NEW BRITAIN — Two weeks is hardly enough time to install an intricate offense, especially when that offense requires precision and a rhythm from its passing attack. It becomes even tougher when an all-star quarterback gets knocked from the game.
Defense, on the other hand… Once the coverage strategy is established, the players can just pin their ears back and play.
While offense made its presence felt early, defense nabbed the spotlight in Connecticut’s 28-7 victory over Rhode Island in the revival of the Governor’s Cup Senior All-Star football game on a sweltering Saturday at New Britain’s Veterans Stadium. The victory was Connecticut’s 11th straight in the series, which returned this year after a five-year layoff. Team Connecticut now leads the overall series 12-3.
“That’s the thing with these all-star games, they want to gear the rules toward the offense,” said Xavier’s Andy Guyon, the head coach of Team Connecticut. “But the offense has to get clicking. It has to get its timing right. There’s a lot to it.
“With defense, it’s much easier to get ready.”
Bulkeley’s Dayjion Washington broke a 7-7 tie with an 18-yard interception return touchdown to give Connecticut the lead for good in the second quarter.
With the game still in doubt in the fourth quarter, Hartford Public’s Leon Campbell forced a fumble that Shelton’s Mike Casinelli recovered, which set up the clinching touchdown.
“We talked to them at halftime about finishing,” Guyon said. “I give (Rhode Island) credit for coming out and making us coach and making our guys play. They didn’t roll over they came out and played hard. It wasn’t easy.
“At halftime, the message was, for the rest of your lives you’ve got 24 minutes, for the state of Connecticut, for your family and for your school and what are you guys going to do with it? They came out and did a pretty good job.”
With Norwich Free Academy’s Shea McManaway getting knocked out early in the second quarter, Capital Prep quarterback and Central Connecticut State signee Kyle Zajack played the remainder of the game. He wound up throwing three touchdown passes to earn Connecticut’s Offensive MVP.
“It was unexpected, you obviously don’t want to see someone go down like that,” Zajack said. “It sucks that it happened. But at the end of the day, we still had to finish business that we had here and give Connecticut a win.”
Zajack’s first touchdown was a 64-yard strike to Simsbury’s Ralph Gilliard early in the second quarter. It was Connecticut’s answer to Rhode Island’s first score: a 49-yard touchdown pass from University of Rhode Island signee Nick Dionizio to Zach Pezza on the game’s second series.
Washington’s go-ahead pick-6 came on the first play from scrimmage following Connecticut’s tying score.
“The game was basically becoming a defensive showdown,” Washington said. “Tie game. Somebody had to make a play. I saw the opening and I took advantage.”
Washington’s touchdown stood up until the fourth quarter when Connecticut finally pulled away.
Killingly’s Spencer Lockwood, the reigning Gatorade Player of the Year, turned a short pass into a big gain into Rhode Island territory to end the third quarter. It set up Zajack’s second touchdown pass, a 20-yarder to St. Joseph’s Jared Mallozzi, his future CCSU teammate, early in the fourth quarter.
“Kyle’s a tough kid. We knew he could do it,” said Lockwood, who will play at Trinity College. “He knew when Shea went down he was going to have to step up — we didn’t have any other quarterback, so he was going to have to.
“He did a great job. Once the offense got familiar with their defense, we were able to do what we wanted to do.”
Campbell’s hit and forced fumble gave Connecticut the ball back at the Rhode Island 24. Zajack repaid the favor with an 11-yard strike to Southington’s Tim O’Shea, which put the game away.
Casinelli was named Connecticut’s defensive MVP. Platt’s Zavian Arroyo was Connecticut’s Coaches Award winner. J.P. Mason of Bishop Hendricken was Rhode Island’s defensive MVP. Dionizio was Rhode Island’s offensive MVP. Moses Brown was Rhode Island Coaches Award winner.
“This feels great. High school football, you only get one shot at it,” Zajack said. “I think we all realized that and I think we all realized how important this is. We came together, had a great time and I’m glad we won.”
Connecticut 28, Rhode Island 7
Rhode Island 7 0 0 0 — 7
Connecticut 0 14 0 14 — 28
RI–Zach Pezza 54 pass from Nick Dionizio (kick good)
CT–Ralph Gilliard 64 pass from Kyle Zajack (Jonathan Lindquist kick)
CT–Dayjion Washington 18 interception return (Lindquist kick)
CT–Jared Mallozzi 20 pass from Zajack (Lindquist kick)
CT–Tim O’Shea 11 pass from Zajack (Lindquist kick)