ELLINGTON >> Here’s a warning for the rest of the teams on Cromwell’s schedule: the young Panthers are getting better. Fast.
After dropping its season opener, Cromwell has won two in a row, the latest a 20-8 win over Ellington/Somers Saturday afternoon. The Panthers defense led the way, picking off three passes and staging a second quarter goal line stand, stopping Ellington on four plays from first and goal at the two yard line.
“Our defense really stepped it up,” said Cromwell coach Chris Eckert. “I didn’t think we would be able to slow them down the way we did, but we focused on their quarterback as their main guy and we did a good job containing him.”
Ellington quarterback Joe Leslie was the man wearing the target on his back and Cromwell didn’t miss. He ran the ball 25 times for just 59 yards and while his final passing statistics (8-for-18, 127 yards) were decent, he had three intercepted and 97 of those yards came with Cromwell holding a 20-0 lead.
“We couldn’t run inside, we couldn’t run outside and we couldn’t pass the ball,” said Ellington/Somers coach Sean Byrne. “I thought we’d be able to do some things, but we couldn’t get anything going against their defense.”
Cromwell also has a weapon a lot of high school teams don’t have: a very good place kicker. When two first-half Panther drives stalled, Mike McNally kicked field goals of 25 and 30 yards to give Cromwell a 6-0 lead early in the second quarter.
Both scores were set up by Ellington mistakes. Late in the first quarter, Cromwell’s Jarius Bailey picked off a fourth down, fake punt pass and returned it to the Ellington 32-yard line. Seven plays later McNally made it 3-0.
Cromwell then recovered an onside kick and after the Panthers drove to the Knights’ 13-yard line, McNally nailed a 30-yarder.
It was another interception that set up Cromwell’s first touchdown. This time it was Maciej Dowadowski who picked off a Leslie pass and he returned it from the 41-yard line to the Ellington 15.
Two plays later, sophomore quarterback Mavric Pelletier hit Antwaum Burney from 15 yards out for the touchdown and with McNally’s kick, Cromwell led 13-0 with 2:36 left in the half.
That was the halftime score and Cromwell put the game away in the third. This time it was Pelletier’s feet and not his arm that produced the touchdown. On third and two at the Ellington/Somers’ 40 yard line, Pelletier scooted off tackle for the 40 yard TD and with 8:15 left in the third, Cromwell had this baby put to bed at 20-0.
The extra point was a comedy or errors as there were three penalties in a row before McNally finally got a chance to kick the point. He made it — from 30 yards away.
“Pelletier is coming along,” said Eckert of his QB. “He’s started only six games in his high school career, and he makes sophomore errors, but he’s smart and he comes to the sideline and tells me what he sees. He threw the ball well today and showed he can run, too.”
Pelletier finished with 155 yards on a 15-for-29 day.
Ellington/Somers (1-2) got a so-what touchdown with 1:01 left to play when Leslie hit Mike Casciano on a 34-yard bomb. Leslie ran for the two point conversion.
Ellington recovered the onside kick, which added some excitement. But most of the exciting stuff came when Eckert exploded over the third pass interference call against his team. He ran on to the field, threw his earphones to the ground, and got rewarded with a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on top of the pass interference call.
But it was all for fun as Leslie’s pass into the end zone on second down from the 19 was intercepted by Pelletier.
Cromwell finished with 233 yards offense. The Panthers rushed for 78 yards on 21 carries with Pelletier picking up 60 yards on six carries.
Ellington had 210 yards, but most of that came late.
Cromwell is home Saturday at 1 p.m. at Pierson Park with the cooperative team of Stafford/East Windsor.