It’s hard to call Harold Cooper anonymous. The Hillhouse running back is midway through his fourth season of terrorizing SCC defenses, he has been the Academics’ feature back on a pair of state championship teams and his numbers speak for themselves.
Last Thursday evening in Wallingford before a relatively sparse crowd, Cooper scored four times — including a punt return and receiving touchdown — as Hillhouse blasted Sheehan 42-2. His rushing totals added up slowly, a relatively long run late in the first half gave him a modest 80 yards at the half, but by the time the game was out of hand late in the third quarter, Cooper finished with 183 yards on 19 carries, moving into fifth-place all-time in state history in career rushing yards (6,024).
Yet with Hillhouse coming into Riccitelli Field just 2-3, most of the state’s eyes on Thursday were on Ansonia’s Arkeel Newsome. Rightfully so, of course, Newsome continued his assault of the Connecticut record book by becoming the state’s all-time rushing leader as his Chargers blew out Masuk about 20 miles away from where Cooper was doing his work.
Unfortunately for Cooper, with the notable exception of next week’s game against North Haven, the media world may little note nor long remember his 2013 campaign, even if it’s likely he’ll complete his career fourth all-time in Connecticut history in rushing yards (and approximately 3,000 yards ahead of the former SCC career leader, former Hamden star Horace Dodd).
Hillhouse will likely win the majority of its remaining games, Cooper will roll up his yards (he has 1,074 this season, averaging 13.4 yards per attempt), and after Thanksgiving, that will be it for Cooper’s career.
“He’s a very coachable kid,” Hillhouse coach Reggie Lytle said. “He’s quiet most of the time. He doesn’t talk too much, if you didn’t call his name, you wouldn’t know he was in the room. I hate for it to be his senior year, I’m going to miss him, I’ve known him since Pop Warner. He stays out of trouble, his parents did a great job of staying on him. I wish I had 20 other kids just like him. He’s very knowledgeable of the game and comes to work every day. What else can you ask?”
Even looking at my schedule the rest of the way, last Thursday is probably the last time I’ll ever see Cooper play in the flesh. Without a home field this season, Hillhouse plays no more night games and with all the big Division I action still remaining, it’s going to be tough (unless cloning or transporting becomes feasible in the next few weeks).
Unless…. Unless, of course, Hillhouse can repeat what it did three years ago, led by a freshman named Cooper. The Acs fell to 4-3 when they lost a 9-6 heartbreaker at Bowen Field against Xavier, but were able to sneak into the expanded Class M playoffs as the eighth and final seed. That was bad news for the rest of Class M, as Hillhouse went all the way to Rentschler Field and upset New London, 7-0, with Cooper scoring the only touchdown of the game.
It’s still very early to look at the points standings, but already two Class M teams would qualify with two losses if the season were to end today. Hillhouse is currently 19th, but would jump significantly by beating Foran and North Haven in the next two weeks.
“We’re looking to do what we did in my freshman year,” Cooper said. “We’re going to try to run the table, get back to where we were last year, and win it all.”
To kick or not to kick
I’ve expressed before that I think high school football should develop an overtime procedure more like college football, where the ball is placed at the 25-yard line to begin and not the 10 to give defenses a little better chance to make a stand.
Either way, the system isn’t perfect. Often, as happened in the Cheshire-Sheehan game earlier this season, a missed extra point decides the winner, which — let’s be honest here — is a pretty crummy way to decide a contest, no?
And so, when Ervin Philips scored to open overtime against Xavier Friday night, I thought the Blue Devils should go for two. In the back of my mind somewhere was the Westies’ disastrous field goal try against Greenwich in the first week of the season that started the Cardinals’ comeback by ending up as six points the other way. But kicker Tayvon Gibbs was already 4-for-4 on Friday night on PATs, so coach Ed McCarthy stuck with going for one. The extra point wasn’t pretty, but Gibbs got it through.
After Xavier turned around and scored, Sean Marinan decided it was time to go for the win. In the end, Joe Carbone was stopped (by Philips of all people) just short of the goal line, but it’s hard to second-guess a decision like that. At least the Falcons lost the game with their offense on the field and forced the Westies to make a great defensive stop to do it.
Unfortunately for Xavier, the manner in which they were beaten doesn’t change their playoff situation. Now with two losses in Class LL, the Falcons only play 10 games this season since the series with Middletown on Thanksgiving was discontinued (which looks like more and more of a shame as every week passes). They’re going to have to win their final four games (which includes Hand, Fairfield Prep, and Shelton), and then hope.
Fairfield Prep came out for its biggest game in a few seasons, and just got run over by Hand at the Surf Club, trailing 28-6 at the half, the first two touchdowns coming before Prep’s defense even stepped on the field (a fumble and kickoff return). The Jesuits recovered enough to make it a game in the second half, but it’s their second loss and puts them on the playoff bubble with a murderous Division I schedule that concludes with West Haven still left… Cameran Tucker is still not quite 100 percent, but he was still enough percent to lead Notre Dame past Amity 38-20. Tucker ran for 98 yards and three touchdowns, including two in the fourth quarter for the Green Knights… Shelton held off Wilbur Cross 36-19 for an important win, but the biggest concern for the Gaels afterward was the health of quarterback Mark Piccirillo, who left with an injury after throwing just two passes and rushing the ball once. Without him, the Gaels stuck to the ground, running for nearly 500 yards. Shelton hosts Hand on Friday… East Haven was shutout for the fourth time this season and third consecutive week when Guilford beat the Yellowjackets, 33-0. The Easties host Lyman Hall this week, and the Trojans have given up 272 points this season, third most in the state (Notre Dame-Fairfield and Sacred Heart-Waterbury), so something will have to give… East Haven (66) has still managed 15 more points than Branford (51) this season, the Hornets dropped a 46-12 decision to North Haven to drop to 0-6. Good news for Branford: none of the final five teams on their schedule have a winning record… Hamden was stopped by Cheshire 13-6, the Dragons have scored only 10 points in their three losses, but 113 in their three wins… If you haven’t yet, follow me on Twitter at currenscc.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Jason Thompson, Shelton — With Marc Piccirillo injured, Thompson shouldered most of the load, rushing for 303 yards on 34 carries and two touchdowns as the Gaels got a road win over Wilbur Cross 36-19 Friday afternoon. Thompson’s previous high for rushing attempts this season had been 20.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS
Number of consecutive home wins by Hand after beating Fairfield Prep on Sunday, dating back to 2009 (when they lost to eventual state champion Notre Dame). Only 21 of those victories actually came at the Surf Club, the Tigers played two home games on campus last season after postponements. The remaining schedule this season: (Xavier, Notre Dame, Class L quarterfinal?).
GAME OF THE WEEK
Hand at Shelton, Friday, 7 p.m. — Well, we just talked about the Tigers’ home brilliance, but can they carry it on the road against a Gaels team that desperately needs a resume building win after losing to Fairfield Prep two weeks ago. The transitive property tells us that Hand should win, but as we’ve found out this season, that doesn’t always work when the ball is kicked off. It does stand to reason that this trip to Fairfield County should go a little better at least than the Tigers’ last trip there on the opening Wednesday of the season.
- 1. Hand (5-1; Last Week 4)—Didn’t think we’d see these guys on top five weeks ago, did we, folks?
- 2. West Haven (5-1; LW 5)—Philips’ biggest play of the season actually came on defense, and it was massive.
- 3. Fairfield Prep (4-2; LW 1)—See, Prep, we try to put you on top of the rankings and look what happens.
- 4. Xavier (4-2; LW 2)—Defense has really struggled this season, and still at least three very good teams left.
- 5. Shelton (5-1; LW 3)—Good win Friday, but we wait to see what Piccirillo’s health status is for Hand.
- 6. North Haven (5-1; LW 6)—Darien and Hillhouse await, but don’t want to overlook Guilford this week.
- 7. Hillhouse (3-3; LW 7)—May all come down to next week’s game against North Haven (which is at East Haven).
- 8. Notre Dame (2-4; LW 12)—Pretty gutsy win by ND last week, and hope to cause problems for people.
- 9. Wilbur Cross (3-3; LW 11)—Slightly surprising Govs were beaten up at line of scrimmage way they were.
- 10. Amity (3-3; LW 8)—Still throwing for plenty of yards, but didn’t quite have the defense to back it up.
- 11. Cheshire (3-3; LW 10)—Rams have a reasonably favorable schedule after taking on Prep this week.
- 12. Foran (4-2; LW 9)—If Lions can find a way to upset Hillhouse, might be able to start thinking playoffs.
- 13. Guilford (3-3; LW 13)—Have last three games at home, but they’ll all be tough ones for the Indians.
- 14. Hamden (3-3; LW 14)—Just can’t really score right now, and hard to see that getting better with schedule.
- 15. Jonathan Law (1-4; LW 15)—Took the week off, which really screws up our even standings, but oh well.
- 16. Sheehan (1-5; LW 16)—At one point Thursday, Titans had minus-33 yards rushing against Hillhouse.
- 17. East Haven (1-5; LW 17)—What they wouldn’t do for a couple of touchdowns right now. Or a field goal.
- 18. Branford (0-6; LW 18)—As said earlier, no teams with winning records left on the Hornets’ schedule.
- 19. Lyman Hall (0-6; LW 19)—Might be fired up for Friday against East Haven; best chance for win since?