(Dante Baker leads the way for Joe Catania)
Record low temperatures combined with a fierce wind last Friday night weren’t enough to cool down the red-hot rivalry between Rocky Hill and Berlin on the gridiron.
After nearly two and a half hours of bone-chilling hits, the Terriers remained undefeated and clinched a spot in the Class S postseason with a 26-10 victory over the previously unbeaten Redcoats at McVicar Field.
“To have our guys step up and to get to 9-0 is special,” said Rocky Hill head coach Mark Fritz, “It’s nice when you can play a great team like Berlin, a team that has already qualified for the playoffs, and come away with a win in November. Especially on a night like this when it could have gone either way in the first half.”
In the early stages it wasn’t what Fritz had envisioned as Berlin forced a three and out on Rocky Hill’s opening possession and then took a 3-0 lead on a 37-yard field goal from Giancarlo Tufano at the 7:34 mark of the first quarter.
From that point on the home team took complete control of the line of scrimmage, dominating time of possession and scoring all three of their touchdowns on the ground.
“We wanted to be physical, that’s who we are as a team,” added Fritz, “It’s always our game plan to be physical and play fast on defense. It’s nice when it works out.”
Rocky Hill’s offense heated up as the temperatures dipped, going on a mindboggling 22-play, 80-yard drive on their second possession, which culminated with a one-yard touchdown run from Joseph Ferreira. The marathon drive ate up over ten minutes off the game clock.
“It’s always nice when we can run our base plays and get first downs, it allows us to keep it simple and keep the ball moving forward. When we’re playing that style of football it’s just a matter of time until we get rolling,” added the fourth-year coach.
The special teams helped keep things rolling, racking up two points after Will White fell on Tufano in the end zone after a Berlin punt snap went awry.
On the ensuing possession, Joe Catania blasted up the middle from a yard out, ending an eight play drive and providing the Terriers a 16-3 lead with 4:33 left in the half.
The time-consuming drives featured heavy doses of Ferreira, Catania and quarterback keeps from Danny Cavallaro. The three were able to find running lanes thanks to a workmanlike offensive line that imposed their will on a Berlin defense that hadn’t allow more than 14 points in any of their previous eight games.
“In the beginning of the game it was pretty rough, but then coach talk to us and told us it was only the first drive and we had to keep fighting,” said Dante Baker, who starts on both the offensive line and at defensive end, “They [Berlin] were playing great and they had played some pretty good teams but the coaches work us all week and we’ve been practicing really hard. We’ve had people hurt, but we fought through it and we fought hard tonight.”
Baker is one of the many unselfish players that have sacrificed for the betterment of the team this season. He starred at tight end a year ago, but moved to the line to fill a need.
“I’m not going to lie, it was pretty rough for me but I had to do what I had to do for my team. This is a brotherhood and I love every single one of them. I’m just trying to do whatever I can to help the team.”
Baker is a tone-setter on both sides of the ball and combined with the rest of his line mates to pave the way for the Terriers stable of backs and keep Berlin’s offense, which came into the game averaging 32 points per game, to a single touchdown.
The road team’s only end zone trip came midway through the third when junior quarterback Kevin Dunn kept it himself and scored from 10 yards out, narrowing the gap to 16-10.
The resilient Terriers marched right back down the field behind a series of runs from Catania, including a relentless effort on a 21-yard carry, which ultimately set up his own 24-yard field goal and provided the home team a two score advantage heading into the final frame.
“Joe’s a special kid. You could tell in the second half that we were just feeding him the ball and trusting him to get us first downs,” Fritz said of his senior captain, “He’s got a great work ethic and to see it payoff in game like this is special to see.”
Catania got so much of a workload that he cramped up early in the fourth quarter, but Ferreira and White continued to churn out first downs.
“It’s a testament to how hard these guys work and what a great job our o-line did and the great running backs that we have.”
Facing a fourth down with 2:31 to play in regulation, Cavallaro put the finishing touches on a ninth win when the gritty signal caller swept to his right and bulled over two Redcoat defenders before diving over the goal line.
The victory marked the Terriers third straight over their nemesis and their four in the last five meetings.
Next up for unblemished group is the third annual seasonal skirmish with Cromwell/Portland, who are 8-1 and coming off a 56-14 thumping of Nonnewaug.
Rocky Hill has won both meetings, once on Thanksgiving morning 2015 when the Terriers defense registered a safety late in the fourth quarter to break a 7-7 tie and last year on the eve of Thanksgiving when they amassed over 300 yards on the ground in a 28-6 victory.
The third meeting is shaping up to be the best one yet and, like the two previous powwows, major postseason implications could be on the line.
A victory for the Panthers would earn them a spot in the postseason, but Rocky Hill will be equally motivated for the border battle.
“That’s the great part about our team, they’re a very self-motivated group and we don't have to say much to keep them focused,” stated Fritz, “They have a goal to go 10-0 and qualify for the state playoffs, so we’re not done yet. We're hungry to keep going and a lot of it is on them. It’s their aspirations that keep driving them forward.”
The Class S showdown is Wednesday, Nov 22 at RHHS. Kickoff is 6:00 p.m.
Head coach Mark Fritz discusses offensive strategy with quarterback Danny Cavallaro. The Terriers clinched a spot in the Class S postseason.
Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin