfield. Rocky Hill (2-0) has outscored their first two opponents by 68 points and Bloomfield (2-0) has outscored their first two opponents by 71 points. The game kicks off at 7 p.m.
Panthers’ volleyball has come out of the gates strong, winning three of their first four, including their first two over North Branford and Coginchaug Regional to start the season. Senior Okara Kramer tallied nine kills in each of the first two contests. Victoria Cholodecki had 11 kills and eight aces in a victory over Old Lyme. The team hosts Valley Regional on Thursday, Sept 22 at 5:30 p.m.
Football defeated SMSA/University/Classical 33-0, improving to 2-0. The Panthers have outscored their first two opponents 88-0 and now have a week to rest before traveling to Deep River where they will take on Valley Regional/Old Lyme on Friday, Sept 30. Kickoff is 6:30 p.m.
The girls’ soccer team at Newington chalked up their first victory of the season last Tuesday, blanking Bristol Central 2-0 on the road. Senior Madison Lewicki and freshman Regan Pelton scored the two goals for the Indians.
Boys’ soccer started the season with two ties, breaking even with Middletown (0-0) and Bristol Central (2-2). Joey Terranova scored the equalizer in double overtime against Bristol Central. Next up is a home date against Platt, Friday Sept 23rd at 3:45 p.m.
The Eagles lost to the Blue Dragons in last Friday’s varsity football game, but the “Eaglets” defeated the “Baby Blue Hatchlings” 20-0 in the JV game last Saturday morning. Luke Kelleher scored a pair on touchdowns (one rushing, one receiving) and Dominic DiMarco nabbed two interceptions in the victory. It was the team’s second shutout in as many games, also blanking Farmington 14-0 to open the season. Next up is Bristol Eastern, who comes to town Saturday, Sept 24 for a 10 p.m. kickoff.
Flashback to Thanksgiving Day 2014. Coginchaug Regional played host to Cromwell in the regular season finale and the home team was anything but giving, blanking the Panthers 50-0 in Durham.
Fast forward to last Friday when Cromwell/Portland welcomed Coginchaug for the season opener and totally turned the tables, shutting out the visiting Blue Devils 55-0 on a hot, humid day at Pierson Park.
“We battled the elements. We were cramping up all over the place, but our guys continued to get back in the game,” Cromwell head coach Chris Eckert said following convincing victory, “The effort was awesome on the field. I think we need to improve on our technique and our execution with the plays, but I think we’re getting better and I thought we got better as the game went on.”
It was a thoroughly dominant performance on both sides of the ball for a team that finished 8-2 and just missed the postseason a year ago.
Kristian Sapp made sure the team started with a bang, making a statement to start the game and again to start the second half. The senior running back did something that’s the football equivalent to Halley’s Comet, scoring touchdowns on the first plays from scrimmage of both halves.
Sapp, who is also a starting cornerback on defense, scored on the game’s opening play when he burst though the heart of the Coginchaug defense before cutting right and sprinting 59 yards to the end zone.
He duplicated that feat after the Panthers used a surprise onside kick to open the second half. Senior kicker Richard Loza drilled an end over end kick, which took a perfect bounce into the arms of sophomore Devon Kilham.
Sapp then went back to work, taking the ensuing handoff and scampering 45 yards for his fourth and final touchdown, ballooning Cromwell’s lead to 36-0 mere moments into the second half.
“I just wanted to have our team pumped for the first half and the second half, so the first plays were definitely a key. Our intensity was really good. We wanted to get this first win in the opener.” said Sapp, who added that it was important to start the game fast with the extreme humidity, “The weather was bad because of the heat and we had a lot of cramps early, but we pushed through it.”
The talented tailback rested for a good portion of the second half, but still managed to rush for 192 yards and the four scores on only 11 carries. Sapp provided the highlight reels, but it was the offensive and defensive lines that controlled the game from start to finish.
Starting offensive linemen Anthony Puntiel, Max Colavecchio, Kyle Martin, Matt Wolak, and Ethan Roy opened gaping running lanes for Sapp and Kittrell Lauray, who added two more touchdowns on the ground.
Roy also teamed with Austin Ramberose and Ryan Yorski to set the tone defensively, shutting down the road team’s rushing attack and harassing quarterback David Skelps all afternoon. Roy, a 6’2 senior, was nearly unstoppable and ended the first half with back-to-back sacks.
“The biggest part of the game was us controlling the line of scrimmage. Our offensive line controlled their defensive line for pretty much the entire game and then our defensive line wreaked havoc. We were able to have our linebackers off and secondary off and let the d-line do their thing. It was effective,” added Eckert, “Ethan was second in the state in sacks last year and I don't think there is a guy that we’ll see that can slow him down right now. With the addition of the other guys it’s going to make our front four very, very tough to block. So hopefully it will lead to more success.”
One of the question marks coming into the season for Cromwell was how sophomore Bryce Karstetter would handle the starting quarterbacking duties.
So far, so good for the calm, collected underclassman.
The Panthers didn’t need to go to the air very often, but Karstetter helped set up the team’s third score when he drilled a 12-yard completion to Jon Siena on 4th and 3.
Karstetter also displayed a lot of mobility, scrambling and picking up three first downs with his feet. He was able to showcase his strong arm in second half when he hit Dianta Highsmith in stride for a 50-yard touchdown.
“I saw a young kid that grew up a little bit,” Eckert said of his signal caller, “I think all the reps that he took in the offseason and all the passing leagues that he’s done gave him a little bit more composure in the pocket and he let the game come to him. He did a good job.”
Leading 49-0 headed into the final quarter, junior Brett Robbins put the polishing touches on the victory, scoring from a yard out with eight minutes remaining in the game. The lopsided score allowed Eckert to play several of his younger players over the final 12 minutes.
Eckert and his staff couldn't have scripted a better way to start to the season. The Panthers had a tumultuous start to 2015, but this year the atmosphere is more relax and the goal is to finish the season in December rather than November.
“I think we’re just having a lot more fun. Practice is fun, the kids enjoy being around each other a whole heck of a lot and the coaching staff has done a good job continuing to let the kids be kids. Last year we were very, very serious and letting loose a little bit is allowing our kids to have fun with the sport and that’s what it’s all about.”
The next challenge for Cromwell is Sept 16th when the 1-0 team heads to Dillon Stadium in Hartford for a game against SMSA/University/Classical. The Friday night game kicks at 6 p.m.
Eckert reminded his team as they celebrated following the victory that, “It isn't the Super Bowl.”
Sapp agrees with his coach and knows that it’s not how you start the season, but how you finish it.
“Obviously the seniors want to get into the playoffs, because we’ve never been in the playoffs,” he said, “It’s a good way to start the season, but we’re just going to work harder and harder every day.”
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It’s that time of the year. It’s time to rev up the leaf blower and consume as much pumpkin spice products as possible. The change in season means that a new school year has arrived and a new season of fall sports is upon us. We previewed football last week so let’s take a closer look at the other teams and athletes that will be taking center stage during the pumpkin craze.
Boys Cross Country
Middletown finished 7th at the Class L finals a year ago and have their two top performers returning. Junior Stefano Mazzeo and senior Jalen Coleman will be back blazing trails for the Blue Dragons. Also keep an eye on Matthew Lecky, who performed admirably as a freshman last fall. The school hosts the Blue Dragon Invitational, which takes place Friday, Sept. 9 inside Veteran’s Memorial Park in Middletown starting at 3:30 p.m.
Alec Drzewiecki and Trevor Cook give Cromwell a pair of experienced runners entering their senior seasons. Brian Heavren of Wethersfield, Jason Oostendorp of Rocky Hill, and Thomas Doyle of Newington will also keep pace with the pack.
Girls Cross Country
Senior Nikki Bitinaitis is Cromwell’s most accomplished runner, placing well at states the last couple of years. Meghan Savinelli, Emma Drzewiecki and Kathryn Kelleher, who all competed at a high level last season, again join Bitinaitis on the Cromwell trails. The Panthers hosts the CT River Valley Championship at Cromwell High School on Saturday, Sept 17 starting at 8:30 a.m.
Wethersfield junior Isabella Schroeder and sophomore Allison Appel will lead the Eagles on the trails this fall. Megan Creevy and Lilah Devine are both primed to follow up on nice freshman seasons at Rocky Hill. Alexia Gonzalez of Middletown and Angelina Zacharias of Newington could also be in the running by the end of fall.
Newington finished the regular season 8-6-1 and qualified for the Class L tournament last fall. The Indians have a good chance to be even better this season with the return of senior goalie Neve Manion and standouts Karlene Welles, McKenna Gernander and Symantha Fazzino in the field. All three were vital parts to last season’s tourney run and each was an All-CCC (Central Connecticut Conference) selections. The team begins the season with back-to-back home games, starting with a bout against Conard on Friday, Sept 9 at 6 p.m.
Colleen Budaj hopes to keep Wethersfield’s program pointing in the upward direction with the return of Maya Mullholland, Megan Tonucci, Lexi Munger, Evelyn DeVaux, and goalie Vanessa Carbone. The Eagles first home game is Tuesday, Sept 13 against Avon at 5:45 p.m.
Wethersfield won the CCC and advanced all the way to the Class L state championship a season ago, before dropping an overtime-heartbreaking to Avon in the title game. Head coach Rob Jachym and his team aim for a repeat performance with goal scoring-machine Lukas Szymecki and Brendan Barry returning. The challenge will be replacing All-State goalie Jimmy Slayton, who graduated and is now playing for the University of Hartford. The Eagles opens the regular season at home, hosting Platt on Monday, Sept 12 at 3:45 p.m.
Rocky Hill also made a tournament push last fall, before eventually losing in the second round of the Class M tournament. Ryan Fraleigh and David Scalise are returning following strong showings for the Terriers a year ago. Also watch for Newington to have a bounce back season following a disappointing 2015. The Indians have a good cast of characters returning, led by senior Joey Terranova.
Newington won 15 of 16 regular season games last fall, but will have a tough time repeating that performance with the loss of superstar Kaila Lozada, who is currently taking college soccer by storm at the University of Hartford. Karli Hellman and Lindsey Fairbank are returning, along with a good group of freshman from a season ago. The Indians begin the regular season hosting Middletown, who welcomes back All-CCC’er Jenny Barbour. The game is Friday, Sept 9 at 3:45 p.m.
Wethersfield will have a tough time replacing graduated goalie Summer Budaj, but they do have Jane Rumley and Megan Darrell back following All-CCC selections. Also expect Rocky Hill’s Grace Moore to have a big junior season on the pitch.
Rocky Hill won only four of 15 contests and missed the postseason in 2015, but they had a very young team that gained experience and could blossom into something special this fall. Grace Fisher was a bright spot for the Terriers a season ago and should be even better as a junior. Nicole Chamberland and Gina Genovese are also entering their junior seasons and expected to step up. The upstart team could get off to a quick start, playing their first three matches at home, starting with Bristol Eastern on Friday, Sept 9 at 6 p.m.
Cromwell lost team MVP Araya Lessard to graduation, but head coach Traci Capodice can count on seniors O’Kara Kramer, Victoria Cholodecki, and Kaila Donadio to fill the void. Newington made a great run last fall, but lost six senior starters to graduation. Blayne Wanner-Hyde will be one of the young players filling the talent and leadership voids for the Indians. Wethersfield will have Kathleen Kerekes returning to the court as the Eagles try to rebound after missing the tournament a year ago.
Wethersfield success in the pool is almost an automatic. Head coach Lee Schwartzman will again have a great group of girls returning to the water this fall. Maura Stewart leads a talented junior class, which also features Caroline Logan and Amanda Tougas. Senior Idalis Irizarry and sophomore Abigail Francis are also back, along with senior diver junior diver Jessica Pratt. The Eagles first home meet is Tuesday, Sept 27 against Conard at 5 p.m.
Rocky Hill has seniors Katherine Sullivan and Caroline Sullivan, who performed well as juniors last fall, returning. Expect Middletown’s Jenny Hawkins and Newington’s Lindsey Mangiafico to also make waves this season.
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The inevitable end of summer is a sad thought, but that sadness is quickly replaced by the joy of knowing that our local high school fields will soon be packed on Friday nights with passionate parents and fans cheering on our football gladiators.
Football is as American as apple pie and has become our countries most popular sports by leaps and bounds. There will be four high school football teams crowned champions come December, but late summer is when those championship foundations are built. Here’s a look at the six local teams that are vying to be one of those final four.
Cromwell had a tumultuous beginning to last season, but head coach Chris Eckert and his team persevered and thrived, just missing the postseason following an 8-2 regular season.
Eckert enters his sixth season prowling the sideline for the Panthers. The team lost a lot of leadership, especially on the defensive side of the ball where mainstays Justice Taylor and Jack Wilson graduated. The unit will turn to defensive stud Ethan Roy, who posted double-digit sacks a season ago, and fellow defensive lineman Austin Rambarose to anchor the defense.
Triggerman Jarius Bailey is also gone. The team most likely will hand the reins to Bryce Karstetter, who saw limited action behind center last season. Thankfully the first-year starter will have all-around dynamo Kristian Sapp behind him in the offensive backfield. Sapp led the team in touchdowns last season and is primed for a monster senior season as the team’s primary ball carrier.
Two players to keep an eye on as the season progresses are senior tight end Ryan Yorski, who has the size to dominate in the red zone, and Dianta Highsmith, who is a ball hawk in the defensive secondary.
Cromwell hasn’t been to the postseason since 2011, but all that could change this season. The Panthers kick-off the regular season at home with a conference test against Coginchaug Regional on Friday, Sept 9th at Pierson Park, 6 p.m.
Middletown Blue Dragons
Middletown won eight of eleven games to reach the playoffs last fall and all signs are pointing to another stellar season for the Blue Dragons.
Veteran head coach Sal Morello enters his seventh season and has a deep senior class returning, which includes multidimensional quarterback Tyshaun James. James is equally deadly with his arm and feet, leading the team in totals yards and scoring 22 combined touchdowns a season ago. The team lost big-play threat Trequan Weston to graduation, but speedy receiver C.J. Sprowl could be ripe for a breakout season on the outside.
The Blue Dragons always have a stout defense and they again will be tough to score on this season thanks to one of the state’s most talented defensive backfields. Bilal Chapman, Justin McMillan, DeAaron Lawrence, and Stone Belzo will be leading a vaunted secondary that can both cover and deliver pops in the running game. Linebacker Jay Nanfito and lineman Ibn Lombardo are two seniors that should also make big impacts this season.
The pieces and athletes are in place for a potential title run in 2016 for the experienced group. The team starts their title quest on the road at Platt, but returns to Middletown High School for their annual bragging rights battle against Wethersfield on Friday, Sept 16th for a 7 p.m. kickoff.
It wasn’t an easy season for Newington and second-year head coach Eric Hennessy last fall. The Indians lost eight of ten games, including five losses by 20 or more points and their final handful of games to finish the season.
Hennessy is hoping the third year is the charm, but it will take a total team effort after superstar signal caller Nick Guadarrama transferred out of state in the offseason. It’ll be an open completion at quarterback, with senior playmaker Isaac Ortiz Jr, who led the team in receiving a season ago, and explosive junior Carlum Caldwell both in line to replace the massive void left by Guadarrama’s departure.
The team will be very young and the offense will rely on Ortiz Jr and sophomore running back Brandon Kamansky, who finished very strong a year ago. Productive junior Luke Pappalardo will be a leader on defense and look for fellow junior Aveontae Frazier to play a major role, both offensively and defensively, for the Indians this fall.
The team starts the season on the road against Hartford Public, before playing their home opener against perennial powerhouse Windsor on Friday, Sept 16th at 6:30 p.m. If the team can put the pieces together they could finish strong, because they close the regular season with four of their last five games at home, including tilts against Middletown and Wethersfield.
Rocky Hill Terriers
The arrow is pointing up for Rocky Hill, who won their final six games to finish 8-2 a season ago. They only missed the postseason because of the discipline handed down to the Berlin and a faulty scoring system.
Head coach Mark Fritz’ third season on the sideline should be the best one yet, as many of last season’s impact players are returning. The team’s bread and butter under Fritz has been the solid play on the interior and seniors Lukasz Zduniak and Damon Lonero are back to anchor the offensive and defensive lines.
Potential all-state running back Grant Nieves, who led the team in yards and touchdowns in 2015, is back and better than ever, and will again be joined in the backfield by junior running mate Joe Catania. Incumbent quarterback Danny Cavallaro will have a year of experience under his belt and should be back at the helm for his junior season.
The defense took a hit in the offseason with the loss of inspirational leaders Patrick Sullivan and Jason Carducci, but middle linebacker and tackling-extraordinaire Ricky Montalvo is back for his senior campaign. Juniors Diamante and Dante Baker are also back to steady the Terriers’ back seven.
The motivated team has a tough road test against Avon to start the season, but returns home for back-to-back contests against rivals Northwest Catholic (9/16) and Bloomfield (9/23). Both home tilts kickoff at 7 p.m.
Head coach John Campanello has built a rock solid football foundation at Wethersfield. The team has won 21 of their last 24 games and chalked up their first ever playoff victory a season ago, defeating Torrington 33-6.
A repeat performance will not be easy, as the team lost nearly two-dozen seniors to graduation. Quarterback Devon Smith, leading rusher Richard Williams, leading receiver Kyle Klavins, and four of the five starting offensive linemen have departed, leaving several holes to fill. Normally, losing that much firepower would force a rebuilding season, but if anyone is capable of revitalizing an offense it’s offensive coordinator Jeff Russell, whose football wizardry keeps churning out points and playmakers. The team may turn to Tim Blaisdell at quarterback, after the junior saw some action behind center a season ago. The guys up front protecting Blaisdell will be new, with the exception of dominant offensive tackle Conor Keane.
The defensive side of the ball also took a major hit, losing their entire defensive backfield, which was the underrated group during the team’s consecutive playoff appearences. Senior Jamal Bagley will carry a heavy load on both sides of the ball, doubling as a bruising running back on offense and hard-hitting linebacker on defense. Bagley will be one of the team’s captains, along with fellow seniors Kyle Vasquez and Chris Cravero.
Also expect a big season out of Michael Alessandra, who showed flashes of brilliance a season ago and has the size and ability to be a major threat at tight end.
The question remains, is it rebuilding or reloading in Wethersfield? The good news is that four of their first five games are at home, starting Friday, Sept 9th against Farmington at 7 p.m.
Xavier had a rare down year a season ago, finishing 6-4 and missing the postseason, after winning four state titles in the previous five seasons.
The young team hopes to get back to championship form this season. Despite a lack of seniors, head coach Sean Marinan has several starters returning, including senior running back Glenn Cunningham, who is coming off a fantastic junior season.
Quarterback Will Levis also played well last season as a sophomore starter and hopes to take the next step as an upperclassman. The second-year starter will have his safety blanket back on the field, as big target Parker Rowley returns at tight end after leading the team with seven touchdown receptions in 2015.
The offensive and defensive lines could be a concern, after all-state stud Kevin Lawrence graduated, but versatile lineman Kiko Nvietkus is back to help solidify both lines.
The Falcons are have a chance to reclaim their rightful place atop the Class LL standings and could come out of the gates strong as they open the season with three straight home games, starting with Norwich Free Academy at Xavier High School on Friday, Sept 9th at 7 p.m.
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Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin