Coming off a resounding loss to West Haven on Sept. 30, Cheshire rebounded and responded against SCC power Xavier this past weekend.
The Rams (4-1) led 23-14 going into the fourth quarter against the Falcons, only to see the lead evaporate. Xavier rallied and took a 24-23 lead with just 1:26 remaining.
But Cheshire was not to be denied.
The Rams’ comeback was capped when junior Ethan Bronson kicked the game-winning 39-yard field goal with just five seconds left to set off a raucous celebration.
“I think it builds a ton of confidence,” Cheshire coach Don Drust said. “Xavier is a very good, very physical football team. It definitely builds confidence when you get a win like that.”
The Rams earned wins over North Haven, the defending Class L state finalist, Amity and Sheehan to open the season before losing 41-14 to still unbeaten West Haven.
“We talked about it,” Drust said. “We certainly, obviously, didn’t play as well as we were capable against West Haven. We felt we went away from what got us to where we were. The big conversation was to get back to what we were doing the first three weeks of the season and to just hit the reset button.”
Bronson had made all 19 PATs and all five fields goals he’s attempted this season. He’s also averaging more than 40 yards per punt.
“He’s a weapon for us,” Drust said. “It’s a huge thing as a high school coach to have a guy run out there with five seconds left and have no doubt in his ability to do it. He’s a phenomenal kid. He’s great in the classroom and he’s great out of the classroom. I’m a firm believer in that it loops back and that success breeds success.”
Junior Will Graikoski started at quarterback against Xavier and completed 13 of 31 passes for 218 yards and one touchdown. Graikoski came off the bench against West Haven after starter Jack Raba left the game with injury.
Drust would not reveal what Raba’s injury is but said Raba is working his way back in and is not out for the season. Raba tore an ACL in the penultimate game last season.
“We’re in a position where, as a coach, we’re a little bit spoiled,” Drust said. “We have two guys who proved they can play under the lights on Friday night. Will is so level-headed, he’s so calm, it allows him to be successful. He shows up and just does him job.”
Whether it’s been with Graikoski or Raba, Drust has been pleased with his team’s offensive output.
“We’re moving the football,” Drust said. “The big thing for us is turnovers. If you limit turnovers, you win football games. We’ve really limited the turnovers in almost every game.”
Cheshire has a bye this week and returns to action on Oct. 21 at home against Fairfield Prep (4-1).
“They’re another big challenge for us,” Drust said. “They’re another big, physical team.”
At the midway point, Oxford (4-1) has already surpassed last season’s win total, and there’s reason to believe the Wolverines can make a push at a state playoff berth.
Oxford has 17 seniors, many of whom have seen action since they were sophomores.
“We figured we would be improved because we have a lot of kids who have two to three years of playing experience,” Oxford coach Joe Stochmal said. “A lot of these seniors played a sophomores. We figured we would have something this year and so far we have.”
The Wolverines have allowed just 60 points. More than half came in a 34-7 loss to unbeaten Ansonia on Sept. 23. Oxford surrendered less than 10 points in wins over Watertown (32-6), Crosby (9-0) and Woodland (48-6).
“We have a lot of speed defensively,” Stochmal said. “And the kids who have speed are physical kids.”
Senior Joe Romanga leads the team with 41 tackles, while senior Dan Herold has recorded 34 tackles. Fellow senior Griffin Downs has also been a force on that side of the ball. All three are linebackers.
“We thought our linebacking corps would be a good starting point on defense,” Stochmal said. “And we have some big boys up front.”
Romagna (6-foot-2, 210 pounds) is also the team’s leading rusher. He’s carried 73 times for 501 yards and six touchdowns.
“He’s a physical kid and a physical runner,” Stochmal said. “He’ll punish you if you get in his way. He’ll throw a shoulder and just run right over you.”
Herold and Downs also contribute out of the backfield. The Wolverines run out of multiple formations offensively.
“At the beginning of the season there were question marks with our ability to throw the ball,” Stochmal said. “Up front, we have not always been good at protecting, and not always great with accuracy at quarterback, so we were tentative to throw the ball early in the season,” Stochmal said.
Senior quarterback Tyler Jacob has steadily improved this season and Oxford is no longer one-dimensional. Jacob completed 8 of 13 passes for 145 yards and two touchdowns and no interceptions in the victory over Woodland.
“He’s getting better,” Stochmal said. “With his improvement, we’re going to be a little more difficult to defend.”
Despite the loss to Ansonia, Stochmal was pleased with his team’s performance in that game. There was no score after one quarter before the Chargers found a rhythm offensively in the second quarter to take a 21-0 lead at halftime.
“Anytime you go and play Ansonia, you play the stigma of Ansonia and the kids on the field,” Stochmal said. “You have to get over that. We didn’t fear them. We respected them, but we didn’t fear them. We were close. We did some nice things in that game, but we didn’t make a big play when we needed to. I thought we played well, we played physical with them, we just didn’t execute.”
The Wolverines now prep for an NVL Copper Division tilt with Derby on Saturday at 2 p.m. The game will honor the military and each team will wear uniforms with camouflage in the numbering.