Quarterback Danny Cavallaro followed a convoy of blockers to his left and scored the game-sealing touchdown in Rocky Hill’s 34-21 Class S quarterfinals victory over Valley Regional/Old Lyme on Tuesday night.
During the one-yard touchdown run Cavallaro managed to fire off a five finger death punch --- pointing once towards the end zone, once towards the sidelines, a left-right combo towards the stands, and once more towards the sky.
“I just have so much love for the game and put so much heart into it,” said Cavallaro of his now trademark finger points, “My emotions just take over.”
His passion for the game, combined with his pinpoint accuracy and fearless running style, is what his head coach appreciates about his senior signal caller.
“Danny loves to run the ball and when he starts getting all fired up the rest of the team comes with him,” said Mark Fritz, “It is a testament to his character that he can throw for 300 yards earlier in the season and then come out and play a game where he only attempts one pass. For him to stay even-keeled and to manage the offense the way that he has and to be the leader that we’ve needed him to be says a lot about him.”
Cavallaro added another touchdown run (also from a yard out) and finished with 86 rushing yards. Most of that damaged came on old-school QB sweeps, which has become a major asset to the Terriers offense.
“That’s by design. We’re a run-heavy team and when the other team stacks the box on us we can kill them on the outside too,” stated Cavallaro.
“It’s something that we’ve practiced all year. We’ve had it in the playbook and we just don’t like to run the quarterback too often for obvious reasons, but when we do we get an extra blocker out there for Danny,” added Fritz.
His scrambling efforts were part of an eye-popping 409 yard rushing night for the Terriers. Smash brothers Joseph Catania and Joseph Ferreira did most of the damage, while Will White and Cole Fishberg churned out first downs as well.
Ferreira, who finished with 135 yards, scored a 33 yarder on the Terriers’ first drive. The score followed a nifty one-handed interception by White on the opening possession of the game.
On the next two possessions, Cavallaro scored his first touchdown and Ferreira added another from 13 yards out, putting the Terriers up by 20 with four minutes left in the half.
It looked like another runaway victory for Rocky Hill, but the resilient road Warriors took to the air, scoring late in the first half and again to start the second half on touchdown passes from quarterback Michael Cullina to Ryan Santos (25 yards) and Ernest Jean-Pierre (3 yards), narrowing the gap to 20-14.
With momentum not on their side and after Ferreira had an 80-yard touchdown sprint wiped out by a holding penalty, the Terriers offense reignited, literally and figuratively flexing their muscles, going on a 12 play 87-yard drive. The backbreaking drive was capped off by a three-yard blast from Catania, who finished the night with 170 yards.
“I knew the kids would respond the right way. We have so many seniors that are such great leaders,” said Fritz, “You never want to see that as a coach coming out of halftime, but for them to respond the way that they did by marching down the field and scoring was pretty good.”
Rocky Hill’s defense allowed a season-high 21 points, but got key stops when they needed against the pass-happy Warriors. Dante Baker ended a pair of drives with sacks and cornerback Jack Hansen blanketed receivers all night long.
“We knew the pass rush was going to be important coming out. If you watch us play you know we like to blitz so we were coming after the quarterback the whole night,” added the fourth-year head coach, “They have great weapons over there. They made it hard for us to get there, but when we did it happened to be in big moments.”
Cullina ended up with 229 passing yards and three scores through the air, including a 32-yarder to Jacob Kruszewski in the fourth quarter, bringing the Warriors within two scores.
But as he had done all night Cavallaro rose to the occasion, recovering the ensuing onside kick and essentially ending what was a contentious and penalty-filled night at McVicar Field
“I don’t think we came out as strong as we wanted to in the second half and to be honest the refs really got to us, but we just had to play our game,” added Cavallaro, “We definitely need adversity to be a championship team. Everybody needs adversity to see where they are really at and championship teams take on adversity.”
It was a bitter sweet victory for Cavallaro and the 15 other seniors, who played for the final time in front of their adoring home crowd.
“I just love being out here. I’m enjoying my senior year and you have to cherish every moment of it,” stated the three-year starter, “I’ve played twelve years on this field and I’m going to miss it, but that’s a way to go out. We’ve had some great memories and wins on this field.”
Ideally the Terriers have two more games left, starting with a road semifinal bout against St. Joseph at Trumbull High School this Sunday at 12:30 p.m.
The high-octane Cadets have lost only one time this season, a 42-10 loss to Darien back in September, and are coming off a 62-0 pasting of O’Brien in the quarterfinals.
It took only moments after the quarterfinals win for the uber-focused Fritz to turn his attention to the 'next game.'
“It’s always nice for the senior class to go out with a win of their home field, especially this class being my first one, but we know how good St. Joes is. They have a great coaching staff over there and they’re top three in the state for a reason. We definitely have our work cut out for us. Our kids have worked hard for it, they’ve earned it and I’m excited to see what we can do Sunday.”
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Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin