(Left to right) Quarterback Konnor Walsh leads the Terriers offense, while captains Jason LaTorra, Alex Boutin, and Kameron Wilson soldify the lines (not pictured- injured captain William Calcagni)
First-year coach Rich Dance has a long history with the Rocky Hill football program, dating back to the birth of the team.
Last Friday night Dance earned his first victory as head coach, a 38-14 win over East Catholic, on a night the program celebrated its 20th anniversary at McVicar Field.
Senior quarterback Konnor Walsh threw for a season-high three touchdowns, two to Matt Sevigny, and Nico Capasso added two scores on the ground as Rocky Hill’s offense had their most productive day under Dance.
“I knew it would come eventually. It’s more about the kids, they’ve been working hard all season,” said Dance, “I’m just proud of the work that they’ve done and proud of the work the coaches have done, coming back and working with a new head coach and learning my system as well. Everybody has worked hard since I got hired in late April, so I’m just proud of the job the guys have done all season so far.”
Dance was a player at Rocky Hill High School during the early stages of the program, before graduating in 2003, and later documented statistics for the team before eventually becoming an assistant coach at RHHS.
He had spent the last five years as an assistant at Glastonbury High before returning to his roots this fall, taking over for Mark Fritz, who resigned following last season.
Prior to Friday night it hadn’t been an easy homecoming for Dance, who inherited a young roster and was introducing a new spread offense to go along with the Terriers traditional double-wing “hammer” offense.
“[Teams] have prepare for two different things, they have to be ready for the hammer and vertical passing game. It adds another wrinkle,” Dance said of the dual-threat offense, “I think it’s excited for the players, I think it’s exciting for the people who are watching the game. More kids get a chance to touch the ball. It’s not that the hammer has fallen by the wayside, we’re just going to figure out what works any given week. We’re trying to mix and match both.”
Engineering the offense is Walsh, who started the second half of last season behind center and is now entrenched as the starter.
“As time has went on you get more comfortable as a quarterback and you have to understand that you’re a leader. You have to know that you’re going to be the person that everyone goes to no matter what,” said Walsh, who threw for 132 yards Friday night.
Walsh is an ideal fit for Rocky Hill’s change-of-pace approach under Dance, “The goal for Konnor, and all quarterbacks in general, is that you have to keep their confidence high. We’ve tried to keep his confidence up and let him know that mistakes are going to happen but fortunately for Konnor he’s gifted athletically. He’s got a great arm, so that gives him an advantage. He’s done a really good job at being a good football player, having a high IQ, and also growing as a quarterback with the things he can do on the field.”
Dance has plenty of tools to run his air attack, including towering receivers Omar Ahmed (6’3”) Arber Ndoni (6’4”), and the size upfront to run the team’s traditional ground and pound.
Senior captain Alex Boutin is anchoring the Terriers on both sides of the ball. The emotional leader has led the way on the field and has also been Dance’s voice inside the locker room.
“It’s my first time being a head coach and it was a transition for me, coming into a new school, a new team, and Alex is one of the first guys that I got to know and he’s one of my go-to guys. He’s a guy that can go talk to the team, he’s been like an extension of the coaching staff,” Dance said of Boutin, “As far as his football player, he plays with a ton of emotion and he’s a force out there on the defensive line and plays both ways, he hardly comes off. He’s definitely been a bright spot for us, not just on the field but off the field too.”
Boutin, who said the team was “hungry for a win” prior to the East Catholic game, was unblockable against the Eagles, making five tackles in the backfield and adding four quarterback pressures.
“We play hard on defense and we’ve stuck together,” said Boutin, “All that matters is the team and not individuals.”
Joining Boutin on the line are fellow captains Kameron Wilson and Jason LaTorra.
After not getting a lot of opportunities a season ago, Wilson is now solidifying the interior as an offensive guard and defensive tackle, “I didn’t have as big of a role last year as I do now and I like to have that leadership role. People come up to me now to ask questions and I like to provide advice to people, it makes me feel good.”
LaTorra is the middleman on the offensive line, moving to center after previously playing tackle.
His role on the line may have change yet LaTorra says that his mindset and that of the offensive line is simple, “We focus on beating everyone in the trenches and opening up holes, scoring touchdowns.”
Friday night’s win showed that the Dance-led Terriers are making progress.
Walsh and the offensive took a quarter and a half to get rolling but were clicking on all cylinders once they did.
Wash connected with Sevigny on a five-yard scoring strike with four minutes remaining in the second quarter and then masterfully executed a two-minute drill, finding Sevingy for a 35-yard post pattern, setting up a two-yard touchdown toss to Ahmed with only six seconds remaining in the half.
The fireworks continued in the second half when Walsh again found Sevigny near the sidelines and the wideout broke a pair of tackles and stiff-armed a third while racing 48 yards to the end zone.
Dance’s spread offense work to perfection and Capasso did the dirty work between the tackles.
Capasso intercepted a pass from East Catholic quarterback Tim Wilson in the third quarter, setting up the first of his two scores---a two-yard blast---and then ran one in from five yards out in the fourth.
Special teams also played an important role in the victory. The Terriers blocked a punt in the first half and punter Dominic Catania had punts of 56 and 49 yards, both pinning the visiting Eagles inside their own five-yard line.
Sophomore Dalton Grant shined in the fourth quarter, killing an East Catholic drive by sacking Wilson on fourth down and then intercepting Wilson on the Eagles final possession.
The night couldn’t have gone any better for the Terriers, who celebrated with many of the past players and coaches that helped build the program over the last two decades, including longtime coach Dave Coyne, who was a big influence on Dance.
Like his offense, Dance has blended the knowledge he acquired during his early days with the program with new ideas he picked up in Glastonbury.
One of the traditions that Dance brought over from Glastonbury is the Hard Hat recongination, which awards a player that has gone above and beyond with a hard hat, decorated with the Terriers paw emblem.
In Tuesday’s practice before the East Catholic game, sophomore Daniel Sjoblom (a.k.a. Gator) received the headgear for his effort and determination.
“The hard hat is a way to recognize a kid each week that’s worked hard. It could be a kid that we’ve seen working hard all season that gets to wear it for that week. We want to let kids know that we see their effort, even if we don’t call it out, we’re noticing it.”
Regardless of how many wins and losses the Terriers end up with in 2019, Dance understands that taking the program to the next level is a marathon, and not a sprint.
“It’s not so much victories but I want to see the team getting better every week. We’re not really looking at wins and loss but that we’re getting better as a football team. I knew looking at last season that it was going to be a lot of work, but overall the whole team has done a nice job and we’re getting better every week.”
Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin