BERLIN >> With emotions running high, the Berlin football team played exactly the way Nick Zuk would have played.
Only this time Zuk wasn’t on the field, but watching from above as his Redcoats teammates got the job done.
On ‘Nick A. Zuk Day’ as Gov. Dannel Malloy proclaimed Sept. 16, 2016 in the state of Connecticut, Berlin beat Rockville 50-14 at Scalise Field in Sage Park.
Zuk died of Leukemia on June 25 as he prepared for his senior season with the Redcoats.
The entire Berlin football community was at Sage Park on Friday as a memorial honoring Zuk was unveiled and dedicated. Coaches and players walked out of the locker room, placed a red rose on the bronze Berlin helmet, some kissing the crown before walking onto the field.
“He meant so much to the program,” Berlin senior quarterback Jack Hamel said. “When you come out here and think of it as he’s still with us, he’s watching us and he’s always on us. We play four quarters and we play to win, because that’s what he’d want.”
“It was probably the most important game of the year. Because of the reason behind it and how much Nick meant to all of us, so this game really meant a lot.”
As starting lineups were announced, Zuk was listed as the right tackle, like every game since his freshman year and every game this year.
“He never gave up,” Hamel said. “Hardest worker. And if his mind was set on something he was going to achieve it and I think it really spread to all of us.”
Rockville won the coin toss and received the opening kick, but went three and out and punted to the Redcoats. On the first offensive play of the game Berlin sent 10 players onto the field leaving the right tackle spot open as another reminder that Zuk is there with them every step of the way.
Berlin scored on its opening drive, a 1-yard run by Alex Halkias. Then the trademark defense that the Redcoats have been known for for so long stepped up. It forced a Rockville fumble on their first play of the second drive setting up great field position inside the 30-yard-line.
“The defense has always been the rock in Berlin,” first-year head coach Joe Aresimowicz said. “Even when the offense struggled, it seemed like the defense would hold us together. Last week I think they were very unhappy with their efforts — they came out tonight on a mission to prove and I think they did it.”
After a couple of solid runs by freshman Larry St. Pierre Jr., classmate Zachary Hrubiec plowed his way into the endzone to make it a 14-0 Berlin lead with 3:55 left in the 1st.
“You could feel it out on the field,” Rockville coach AJ Taddio said. “They were definitely utilizing that passion and that’s what you want from your football players — they’re already a good team and then with the poor situation with [Zuk], they played to an extra level today and you could feel it.”
Berlin scored on its next two offensive possessions after Rockville punts. St. Pierre Jr. ran for three touchdown of 23, three and six respectively.
“We always had faith in our offense,” Aresimowicz said. “We just knew we had to execute at a high level.”
In fact, four of Berlin’s seven touchdowns were scored by freshman. A positive sign for the program, but also significant because Zuk cracked the varsity starting lineup in ninth grade and never relinquished his spot.
— Derek Turner (@DCT_Sports) September 17, 2016
“It shows the level of talent that we have coming up through the system,” Aresimowicz said. “They run our offense [in the youth program] all the way through and when players come up to the varsity level at such a young age and contribute, it’s more about the program that we’ve established more than anything else.”
St. Pierre Jr. did not know Zuk personally, but met him a couple of times at midget football games in town. Even in the short period of time, Zuk had a positive impact on him.
“He was a great kid,” St. Pierre Jr. said. “When you were down he’d always bring you back up. He always had a smile on his face and would bring a smile to your face.”
Rockville did its best to get its passing game working and it did work a couple of times resulting in two touchdowns, both passes from Justin Orlowski to Romeo Sowah. The first a short pass over the middle that Sowah took 64 yards in the second quarter and the other a 5-yard pass to the corner of the endzone when the game was already out of reach.
With the clock running due to the new rules this year that allows a running clock if the scoring margin is 35 points in the third quarter or 42 points in the fourth, Berlin was running out of time, but for what? The win was all, but certain. The team wanted to honor Zuk one more way.
— Derek Turner (@DCT_Sports) September 16, 2016
So after taking a knee during the PAT try with 9:50 left after Mitch Maslowski’s 39-yard touchdown catch Berlin had 50 points, Zuk’s jersey is No. 53.
“We were ahead,” Aresimowicz said. “And it wasn’t until they scored their second that we realized we would be in reach. We got as close as we could. The clock was working against us, but we wanted to get down to an area where we could have kicked the field goal to make it a 53-point game.”
Rockville scored its second touchdown with 2:02 left and the clock still ticking, Aresimowicz called a timeout and try to get his team in field goal range for sophomore kicker Giancarlo Tufano. So with about five seconds remaining,
Tufano let a near 50-yard field goal attempt fly, but it flew wide left and about five to 10 yards short.
“I think we played with a lot of heart, because the game was dedicated to Nick,” Hamel said. “It would have been nice to get to 53, but we played well, we got the win and we hope we made Nick happy, because we know football meant so much to him.”
After the game the memorial was officially dedicated and not a single Berlin fan left as Zuk’s sister and mother spoke about their brother and son. A check for $12,500 was presented to the Connecticut Children’s Medical Center in Nick Zuk’s name and all proceeds from the t-shirt sale and any other donations will be going to the Nick Zuk Scholarship Fund.
BERLIN 50, ROCKVILLE 14
— Derek Turner (@DCT_Sports) September 16, 2016
Rockville: 0 7 0 7 — 14
Berlin: 14 22 8 6 — 50
(at Scalise Field, Sage Park)
B — Alex Halkias 1 run (Giancarlo Tufano kick)
B — Zachary Hrubiec 4 run (Tufano kick)
B — Larry St. Pierre Jr. 23 run (Tufano kick)
B — Jack Hamel 15 run (Tufano kick)
R — Romeo Sowah 64 pass from Justin Orlowski (Nick Attardo kick)
B — St. Pierre Jr. 3 run (Halkias pass from Hamel good)
B — St. Pierre Jr. 6 run (Hrubiec rush good)
B — Mazlowski 39 pass from Hamel (kneel)
R — Sowah 5 pass from Orlowski (Attardo kick)
Team records: Rockville 0-2; Berlin 1-1.