WHS DB Elijah Young
It is said that defense wins championship. The Seattle Seahawks proved that theory in the National Football League, winning last season’s Super Bowl behind a feared defensive secondary, nicknamed the Legion of Boom. Wethersfield has their own vaunted defensive backfield which has played phenomenally well to start the season, including in a 14-0 shutout of the Middletown Blue Dragons on Friday night.
Middletown came into the contest as the heavy favorites, having outscored Wethersfield by a combined 84 points in three games over the past three seasons.
However, Friday night was a completely different story.
Wethersfield’s swarming defense used timely blitzes, team tackling, and spectacular secondary play to hand Middletown their first shutout since 2009. Like the Seahawks, the Eagles secondary has earned their own nickname--- The No Fly Zone. Devon Smith and Jason Gallo are the Eagle’s starting safeties, each intercepted a pass Friday night. Juniors Elijah Young and Jae-Quan Brown are as impressive in man-to-man coverage than any cornerback tandem in the state. The both made touchdown savings deflections and tackles on a cold, brisk night at Cottone Field.
Smith credits the coaching staff to the team’s defensive success and was ecstatic following the victory, “It’s unbelievable, I’ve never felt this way in my life,” said the 6’1 junior, “We played as a team.”
Wethersfield came into the game knowing it would take a team effort to contain 2013 Gatorade Player of the Year Dario Highsmith. Middletown moved Highsmith around all night in an attempt to get him into open space. He played quarterback, tailback, and receiver, but he found very little room to roam and was unable to generate any of the splash plays that the Blue Dragons are accustomed to.
With Highsmith in check, Wethersfield assumed momentum on their second possession. Facing a third down, the Eagles lined up in their customary spread offense, featuring four wide receivers. Quarterback Matt Sanzaro took a shotgun snap and drifted to his right before launching a beautiful rainbow pass down the right sideline, hitting receiver Kyle Klavis right in stride. Klavis sprinted into the end zone to complete the 87-yard touchdown. The rowdy, standing room crowd erupted and the touchdown seemed to erase three years of agonizing memories against Middletown.
The visiting Blue Dragons nearly seized the momentum back on the next possession when Highsmith broke free on a fourth-down carry, but Brown cut off the shifty runner in the open field and made a touchdown-saving tackle. Gallo intercepted Austin Meeker’s tipped pass three plays later to thwart a scoring attempt.
Two possessions later, Sanzaro led a masterful 80-yard drive, which culminated with a touchdown pass to running back Richard Williams. Sanzaro completed passes of 20, 15, 5, and the final 24 yards when he connected with Williams on a wheel route.
Smith intercepted a pass on the ensuing drive and it looked like Wethersfield would head into the halftime break in complete control. However, Sanzaro suffered an injury to his non-throwing shoulder when he was sacked by blitzing linebacker Isaiah Thompkins. Smith, who is the backup quarterback, had to add signal caller to his growing list of duties.
“I knew it was my time to step up and I did what I could,” Smith said about taking over for Sanzaro.
Smith, who is also the team’s punter, played the entire second half under center. The offense changed from a spread formation to to a traditional Wing-T over the final two quarters. They were unable to efficiently move the ball, but it didn’t matter because Smith and his defensive mates were so dominant.
James Malizia was one of the defensive stars that wreaked havoc in the Middletown backfield. The senior forced a fumbled when he destroyed Meeker with a blindside hit, foiling a Middletown drive with time dwindling down in the first half. He also registered another sack early in the third quarter, which ruined another Middletown drive. Patrick Mozzicato recovered the fumble forced by Malizia and recorded a sack of his own. The senior defensive end also batted down two straight passes late in the third quarter, causing Middletown to turn the ball over on downs.
It’s unknown how long Wethersfield will be without Sanzaro, but Smith said that he is confident that he could do the job in his absence. Regardless of who is at the helm for the Eagles, it will be the other side of the ball that will allow the Eagles to soar in the state’s standings. Because, if defense does indeed win championships, than Wethersfield is certainly a championship contender.
Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin