— Paul Doyle (@PaulDoyle1) November 22, 2018
ROCKY HILL — The postseason berth was secure as they took the field for the final regular season game, another showdown with their Thanksgiving Day rival.
But make no mistake: Rocky Hill was very much an emotional matchup for the Cromwell/Portland players. The seniors, a group with just seven losses over four years, had yet to experience a win over their neighbors.
“They wanted to right the ship,” Cromwell/Portland coach Randell Bennett said.
In fact, the Panthers (8-1) avenged their three previous losses in the Shunpike Showdown with an emphatic 30-0 victory Wednesday night. After losing to Rocky Hill three times in the rivalry game — including a 35-7 loss last season, when Cromwell/Portland missed the playoffs with a 9-2 record — Bennett’s team had something to prove.
This time, the Panthers didn’t need a win to make the playoffs. But there was plenty at stake.
“Oh, we were motivated,” senior quarterback Bryce Karstetter said.
Karstetter entered the game with 2,420 yards passing and 27 touchdown. On a cold and windy night, he completed 8 of 20 passes for 144 yards, including a 61-yard scoring strike to Nick Wright on the Panthers’ second possession of the game.
He also had two long touchdown completions called back because of penalties.
“We were motivated,” Karstetter said. “It’s been a tough road with [Rocky Hill] but we were able to come out and execute the game plan.”
Cromwell/Portland led 10-0 at the end of the first quarter and 17-0 at the half, as Karstetter scored on a 4-yard run with 17 seconds left before the intermission.
The lead grew when senior Bryan Lockwood scored on an 8-yard run in the third quarter and added a 1-yard touchdown run as the game ended. Lockwood had 110 yards on 18 carries.
“Our seniors have lost to these guys every year,” Bennett said. “So they had something they wanted to prove. Especially after leaving here last year with a defeat.”
The loss at Rocky Hill (2-8) in 2017 lingered. When this year’s game was moved from Cromwell to Rocky Hill, the players embraced the opportunity to return to the same turf.
With the victory behind them, the attention turns to the playoffs. Cromwell/Portland returns for the second time in three years.
In 2016, the Panthers beat Bloomfield before losing to Ansonia in the Class S playoffs. They were 10-2 that season.
Over the past four seasons, the team is 35-7. But they’ve missed the postseason twice, so this year’s return is special regardless of the opponent.
“I’m just happy for the players,” Bennett said. “The last four years, they’ve seen 8-2 two years not get them in the playoffs. I’m just glad they get to go out in the tournament, however to turns out for us. I’m just glad that they get to experience this.”