Bullard-Havens was down 16-0 after the first quarter of a football game a little over a week ago against Vinal/Goodwin/Whitney Techs, its perfect start in question. The Tigers scored 44 points in a row from there.
“What I liked was the kids didn’t go in the tank,” coach Chris Pace said. “They want to win. They want to be successful. That’s hard to teach. That’s hard to coach. They make it a challenge to themselves.”
The 4-0 Tigers come off their bye week on Saturday afternoon at 2 to visit Abbott Tech/Immaculate, the only other unbeaten CTC team. The Tigers are the early leaders in the Class S point standings, seeking their eighth playoff appearance since 2007 and their fourth in a row.
They have yet to win a CIAC playoff game, though, falling last year to eventual runner-up Haddam-Killingworth 52-0.
“We did well last year, but we didn’t do so well in the playoffs. That’s something the kids want another shot at,” said Pace, in his second year at Bullard-Havens.
“They’ve dedicated themselves and focused at practice. It’s one week at a time. We know we’ve got to get there. But they want a shot to be the first team to do so, to win a playoff game.”
They’ve had lots of contributors, somebody different stepping up each game, Pace said. Linebacker Marcus Johnson “flies around from sideline to sideline, anchors our defense,” the coach said. Cyrus Cotto has thrown for over 1,000 yards in four games. And though they lost Eddie Holmes to graduation after he ran for over 1,600 yards last season, junior Deontray Eaddy has nearly 500 rushing yards in four games.
“It has been like putting in a younger Eddie,” Pace said. “He makes us tough to defend, because Cyrus can throw the ball so well. It puts the (defense) on edge.”
Pace thought they had some holes to fill on the line in the preseason. But senior Jonathan Torres, who missed his junior year with a torn ACL after playing as an underclassman, has returned, and sophomore Ty’Juan Marcano has been strong after getting time as a freshman.
“A couple of guys are rotating in and out,” Pace said. “They’re jelling with each other.”
There’s a fun little bonus to Saturday’s matchup: Pace began teaching at Abbott Tech last year, when he started coaching the Tigers.
“They give me a hard time when I wear my Bullard-Havens stuff,” Pace said with a laugh.
“They’re very good. They’re well-coached.”
It took a little longer than coach LaMar Kennedy hoped to get Wilby rolling, but now the Wildcats have more wins the past three weeks than they did the previous five years.
“I’m happy for the kids, especially the seniors,” Kennedy said as his team hits its bye week with a winning record, 3-2. “They’ve really put in the time that it takes to build a program to win. My No. 1 concern when I took over was changing the culture, and it took a little longer than I thought it would.”
This group of seniors is the second to spend four years with the coach, and their dedication in the weight room and offseason conditioning is showing up on the field, he said. A nice group of young players, including some big freshmen on the line, have complemented them.
The Wildcats had lost 54 of their last 57 games before beating city rival Kennedy 32-16 on Sept. 27. A 20-14 win at Crosby came a week later. And Saturday, they won 32-19 at Derby.
“They finally believe in themselves,” Kennedy said.
They’re led by linebacker Dashaune Wilson, who has four sacks and nine tackles for a loss while also leading the team with 15 catches. Kennedy said Wilson might be the smartest football player he has coached.
“The only reason he hasn’t been recruited heavily is we haven’t had the wins,” Kennedy said.
“He’s a special kind of player. He could probably start for any team in the state, that’s how good he is. … Whoever offers him is getting somebody who could start right away.”
The plan was for David Laboy to take over at quarterback. But one week into the season, Kennedy realized Laboy was more valuable at defensive back (he wasn’t going to let his quarterback play defense) and receiver.
Plus, Aaron James, the freshman younger brother of senior back Raekwon James, had just played a fantastic junior-varsity opener at quarterback.
“He ran for two touchdowns and threw for another. He looked out of place there,” Kennedy said. “He’s been wonderful ever since.”
Wilby was last above .500 when it was 4-3 midway through the 2013 season; it finished 5-6.
It won the first two games of that season after winning its last of 2012, but its last three-game winning streak in the same season was in 2009, when it won four in a row and five of the last six to finish 6-4, the Wildcats’ last winning season.
They hope to change that this year with a second half that begins Oct. 25 at Torrington. Plus, Kennedy said, the Wildcats haven’t yet played at full strength because of injuries. “I think we haven’t played our best game yet.”
At about the midpoint of the season, there are 21 teams still unbeaten: three in Class L, and six in each of the other three classes.
Four of those 21 are guaranteed not to finish that way because of head-to-head meetings. Bullard-Havens vs. ATI will provide the first of those.
(The 21 do not include Nonnewaug, whose four-game partial varsity schedule was set to begin Monday afternoon against Amistad in a game postponed from the weekend.)