(Center Ryan Pirre celebrates Rocky Hill's 11th win of the season, a 34-21 victory over Valley Regional/Old Lyme in the quarterfinals of Class S)
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 deliver 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 the 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 his production 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 Terriers 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 pesky 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 to bring 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 bittersweet victory for Cavallaro and the 15 other seniors, who played their final game at on the picturesque home turf outside Rocky Hill High School.
“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.”
The victory propelled Rocky Hill to the semifinals, where they fell to the Cadets of St. Joseph 49-20 at Trumbull High School on Sunday.
The high-octane Cadets scored early and often, taking a 21-0 lead after the first quarter, before holding off the Terriers who battled valiantly until the final whistle with Cavallaro scoring on a short run for game’s final touchdown in the waning seconds of regulation.
It wasn’t an ideal end for the departing seniors, but the exceptional group put their stamp on a program that has risen to great heights.
Several of the seniors started or received significant playing time over the course of the past three years. During those three seasons the Terriers won 30 0f 35 games, including three postseason games, and became the first team in history to finish the regular season undefeated (10-0) this fall.
As juniors a season ago they helped propel the program to their first state championship, winning a pair of playoff games before losing a heartbreaker to Ansonia last December.
Next year many of the faces on the field will have changed and the new players will be building their own legacy and striving for the the bar set by the unforgettable class of 2018.
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Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin