Wethersfield head coach Matt McKinnon hugs senior Kyle Edman following playoff loss to New Canaan. Photo credit- Andrea Zurzola
Last Wednesday’s Class L quarterfinals football game at New Canaan wasn’t indicative of Wethersfield’s 2019 season.
Despite being on the wrong end of a 42-7 outcome, the Eagles and first-year head coach Matt McKinnon walked off the field with their heads held high after making the playoffs for the first time since 2015.
“This senior class, I’ve seen them since they were freshmen coming up and I knew they were something special,” stated McKinnon, who was previously the defensive coordinator under longtime head coach John Campanello, “They gave it everything they had. They set the tone for the program. They believed in everything that I preach and what the coaching staff preaches.”
The 35-point loss to New Canaan was also misleading.
What could go wrong, went wrong for an Eagles team that turned it over twice in the red zone, allowed a defensive score, and surrendered a touchdown on 4th and 10.
“New Canaan is well-coached, and they’ve got studs down here. We knew we’d have to play a flawless game,” said McKinnon, whose team had a chance to strike first blood but was stopped on fourth and goal from the one-yard line on their first possession, “They had to stop us and we had to get a yard. They won those small battles tonight, but our kids gave 150% effort. It didn’t go our way at times, and in a game like this it’s got to go your way.”
Quarterback Drew Pyne threw three touchdowns (two to Luke Morton) and ran for another. Zach LaPolice caught the other touchdown and Walker Swindell returned an interception 31 yards for the Rams defensive score. Running back Hayden Shin polished off the night with a short touchdown run in the fourth quarter.
During a four-minute span in the second quarter, the game quickly shifted from a scoreless tie to a 28-0 advantage for the home team.
Facing a four-score deficit, the Eagles refused to go quietly into the crisp, clear New Canaan night sky.
Quarterback Matt Silver directed a long touchdown drive, connecting with Connor Pace for a 26-yarder, and then hitting Rory Stickley down the left sideline on a back-shoulder fade from 22 yards out, cutting the margin to 28-7 at the half.
Wethersfield received the second half kickoff and had momentum on their side before Drew Guida intercepted a Silver pass near midfield to swing it back towards the Rams.
McKinnon complimented his senior signal caller for persevering through a tough night, “He’s throwing the ball tonight with two broken fingers on his right hand. I’ll take that kid as my quarterback any day of the week. I love Matt Silver.”
Silver, Pace, Jacob Rivera, and Jake Whitaker captained a senior class that were in eighth grade during the Eagles last playoff appearance.
Following the loss McKinnon thanked his team and told the players coming back to “keep the train rolling” for this year’s graduating seniors. He then shared an emotional embrace with several players, including Rivera and Whitaker.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better group of seniors, especially my first year as a head coach. I love them to death. We’re family and this senior class set the tone for the program.”
The 2019 season featured many memorable moments, including four shutouts. A season-opening 49-0 drubbing of Hartford Public, 14-0 at Farmington, 47-0 at Bristol Eastern, and a 35-0 statement against Newington in the regular season finale.
“It started in January in the weight room. We talked every day about what we wanted, and that was December football,” recalled McKinnon, “[The players] led the charge since then and I told them that nobody was going to put them on the map. It was about how bad they wanted it.”
The 24/7 football-focused McKinnon joked that he might start preparing for next season on the bus ride home, “Actually, I’m going to enjoy this season. I’ve got my beautiful fiancée at home that supports me and I’m going to spend time with her. I told the kids, don’t let this game take away from your season. We’re going to regroup and get right back after it.”
Coming back next year will be another solid senior class led by Stickley, Zak Zurzola, Evan Sipala, Marcus Nieves, Dylan Knapp, Sam Marchio, and Nick Thompson.
Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin