WEEK 10 Hyde Co-Op at Cromwell/Portland, Friday, 6 p.m.
NEW HAVEN >> A current five-game winning streak has put Hyde/Career/Whitney Tech in the Class M state playoff conversation.
The Howling Wolves (6-2), who are 10th in the Class M rankings, will need to win their two remaining regular-season games and then acquire enough bonus points to qualify. The top eight teams make the field.
After a 1-2 start, which saw Hyde lose close games to Old Saybrook/Westbrook and Morgan, the Howling Wolves recommitted to reaching their goals.
“We knew at that point that if we had any aspirations of getting into the playoffs we would have to run the table,” first-year Hyde coach Brandon McCormick said. “That’s kind of been the goal game by game, just take it one by one and see how we make out. We’ve gotten better week by week, and we’re hoping we can do something special.”
Senior captain Latrell Alston, an offensive lineman/linebacker, said the two-game losing streak back in September was a turning point.
“I think our attitude overall changed,” Alston said. “Coming into these last couple of weeks we’ve been super serious. We’ve all been on board with everything. It’s going to have to be another big week for us.”
The renewal of a heated rivalry with an old nemesis, Cromwell/Portland, will determine Hyde’s playoff fate. The teams square off Friday night at 6 at Pierson Park in Cromwell. The Panthers (7-1) are in the hunt for a playoff berth in Class S.
“Since I’ve been here it’s been big, and it’ll continue to be big as long as we play each other,” Alston said. “It’s one that we always want to get, no matter if we’re in playoff contention or not. So, it’s always going to be important. But I think the playoff possibilities make it even bigger this year.”
Hyde holds a 7-6 series lead over Cromwell, including a victory over the Panthers in the Class S championship game in 2004.
When McCormick joined the Hyde staff as an assistant in 2008, Cromwell defeated the Howling Wolves in both the regular season and in the Class S semifinals. The next year, Hyde earned a 6-0 victory over Cromwell in the regular season en route to the Class S title.
The Howling Wolves have won the last two meetings, including a 45-24 victory last season.
“They know the past,” McCormick said about the current crop of players. “We’ve had some alumni come by and talk about some of the games in the years prior. It’s always been a big rivalry. It’s been a battle. They’re a good team, they’re tough. It’s a rival game for us, for sure.”
Hyde has been led by running back Jhavion Haddock, a 5-foot-5, 165-pound junior. He’s rushed 130 times for 1,396 yards and 20 touchdowns.
“His dedication to the weight room was a really big thing from his sophomore year to his junior year,” McCormick said. “He dedicated himself every day, he was there every day and he worked extremely hard. He doesn’t pass the look test, but his strength is up there. He’s one of the stronger kids on the team.”
Haddock is also a threat when returning punts and kickoffs. He’s totaled 24 touchdowns.
“I just have that drive in me now, more than anything,” Haddock said. “I want to make it happen for my team. I want to give back to the coaches, my teammates and my seniors.”
The Howling Wolves operate out of the wing-T. The backfield also includes junior quarterback Tyrese Thomas, senior fullback Ralik Garvins, senior running back Qashad Linen and freshman running back Neal Eley.
“It’s great for us,” Garvins said. “We have a big line; they’re very strong. Jhavion, he can do it all. He has strength, he has speed, great vision. He can get himself out of some sticky situations. He takes what he gets and he makes big plays.
“I think we have one of the best (backfields). We have Jhavion, one of the best in the state, and I do what I do, try to get the yardage that we need. We just make it work.”
Alston, Garvins, a linebacker, sophomore linebacker Nick May, junior lineman De’Shawn Stokes and senior linebacker Terran Weston have been instrumental for a defense that’s allowing just 14.3 points per game. Thomas and sophomore Wyatt Jackson have been standouts in the secondary.
“Our defense has really done a stellar job of working together as a unit and have held us down, really, when the offense wasn’t working,” McCormick said. “In the beginning of the season, the defense really did well, and now the offense is really coming together.”
Said Alston: “I think our defense is going to have to come up big this week. Cromwell is strong and big and fast, and we’re just going to have to come up with another big effort.”