CROMWELL >> Powered by a new-found passing attack, a kick-off return for a touchdown, and a momentum shifting goal-line stand, Cromwell/Portland took another huge step towards a possible Class S playoff berth with an impressive 33-12 Pequot Conference win over Hyde/Career/Whitney Tech Friday at Pierson Park.
Panthers senior quarterback Jarius Bailey completed 9 of 10 passes for 151 yards and two touchdowns. Junior Kristian Sapp led all rushers with 128 yards on 15 carries, while Nelson Carlson gained 70 yards and scored two touchdowns.
“This was a big win,” Cromwell coach Chris Eckert. “Our defense definitely stepped up to the challenge. Our passing game was better than it has been all year. That’s very important for us to be a two-faceted team.”
Junior running back Jhavion Haddock led Hyde with 108 yards on 16 carries.
“(Cromwell) did a great job on defense,” Hyde coach Brandon McCormick said. “They really held us in check. Their defensive line and the trenches were the difference.”
Bailey’s 25-yard scoring toss to Sapp gave the Panthers a 7-0 lead with 4:49 left in the first quarter. Haddock returned the ensuing kick-off 72 yards for a touchdown but Cromwell blocked the extra point try and led 7-6.
Carlson then answered Haddock’s score with an electrifying 80-yard kick-off return for a touchdown, giving the Panthers a 14-6 lead.
The Howling Wolves (6-3) had a second-and-goal from the Panthers 1-yard line with less than two minutes to go in the first half. But the Panthers line – seniors Justice Taylor, Mersad Zilkic, Elijaih Oakkcliff and junior Ethan Roy – stopped three Hyde running plays, including a quarterback sneak on fourth down by Tyrese Thomas that fell inches short of the goal-line.
“When you’re at the 1-yard line you have to smell the end zone and we didn’t,” McCormick said. “It could be a different game if we go into the half scoring that touchdown.’
Cromwell opened the second half by recovering an onsides kick off a short 20-yard boot from Rich Loza.
“Special teams was a little rough for us tonight,” McCormick added. “Mistakes and penalties really hurt us.”
Two plays later Bailey zipped a 40-yard touchdown pass over the middle to sophomore Dianta Highsmith for a 20-6 advantage.
Hyde answered on a nifty 27-yard half-back TD toss from Haddock to Quashad Linen, cutting the lead to 20-12 late in the third quarter.
But Cromwell linebacker Jack Wilson made a huge interception early in the fourth quarter and Nelson’s 9-yard TD capped the Panthers ensuing drive.
Sapp then sealed things with a 39-yard touchdown scamper on fourth down, making it 33-12 with just 2:13 left.
The Panthers (8-1), who entered the Senior Night contest ranked No. 8 in the playoff point standings, travel to Rocky Hill on Thanksgiving.
“You can’t think (about playoffs),” Eckert said. “We’ve got Rocky Hill and that will be a big rivalry and an awesome game. If anything, our playoffs start now.”
Cromwell 33, Hyde 12
Hyde 6 0 6 0 0 — 12
Cromwell 14 0 6 13 0 — 33
C—Kristian Sapp 25 pass from Jarius Bailey (Rich Loza kick)
H—Jhavion Haddock 72 kickoff ret (Kick blocked)
C—Nelson Carlson 80 kickoff ret (Loza kick)
C—Dianta Highsmith 40 pass from Jarius Bailey (Kick failed)
H—Quashad Linen 27 pass from Jhavion Haddock (Run failed)
C—Nelson Carlson 9 run (Kick failed)
C—Kristian Sapp 39 run (Loza kick)
Team records: Cromwell 8-1; Hyde 6-3