(Middletown QB Stone Belzo is pursued by Wethersfield's Bobby Balesano. Belzo threw for a touchdown and ran for two more in his debut under center)
Stone Belzo had an impressive debut as the starting quarterback at Middletown, totaling three touchdowns to help the Blue Dragons defeat Wethersfield 29-12 at WHS last Friday night.
Belzo is replacing all-state signal caller Tyshaun James, who is now playing at Central Connecticut State University, and picked up right were James left off. The lefty senior engineered a seven-play scoring drive on the opening series of the season, connecting with DeAaron Lawrence on a 24-yard post pattern to give the Blue Dragons a 6-0 lead less than five minutes into the game.
“It was important because that got me in a flow and it felt good for the offense,” said Belzo, who doubles as a defensive tone-setter at safety, “It’s been pretty easy because I was used to leading the defense and now I can lead on both sides of the ball.”
Belzo finished with 167 total yards, with 117 coming on the ground, to cap a successful night under center. All told, Middletown churned out 325 yards on the ground Friday night.
The visiting Blue Dragons added a safety late in the first half after a Wethersfield punt snap went out of the back the end zone during a torrential downpour that hit Cottone Field.
The eight-point lead at the break could have been larger, but the Middletown turned the ball over twice inside the red zone in the first half.
“We talked about limiting our mistakes at halftime and just locking in because our thing is we just don’t flinch. That means that when our backs are up against the wall, we don’t go backwards,” added Belzo, whose brother Hunter starred for the team a few years back and is now running wild at Springfield College, “We just keep going forward and keep pushing. That’s what we did in the second half and it worked out for us in the end.”
Wethersfield narrowed the gap to 8-6 in the third quarter on a wild play when quarterback Brendan Dowd shook off a defender and heaved the ball downfield to a wide open Ryan Skelly, who polished off a miraculous 59-yard catch and run. However the score was sandwiched in between a botched field goal attempt and an interception at midfield when Blue Dragons defensive tackle Osbourne Richards stepped in front of a screen pass.
Middletown broke the game open in the fourth, Belzo scored twice on the ground and Tyreece Lumpkin added a leg-churning 22-yard scoring run with less than two minutes to play.
“I dropped back and saw some open gaps. When I started to feel the pocket collapse I knew it was time to go,” said Belzo, who rushing touchdowns came from 7 and 11 yards out, “We wanted to run the ball more in the second half and that worked for us.”
Belzo led the team in tackles a season ago and is again manning the secondary on defense, deflecting three passes. He’s getting senior leadership help from standout defenders Mike Souza, Nico Cavaliere, James Johnson, and Gage Davis. Souza led the team with nine tackles Friday night.
“I think we’re closer than we were last year. We getting leadership from all of our seniors and I think a lot of the younger guys matured, especially our juniors now.”
Richards, shifty running back Xzavier Reyes, and fiery linebacker Michael Foster were a trio of juniors that shined under the bright lights. Reyes finished with 148 yards on the ground, including a 70-yard scamper in the second quarter, and Foster had a sack and several bone crushing hits.
For Wethersfield, it’s back to the film room.
“We’ll look at the film and make some adjustments. My message to the kids is that we have to look deep down inside to see what we did wrong and you have to have pride in yourself to fix some of those things,” said Wethersfield head coach John Campanello, “We fell apart in in some areas. We need a lot of improvement to have the kind of season that we want to have.”
Campanello’s defense was solid, holding the visitors out of the end zone for the second and third quarters, but the tired unit ran out of steam once the fourth quarter rolled around.
“The defense was on the field a lot and it’s hard to be on the field that long. We need to get things going a little more offensively to take the pressure off the defense,” added the veteran coach, “We’ve got to do a little bit better blocking up front. We have to be a little bit more consistent and get the running game going. It’s about doing your assignments and being disciplined across the board and we have to be a little more physical up front on the offensive line.”
Dowd, who started six games at quarterback as a junior, ended up with a pair of touchdown tosses, including a 28 yarder to David Colon in the final minute of the game.
The touchdown reception capped a terrific night in all three phases of the game for Colon, who forced a fumble and recovering another from his defensive back positions. The junior also blocked an extra point in the first quarter.
Colon is part of a talented and deep secondary, which has become a staple at Wethersfield. Skelly, Luke Saharek, Bobby Balesano, and sophomore Connor Pace also played well in the back half of the Eagles defensive Friday night.
Middle linebacker Ro DiGiacomo also excelled in the opener, forcing runs outside and recovering a fumble in defeat.
Next up is a back-to-back road game for the Eagles, starting this Friday the 15th at E.O. Smith (1-0) at 6 p.m.
Middletown heads home for two straight, beginning with Bristol Eastern (0-1) this Friday at 7 p.m.
Cromwell/Portland: New Era, Same Hard-Nosed Attitude for Panthers
Former line coach Randell Bennett takes over the head coaching duties in Cromwell, replacing Chris Eckert. In Eckert’s final season, the Panthers won their first nine games and upset previously undefeated Bloomfield in the first round of the playoffs before losing to Ansonia, the eventual Class S champion, in the semifinals.
Quarterback Bryce Karstetter has his sophomore season cut short by an injury, but he’s back and better than ever following an impressive 2:1 touchdown to interception ratio during his first season under center. The junior signal caller also has his favorite target back in Dianta Highsmith, who hauled in eight touchdowns in 2016. The Karstetter-Highsmith connection will be counted on more this season after the departure of all-state halfback Kristian Sapp, who graduated after amassing 2,000 yards and 30 touchdowns on the ground in 2016.
Captains Matt Wolak and Jack Shauck, along with Kyle Martin, are back to stabilize the offensive and defensive lines, which are coach Bennett’s specialty and were a major part of the Panthers success a season ago.
Defensive dynamo Kittrell Lauray is back for his senior season after leading the team in tackles as a junior and this season he’ll be asked to assume a bigger role in the offensive backfield. Also keep an eye out for seniors Brett Robbins and Liam Coleman, along with juniors Devon Kilham and Zac Cry. All four were productive last year and give the Panthers versatility on both sides of the ball.
The Bennett era got off to a great start last Friday night, rolling to a 54-20 win over Rockville. The Panthers led 41-6 at the half and held the Rams to a mere five rushing yards in the game. Next up is the team’s home opener this Friday the 15th against North Branford (1-0) at Pierson Park. Kickoff is at 6 p.m.
Newington: New Sherriff in Newington
The Eric Hennessy tenure in Newington ended with a disappointing 3-7 campaign last fall, which included three straight losses to end the season. Enter Jason Pace, who takes over the head coaching responsibilities after six successful seasons as the HC at Wolcott High.
Pace inherits a roster that is highly motivated with a great deal of experience and talent. Robert Sanchez split time at the quarterback position as a junior, leading the team with 10 total touchdowns in 2016. The senior will take on an even larger load this season and will again be sharing the backfield with running back Aveontae Frazier, who burst onto the scene last fall with 800 rushing yards and an all-conference selection as a sophomore.
Lineman Damon Stewart, who earned all-state as a junior, is back for his senior season and will again anchor both the offensive and defensive lines. Leading tackler Luke Pappalardo, along with Nick Kerlejza, Connor Brennan, and Brandon Kamansky will shoulder the bulk of the defensive responsibilities.
Also don’t sleep on seniors Cooper Johnson and Carlum Caldwell, who have a knack for making big plays in all three phases of the game.
The Indians made an early season statement last Friday night, jumping out to a 35-0 lead at half before coasting to a 42-14 victory over Massachusetts-based Chicopee. Sanchez threw a pair of touchdowns and added another on the ground and Frazier tallied 166 rushing yards and another score in the blowout. Next up is a trip to Farmington to battle the (0-1) Indians on Friday the 15th. Kickoff is 6:30 p.m.
Rocky Hill: Title Town for Terriers?
Last fall, Rocky Hill won 11 games and came within a bad bounce of knocking off Class S monster Ansonia in the state championship game. Head coach Mark Fritz is entering his fourth season as the main man on the sidelines and is tasked with replacing all-state studs Grant Nieves and Ricky Montalvo, but does have several key pieces are returning.
Senior Danny Cavallaro returns after a full season under center and will again be joined in the backfield by dynamic running back Joe Catania. The C&C TD Factory will be featured even more this season and will have some new faces up front after four of their five starting offensive linemen graduated.
Linemen Anthony Feliciano and Greg Fern are back to solidify a young line and two-way stars Dante Baker, Matt Osgood, Will White and Jack Hansen all have a year of varsity experience under their belts following standout junior campaigns.
There’s a lot of buzz surrounding junior Bellal Matar and sophomore Alex Boutin, so keep your eyes peeled for these diamonds in the rough.
The team returned to championship form last Saturday afternoon, scoring touchdowns in all three phases of the game and easily defeating rival Northwest Catholic 35-6. Catania and Joe Ferreira each ran for over 100 yards and scored touchdowns. Next up is another road test against rival Bloomfield. The Terriers have lost back-to-back heartbreakers against the Warhawks and the last three meetings between the two teams haven’t been decided until the final possession. Kickoff is Friday the 15th at Phil Rubin Stadium, 7 p.m.
Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin