RHAM football had their 2021 season finale against Bacon Academy canceled. Pictured are captains (l-r) Max Nylen, Colton Bass, Gino Deliseo, and Nick Pace.
High school football in the state of Connecticut was wiped away in the fall of 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The football team at RHAM High School had to endure yet another setback this season when their annual Thanksgiving game was cancelled following alleged Title IX misconduct involving the football program at Bacon Academy.
The 15th annual holiday game, known as “The Battle of the Rail”, was set to take place on Thanksgiving morning before news of the cancellation broke on Nov. 19.
It was yet another punch to the gut for the Raptors, who were primed to recapture bragging rights following a 2019 loss to Bacon Academy.
“Personally I’m not surprised but it was really disappointing, I felt bad for the team,” senior captain Colton Bass said after finding out of the abrupt end, “We were coming into this game thinking we were going to destroy these guys and retake ‘The Rail’.”
Following a slow start to the season, RHAM football had won three of five games prior to the scheduled game against the Colchester-based Bobcats, who finished the season without a win (0-10).
Junior Max Nylen said the team was playing the best football they had all year heading into the finale, “We started playing more as a team and our chemistry was better. Coach gave us individual talks, which was beneficial, and we were playing much better as a team.”
Nylen powered an offense that averaged over 20 points per game. The versatile running back amassed 1228 yards from scrimmage and 14 touchdowns over nine games this fall.
He was instrumental in the team’s most impressive win of the year, a 25-21 win over Plainville on Oct. 30. Nylen ran for a season-high 216 yards and four touchdowns in the home victory over the Blue Devils, who lost only two other games all season.
Nylen said the game was a reflection of the season, “We were down at half and in the second half we played better as a team and came back even though it was pouring and bad conditions, we were able to come back at the last minute. That was the best win we had as a team.”
Senior captain Gino Deliseo pointed to a season-opening win over Farmington as the highlight of the season.
“We knew everyone thought Farmington would win so we wanted to prove everyone wrong and we were all just excited to get back on the field,” Deliseo said of the team’s first game back on the field after a 652-day layoff.
In the opener, senior quarterback Ryan McLaughlin threw for 142 yards and a pair of touchdowns, one each to James Hulland and Nick Pace in a 42-21 victory.
Pace, a senior captain, played receiver and led the team in tackles as a steady linebacker. He said the defense came together as the season progressed, which culminated with a 28-0 win over E.O. Smith on Nov. 12. .
“Our secondary got a lot better throughout the year. The entire defense got better and we have a lot of kids step up. We had different kids making plays,” said Pace.
In the shutout victory over the Panthers of E.O. Smith, Nylen powered the offense with 196 scrimmage yards and three touchdowns. Boden Landers led the defensive charge with eight tackles and two of the team’s season-high five sacks.
Exactly a week later, Pace and the team found out that the win at Storrs would be their last.
“It was such an unexpected end to the season,” stated Pace. “We were ready to take ‘The Rail’ again. We’re still going to get it because it’s a forfeit, but it’s not the same.”
With the forfeited win, RHAM finished the season 5-5 and gave them an 8-7 edge in the series against Bacon Academy, which dates back to 2006.
Instead of the Thanksgiving game, which was set to take place at RHAM HS, the Raptors had an intrasquad scrimmage on their home field one last time on Nov. 19, before eventually handing in their gear and heading home for the Thanksgiving break.
It wasn’t an ideal ending for Bass, Deliseo, Pace, and the team’s fourth senior captain, Owen Riley.
Nylen, who will be one of the returning starters next season, said the seniors and the difficult situations have made him more resilient.
“Their experience has taught me to not take anything for granted,” said Nylen. “[The seniors] never knew when their last game was going to be. Now I understand that I need to take each game one at a time and leave it on the field.”
If the RHAM vs Bacon Academy football game is played next Thanksgiving, it will be 1093 days between games for the neighboring rivals. For now, The Rail trophy is back at RHAM.
Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin