#5 Grant Nieves finds an opening as #3 Will White delivers a block during Rocky Hill's 49-15 victory over Avon to open the 2016 season.
The leaves are turning, and the temperatures are slowly dropping. Normally that is a sign that the high school fall sports season is underway.
Unfortunately, 2020 has been anything but normal and the high school football season remains in a state of limbo after the CIAC announced last week that 11-on-11 football will not be played, following a recommendation from the Department of Public Health.
In the meantime, the National Football League season kicks off tonight and all 32 professional teams will have played their opener by late Monday night/early Tuesday morning.
While local football awaits its ultimate fate, let us take a trip down memory lane and look back at the local games and names from yesteryear by revealing the area’s best opening-game football performances from the last past decade.
September 17, 2011: Morales-Antonio Connection Ring Bellringers’ Bell
Quarterback Anthony Morales and wide receiver Michael Antonio took to the skies in the 2011 opener, boosting the Panthers past East Hampton/Vinal 40-24. Morales threw for 432 yards and four touchdowns. Two of those scoring strikes went to Antonio, who nabbed a total of nine passes for 233 yards. Junior running back Derrick Villard gashed the Bellringers with 201 yards and two touchdowns on the ground.
The win started a six-game winning streak for the Panthers, who would eventually advance all the 2011 Class S championship game following upset wins over Capital/Classical and Northwest Catholic in the playoffs. The trio of Morales, Antonio, and Villard shined the entire season, all earning All-State honors. The season didn’t end in a championship victory, but the dominant opener and the season will never be forgotten.
Best of the Rest: Karstetter Rocks Rockville, Twice
Cromwell quarterback Bryce Karstetter had back-to-back brilliant performances against Rockville, combining for 494 passing yards and nine total touchdowns in the 2017 and 2018 openers. As a junior in 2017, Karstetter completed 10 of 12 passes for four touchdowns in a 54-20 victory at Rockville and then added four score aerial scores and another on the ground in a 35-21 home win over the Rams in 2018.
In his three years under center, Karstetter led the Panthers to 26 wins and the consecutive openers may have been his two finest performances.
Middletown Blue Dragons
September 9, 2016: Middletown’s Ground Attack Pounds Platt
Middletown ran the ball early and often against rival Platt, resulting in 377 yards and five touchdowns on the ground in a 49-24 season-opening victory in 2016. Quarterback Tyshaun James led the way, tossing a touchdown and running for two more to go along with his 144 rushing yards. Stone Belzo added 77 yards and two more scores on the ground, while Deshaun Bradshaw added 98 yards and another touchdown.
The Blue Dragons would go on to win seven more regular season games before again meeting up with Platt in the first round of the playoffs. The location was different (this time at Middletown High School) but the result was the same. Middletown again plastered the Panthers with 459 ground yards and eight touchdowns, five by James.
After the dust settled, Middletown rushed for 836 yards and 13 touchdowns in the two meetings against Platt in 2016.
Best of the Rest: Belzo Bombards Eagles
Making his quarterbacking debut, Stone Belzo threw for a touchdown and ran 117 yards and two more scores in a 29-12 victory over Wethersfield to open the 2017 season. Belzo carved up the Eagles on offense and also forced and recovered a fumble on the defensive end, which was one of four turnovers created by the Blue Dragons.
Running back Xzavier Reyes added 148 yards on the ground in the win, which prompted a magical season in Middletown as the Blue Dragons eventually completed an undefeated (10-0) regular season in 2017.
September 13, 2019: Newington’s Balanced Attack Topples Nemesis
Coming into the fall of 2019, Newington’s recent history against Windsor wasn’t pretty. The Warriors had handed the Indians four consecutive losses by a combined score of 155-6.
Led by quarterback Nick Pestrichello, who ran for two scores and threw another, Newington got revenge against their nemesis with a 30-22 victory to open the 2019 season. John Amaning Jr did damage on both sides of the ball, controlling the clock with 122 rushing yards and a touchdown on offense and intercepting a pass on defense.
The win was the first of seven regular season victories the Indians, who broke a decade-long postseason drought by qualifying the playoffs for the first time since 2008.
Best of the Rest: Hedberg and Young Sizzle Bacon
Newington ate up Bacon Academy 52-22 in the 2013 opener thanks to an immaculate first half led by quarterback Jake Hedberg and running back Isaiah Young. Hedberg tossed for 255 yards and four scores, while Young ran wild for 228 yards and three touchdowns.
The offensive onslaught outshined a solid defensive performance from the Indians, who led 40-6 at the break before taking the gas off the pedal. Senior defenders Christian Zotti and Nick Mamet combined for 27 tackles in memorable home opener.
Rocky Hill Terriers
September 13, 2013: Rocky Hill’s Interior Grounds Eagles
Senior running back Chris Young led a relentless rushing attack, which amassed over 400 yards, as Rocky Hill defeated Wethersfield 39-26 to open the 2013 season. Young ran for 214 yards a pair of scores and Greg Marzilli added 117 yards and another score. The loss overshadowed a terrific afternoon from Eagles quarterback Matt Sanzaro, who threw for 355 yards and three touchdowns.
The win started a magical season for the Terriers, who won 10 regular season games and then walloped Prince Vinal Tech in the first round of the playoffs. The opener and memorable year was a great send off for a terrific senior class and for longtime head coach Dave Coyne, who retired following the year.
Best of the Rest: First-Quarter Fireworks Burns Avon
In 2015, Rocky Hill lost at home to Avon 27-0. A year later the Terrier avenged the loss, de-feathering the Falcons 49-15 at Avon.
Rocky Hill scored five touchdowns over the first 12 minutes before coasting to the easy victory. Grant Nieves scored on a run and a reception, and Joe Catania added two more on the ground. Quarterback Danny Cavallaro tossed two, his second going to White White.
Joe Ferreira and Greg Fernstrom added touchdown runs in the second half as the Terriers started a remarkable run that ended with a trip to the 2016 Class S title game.
September 9, 2016: Eagles’ Defense Smothers Farmington
Wethersfield is known for having an up-tempo, quick strike offenses, but it was the other side of the ball that stole the show during the 2015 season opener. Wethersfield’s defensive unit blanked Farmington 33-0, creating four turnovers, four sacks, and a defensive touchdown.
Junior Chris Cravero forced and recovered a fumble, returning it 33 yards for a touchdown, and Richard Williams tallied a game-high 13 tackles in the victory. Kyle Klavins, who also intercepted a pass, hauled in two of Devon Smith’s three touchdown passes.
The opener was the first of nine regular season victories for the Eagles, who would also chalk up a historic road playoff victory at Torrington.
Best of the Rest: Wethersfield Wins Slugfest at Rocky Hill
Quarterback Matt Sanzaro scored two touchdowns (one passing and one rushing) as Wethersfield knocked off neighboring rival Rocky Hill 17-7 to open the 2014 season.
Richard Williams helped the Eagles control the ball, rushing for 90 yards, and Patrick Mozzicato led the change defensively by harassing Rocky Hill’s backfield with six tackles, three behind the line of scrimmage.
The win would be the first of eleven straight for the Eagles, who completed a flawless (11-0) regular season in 2014.
Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin