High school football beat: O’Brien Tech starting to believe in itself

Trailing Wilcox Tech 24-0, O’Brien Tech coach Nick Aprea challenged his football team at halftime this past Saturday.

Aprea said he didn’t make a fiery speech, rather he reminded his Condors about playing to their potential.

It worked.

O’Brien Tech scored 28 unanswered points in the second half to take the lead. Then, after falling behind by two points in the fourth quarter, Devin Bacchiocchi scored on a 40-yard run followed by a Nick Coppola pass to Giani Krajewski for the two-point conversion to lift the Condors to a 36-30 victory.

“We got our act together in the second half,” Aprea said. “They came out and played like animals (in the second half). Coming back to win, I think it was very important for them to realize they can be competitive. I don’t care who you’re playing, losing by 24 is pretty hard to come back from.”

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The slow start on Saturday was surprising. After defeating Whitney Tech on Sept. 14, the Condors had a bye and had two weeks to prepare for Wilcox Tech.

“I thought we had the best week of practice since I’ve been here,” said Aprea, in his second year as head coach. “I thought we were very prepared, but we didn’t play like that in the first half.”

O’Brien Tech forced Wilcox Tech to punt on the first drive of the second half. The Condors took over and Coppola completed a pivotal pass to senior Tristin Carder (three catches, 38 yards) to extend the drive. Bacchiocchi’s 3-yard touchdown run put O’Brien Tech on the board.

The Condors then recovered an onside kick and another Bacchiocchi 3-yard scoring run cut the deficit to 24-14. A 16-yard touchdown pass from Coppola to Krajewski, and a 4-yard touchdown run by Bacchiocchi, gave the Condors a 28-24 lead in the fourth quarter.

Wilcox Tech, though, scored on a passing play to go back on top 30-28 before Bacchiocchi’s winning touchdown.

The 5-foot-11, 190 pound Bacchiocchi, a junior, was held to just 32 rushing yards in the first half but finished with 230 yards on 25 carries and four touchdowns.

“He’s not a scat back, he’s more of a power runner, but in our league (the CSC) he’s fast enough to get to the outside,” Aprea said. “I think he’s the one kid we have that can play at the next level.”

Aprea added that Coppola, a 5-7, 130 pound senior, “grew up a lot” during Saturday’s contest. Coppola, a three-year starter under center, completed 10 of 20 passes for 136 yards.

“He has progressed well,” Aprea said. “In his defense, he’s never had the offensive line where he can drop back and feel confident. He’s not the tallest kid, but for his size he as a super strong arm. He throws a great ball, over the years his arm has gotten stronger. He had no one to throw to last year, but he has three or four kids to throw the ball to this year and he knows we can run, which, for him, takes a little pressure off.”

Krajewski, a junior, caught nine passes for 55 yards, while senior Jason Diotalevi added four receptions for 30 yards.

The victory marks the first time the Condors opened the season with consecutive wins in the three-year history of O’Brien Tech as a solo program. The Condors previously played as part of a co-op with Derby.

“We always talk about in order to get respect you have to win games,” Aprea said. “With respect comes pride. Trailing 24-20, the kids started to believe. This is a great bunch of kids. They started to believe, and I think that’s very important for us going forward.”

RECORD-SETTING RUNNERS

Montville coach Tanner Grove called it a perfect storm that allowed Indians running back Jeremiah Crowley to set the state’s single-game rushing record.

Montville was in a see-saw battle with Stonington and Crowley kept getting the call. Crowley eventually finished with 526 yards and seven touchdowns as the Indians emerged with a 49-37 victory.

Ansonia’s Alex Thomas held the previous mark, having rushed for 518 yards against Woodland in 2007.

Ansonia great Bubby Natowich, whose record of 451 yards stood for 66 years, has now been broken three times over the past 11 years. Farmington’s Brandon Willard is third on the list, running for 508 yards in 2002.

“It was a perfect storm,” Grove said. “In order for something like that to happen, you have to have close games.”

Setting single-game records has become increasingly more difficult in the era of the “50 point rule”, although season and career records continue to fall.

The ECC single-game rushing record of 427 yards was set in 1988 by New London’s Jamal Johnson.

“I was a little kid when Jamal Johnson went bonkers. I remember hearing about it all my life,” Grove told the New London Day following Crowley’s record-breaking night.

Crowley, who helped lead the Indians to the Class M semifinals last season, was suspended by Grove for the season opener against Windham and for the first half against NFA last week for violating team rules in the preseason.

“He earned his way back,” Grove said. “He proved he wanted to be back with us and play for his team, his school and community.”

Crowley, listed at 5-8, 180, is a bit undersized but is deceptively powerful.

“He’s a really explosive kid, especially stop and go. That’s hard to measure, but all great backs have it. He’s been a running back his whole life, so he understands the position. He’s a tough-minded kid.”

• Ansonia senior running back Arkeel Newsome rushed 11 times for 309 yards and three touchdowns in a victory over Holy Cross this past weekend. Newsome, who has orally committed to play at UConn, now has career totals of 640 carries for 7,462 yards. Newsome is just 818 yards away from breaking the career rushing total, now held by another Ansonia back, Alex Thomas, who tallied 8,279 yards from 2004-2007.

Newsome needs just 251 yards to pass Bristol Central’s Tim Washington for second on the career list. Newsome already holds the state records for touchdowns (130) and points (806). Of Newsome’s 130 touchdowns, 38 are from 50 yards or longer.

• After rushing for 341 yards in a victory over Law last week, Hillhouse senior Harold Cooper moved into sixth place on the state’s career rushing list. Cooper has rushed 519 times for 5,512 yards. Cooper is just 501 yards away from passing Bloomfield’s Andrew Pinnock for fifth place. Cooper has 77 total touchdowns in his career, which is tied for seventh all-time.

STRATFORD TO HONOR CHAMPS

Stratford will mark the 25th anniversary of its 1988 state championship team during this year’s Thanksgiving Day game against Bunnell at Penders Field.

The Red Devils went 10-1, captured the Class SS state championship and were voted the No. 1 team in the final Register Top 10 Poll.

Stratford’s four captains that season were former Red Devils coach Duane Shirden, Curtis Eller, Peter McKoy and Robert Yearwood. They were coached by the late Walt Czekaj.

Members of the football team, cheerleading team and highsteppers team should contact Eller at celler@townofstratford.com, Laurie Marranzino-Piroh at pirohl@stratfordk12.org, or Stratford Athletic Director Bob Baird at (203) 385-4240 or bairdr@stratfordk12.org if they plan to attend.

Reservations are requested to be submitted by no later than Nov. 23. There will be a registration tent set up for the 1988 team at the field and they will be recognized at halftime of the game, which begins at 10 a.m.

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