Penalties, penalties, penalties.
False starts, offsides, personal fouls by the dozen.
Dropped balls, bad throws, missed blocks and blown assignments.
Those were the common denominators of the opening week football games.
Whether you were No. 2 Greenwich or unranked Seymour or Simsbury, you name the football team and chances are their head coaches were frustrated from a bushel of mistakes, regardless of whether their teams won or lost.
“We were sloppy. We were undisciplined. And we’re not going to win many games that we want to win like that, that’s my takeaway,” said Greenwich coach John Marinelli, whose team committed approximately 14 penalties in the first half of a game it won — 42-7 over coach Marce Petroccio and Trumbull. “I don’t know if we had a game last year with 14 penalties.
“We reiterated to our guys, it’s the exact opposite of what we’ve been preaching.”
Over in Bristol, interim Seymour coach Steve George — who was rushed into service and assembled a new staff just days before the season’s first practice — noticed the same in his team’s win over St. Paul.
The Wildcats committed eight penalties in the first half and squandered numerous opportunities to distance themselves from St. Paul. It was 20-6 at halftime instead of, potentially, 28-0. Even George was hit with a penalty that indirectly led to a score.
“We shot ourselves in the foot a lot early on, my penalty included. I’m out of coaching shape,” George quipped. “The little things are really important. We’re preaching them, just doing a better job with those penalties.”
Up in Middletown, Shelton struggled all game to get its offense in gear and ultimately won, 17-10, with defense. While Shelton coach Jeff Roy credited Cheshire for making him sweat, his team’s performance was less-than-helpful. “We have got to get better,” Roy said.
Like many high school football programs across Connecticut, practices have been hard to come by since the official start of the season back in August. Already limited due to relatively new contact rules and shortened time before the season, practices were further curtailed by several days of oppressive heat and humidity.
“I’m not making any excuses, but it was a tough week,” Roy said. “…Every team’s like that. It was tough to get any continuity. We didn’t have any rhythm. We didn’t have a lot of things going because we haven’t had a lot of practice time. And it showed.”
Both the heat and humidity didn’t dissipate until well after most of the games had been played this weekend.
Shelton’s issues were compounded by the fact that Finn Stadium is being re-surfaced. Greenwich’s issues were compounded by the ongoing restrictions placed on using lights at Cardinals Stadium and a storm that ripped through southern Connecticut on Thursday night. That same storm postponed Shelton’s Cheshire game at West Haven and sent it to Xavier High in Middletown on Friday night.
Marinelli said his team had three practices shortened during the week leading up to Saturday’s home game.
“Obviously when you don’t spend time on the field it’s going to hurt,” Marinelli said. “And football, unlike most sports, it’s such a repetitive deal. You have to be out there, you have to focus on tackling and you have to almost do it every day.
“It definitely affected us, but that’s no excuse. I’m sure (Trumbull) had to deal with it and most teams around the state. So, yea, maybe it affected the sloppiness. But the penalties, the stupid ones … Obviously, I’m doing something wrong. We’ve got to go back to the drawing board and make sure that doesn’t happen again.”
Thankfully, the humidity has skipped town, allowing at least some normalcy to return to football teams everywhere.
— SEAN PATRICK BOWLEY with MICHAEL FORNABAIO
Win makes it all better
When Shelton senior quarterback Jake Roberts went home after suffering a potentially season-ending knee injury in the early moments of his team’s preseason scrimmage with Ansonia, he did so as a wrecking ball.
“Yea, I went home, threw a few things and broke a few things in the house,” Roberts said.
Fortunately for the Gaels, Roberts was OK and was cleared to play just a few days before Shelton’s season-opener vs. Cheshire at Xavier Friday night.
While rumors flew, Roberts and Shelton attempted to mask the severity of his injury right up until after kickoff. At the annual SCC captains conference two days before, Roberts said he “was trying to walk as straight as possible so nobody would notice any thing.”
Shelton’s coaching staff actually started the game with senior running back Jack Carr in a wildcat formation and had Roberts split time with junior Michael Callihan. He only finished 9 of 19 passing for 69 yards and thew an interception, but was Shelton’s go-to guy in crunch time.
“Jake was questionable all week, we weren’t sure we were going to have him,” Shelton coach Jeff Roy said. “So we had a couple plans in, and a couple formations ready. But when we weren’t getting it done, we went back to Jake and just ran our regular offense.”
After Jake Falanga recovered a fumble at the Cheshire 8 with just a minute left, Roberts lowered his shoulder bulled into the end zone for the winning score.
“I was ready to go yesterday, I was all fired up and locked in,” Roberts said. “The whole team was locked in. I feel fantastic and (so does) the whole team. It just makes the rest of the week of practice a lot easier to get ready for Xavier next week.”
Carr actually was removed from the game for the second half. Jeff Roy said his senior back had got “banged up a bit” and was removed as a precaution. Giorgio Ghazal pounded his way for 58 yards on eight carries and set up a field goal in the third quarter.
— SEAN PATRICK BOWLEY
Not just a one-man show
A year ago, the East Hartford defense was predicated on one player.
“We relied too heavily on Kevon Jones to make tackle after tackle,” coach Rick Milton said.
Jones, of course, has graduated to UConn and is making an impact as a freshman linebacker. His old high school squad is taking a different route as it embarks on the season.
East Hartford, which opened the season with a 42-7 victory over South Windsor, is not looking for any one player to dominate in defense.
“This year we’re playing team defense,” Milton said.
Not that the influence of Jones isn’t felt. Jones is physically gifted, but he led East Hartford because of his diligence and football IQ. His ex-mates are embracing his approach to the game.
“The best thing about it is, we watch film together and the kids have study guides that we create,” Milton said, “They will go to someone’s house and they will sit there and bring it up on the big screen and … they watch film together. So it’s funny, we went to practice on Tuesday and we lined up in formations and they were calling out the play.
“So they were all taking kind of the approach… (from) Kevon — he was of the game. He was their leader last year, he’d watch film and kind of pick things up. Now they’re doing it as a whole.”
The East Hartford offense is potent, with dynamic senior quarterback Raquan Tompkins and an array of talented supporting players (running back David Ortiz, receivers Jaquan Allen and Jaydon Gardener).
But if the defense is stout, the No. 8 Hornets will be in the Class LL mix.
— PAUL DOYLE
Didn’t that guy graduate?
Bristol Eastern coach Anthony Julius could be forgiven if he thought he was seeing things when a certain No. 40 for E.O. Smith was sweeping into his offensive backfield to make five sacks in a 23-7 loss.
But, no, E.O. Smith coach James Kelly confirmed that it wasn’t two-time all-state defensive end Rondell Bothroyd making a quick trip back from Wake Forest to terrorize the CCC again. It was actually Bothroyd’s friend, E.O. Smith junior Isaih Lovell.
While not quite Bothroyd’s stature of 6-foot-3, 250 pounds, Lovell still cuts an imposing figure for a junior at 6-foot-3, 205.
“Rondell is close with Isaih, like an older brother, and asked for Rondell’s No. 40 to wear this year,” Kelly said. “He helped us win Friday at Bristol by crating pressure and havoc, defensively. He’s a talented junior for us with tremendous speed and abilities that can only get better.
“My defensive ends coach joked, ‘Maybe it is him!’ But it is due, in large part, to two very gifted athletes. Maybe (wearing) 40 will bring (Isaih) some luck, too.”
— SEAN PATRICK BOWLEY
Here’s what Barlow’s OT win looked like
Barlow, last year’s Class M runner up, made a goal line stand to preserve a 35-34 victory over Stratford in the season opener.
— Rion O'Clock (@RionOClock63) September 8, 2018
Stratford trailed 20-6 at halftime — a 90-yard kickoff return by Glen Diaz was countered by an ensuing kickoff return touchdown by Barlow’s Henry Shaban — and trailed by 22 midway through the third.
Stratford QB Jack Ryan threw a 73-yard TD pass to Jasen Docteur and then engineered a late drive to tie the game on a TD pass to Ryan Wechter.
In OT, Barlow scored and Stratford scored. But the Ryan’s winning 2-point conversion attempt was denied at the goal line.
Remembering Harding’s John Lewis
The new Harding High School gleams in blues and yellows on Bond Street, a few blocks away from where the old Hedges Stadium was literally crumbling.
The Presidents dedicated their new Lewis Memorial Field behind the school on Friday night. Alumni of all ages were in the stands (no stands on the visitors’ side, a couple of them noted, wondering what might happen when, say, Central came over) and on the field.
There were coaches and players who remembered Lewis, coach at Harding from 1968 until he was murdered at home in 1989, fondly. Mayor Joe Ganim read a proclamation from the City Council, and the lights sparked on as he finished.
And there was a group from Ponus Ridge Middle School in Norwalk. Its principal is Damon Lewis, John Lewis’ son and a former Harding coach himself. Damon Lewis talked about following his father all over the old Harding, running out to get the tee after kickoffs, dreaming of the day he’d play for the Presidents.
“It was about the pride we had on Central Avenue,” he said, “and now on Bond Street.”
Amity threw a wrench into keeping the party going, beating Harding 26-8. Presidents coach Eddie Santiago had a list of things he hoped they’d clean up before welcoming Fitch on Friday. The new facility was obviously not among them.
“It’s still great,” Santiago said. “We’re going to wake up to this tomorrow, and I’ll have a happy room to go to work to.”
The Notre Dame-Fairfield Lancers have dedicated this season to the memory of long-time assistant coach Bruce Howard, affectionately known as ‘Pops.’
Howard passed away last Thursday after a brief battle with cancer, according to athletic director Rob Bleggi. The players had a sticker with ‘Pops’ on their helmets. Howard was 73.
The Notre Dame community is mourning the passing of Bruce "Pops" Howard. Pops was a fixture at ND for over 20 years, always helping out at sporting events and coaching football. A great man, with a huge heart. pic.twitter.com/phl8e4PfYV
— NDFairfield (@NDFFLD) September 6, 2018
Meanwhile, in Trumbull, New Canaan senior receiver Quintin O’Connell wore No. 22 in honor of former New Canaan assistant coach Jason Cooper, who died unexpectedly July 7 as the team competed in its annual Grip It and Rip It passing league tournament at New Canaan. Cooper was 52.
Pops, Cooper and former Fairfield Prep championship coach Earl Lavery, who died at age 86 on August 27, were all honored with long a moment of silence at the St. Joseph-New Canaan game.
with SEAN PATRICK BOWLEY
ND-WH moves Friday game to Law
Notre Dame-West Haven has moved Friday’s home football game to Law High in Milford. Start time is 7:30 p.m.
School athletic director Jason Shea confirmed that Veterans Stadium in West Haven is getting a new turf and is not completed yet.
“The project started a little late. We hoped to have it done for our first home game,” Shea said. “We already had put a contingency plan in place. V.J. (Sarullo, Law’s athletic director) has been great.”
Shea said the new turf is supposed to be ready by Sept. 20 – the day before Notre Dame hosts West Haven.
Notre Dame’s home soccer game with Career/Hillhouse on Sept. 18 will be moved, according to Shea. The Green Knights host Hand on Sept. 20.
— JOE MORELLI
Odds and ends…
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… Hall coach Frank Robinson III earned his 100th career victory in a 31-26 victory over Simsbury on Friday night. Robinson has been the head coach at Hall since 2005, following in the footsteps of his father, the late Frank Robinson II, who coached there for 30 seasons starting in 1957. … There were 23 coaches making their debuts with new schools this week. Eight of them won, including three head-to-head matchups. The winners were Augustine Tieri of Danbury, Steve George at Seymour, Craig Bruno at Amity, Johnny Burns at New London and Tony Pereira at Pomperaug; new Wilton coach E.J. Dinunzio topped new McMahon coach Jeff Queiroga 9-0; new Staples coach Phil Treglia defeated Derrick Lewis at Bridgeport Central; new East Haven coach Scott Benoit defeated new Bassick coach Bill Mella‘s squad 51-0. …Darwin Amaya, in his debut as the Ansonia’s featured running back, ran for a 92-yard touchdown on his first carry of an eventual 55-6 victory over WCA. Meanwhile, Jalen Johnson was 8-for-8 on extra points for the Chargers, a rare occurrence for Ansonia. … New Southington quarterback Jacob Drena threw an interception in his first varsity start on Friday, but he quickly rallied to throw for 16 of 24 passes and five touchdowns in a 41-7 victory over Glastonbury. … Coginchaug/Hale Ray/East Hampton held off Canton, 16-8. While the game was a barnburner (CHREH scored twice in the final 8:21 to win it), the game was marred by 27 penalties and a fracas at midfield during the second quarter. According to the Collinsville Press’ report, and confirmed by Coginchaug coach Erik Becker, three players who were flagged for allegedly throwing punches were removed for the rest of the game rather than risk ejection for a second flag. … Last year, Hamden lost a shootout, 68-57 vs. Norwalk. This year, it was a defensive struggle the Dragons opened with a 6-0 victory over Fitch. The win was Hamden’s first opening-night win since 2013. … New Canaan may boast three Division I commits rotating through the defensive line, but it was the St. Joseph front that opened eyes, wreaking havoc on Rams quarterback Drew Pyne for the duration of the No. 3 Cadet’s 28-0 romp of No. 1 New Canaan on Saturday. Junior nose-tackle Jermaine Williams showed surprising quickness for a 300-pounder and figures to be a nightmare for opposing offensive linemen all season. … Looks like Brookfield has its mojo back. Even without one of their top threats, Chris Comizio, who limped off in the first half and did not return, the Bobcats were able to punish Masuk on the ground. They ran for a whopping 507 yards — 250 of which were courtesy of junior Nicholas Henderson — and six touchdowns in a 42-21 rout Friday at Benedict Field.
— ANTHONY PARELLI, DOUG BONJOUR
Just a few top performances from Week 1.
- East Hartford’s Raquan Tompkins, five rushing TDs in win over South Windsor .
- Stafford/Somers/East Windsor’s Colton Engel ran 20 times for 101 yards, was 8-for-9 passing for 109 yards and also returned a kickoff for a touchdown in his team’s victory over Morgan.
- Morgan QB JP Nye vs SSEW: Was 19 for 39 for 364 yards and three touchdowns and one Rushing TD.
- Stafford/Somers/East Windsor’s
- Hall’s Yovan Rivera, returned three kickoffs for 135 yards, including a 91-yard return in a 31-26 win over Simsbury.
- Simsbury’s Mark Bedson, 165 rushing yards three TDs, two sacks in loss to Hall.
- Bloomfield’s Ky’Juon Butler, three rushing touchdowns, including a 70-yarder in victory over Plainville.
- E.O. Smith’s Kobe Stigler 129 rushing yards, two catches 58 yards one TD and Isaih Lovell had five sacks in a victory over Bristol Eastern.
- Greenwich’s A.J. Barber caught three touchdown passes to kick-start the Cardinals’ 42-7 victory over Trumbull.
- Southington’s Jacob Drena tossed fiveTDs in win over Glastonbury.
- Killingly’s Nsaiah Harriet 121 yards on three carries for 2 TDs, Tyler Cournoyer 105 yards on five carries, two TDs.
- Shelton’s Jake Falanga made a fumble recovery and had an interception in final two minutes to help the Gaels survive Cheshire.
- Maloney’s Elliot Good, who missed all of last season due to injury, engineered a late-game drive — converting a 4th-and-7 in the process — to lift the Spartans to an impressive 26-20 victory over Windsor. Maloney famously lost to Windsor twice last season.
- Bunnell’s Christ N’Dabian ran eight times for 150 yards and 3 TDs in a victory over Notre Dame-Fairfield.
- Warde’s Joey Gulbin threw two fourth-quarter touchdowns to lead Warde to win over Stamford
- Woodland’s Edit Krivca rushed 281 yards and four TDs in win over Woodland
- North Haven’s Nick Dodge has three rushing touchdowns in 20-19 win over West Haven, the first win for the program over West Haven in its history.
- Wilbur Cross’s Leshaun Hicks 157 yards rushing including a 74-yard game-winning run in 14-13 victory over Foran.
- Sheehan’s Terrance Bogan, rushed for 215 yards and three TDs in his team’s 48-14 win over Law.
- Brookfield’s Nicholas Henderson 250 rushing yards, four TDs in a 42-21 victory over Masuk on the road.
- NFA’s Jonathan Pierre recorded four sacks in his team’s victory over Xavier.
- New London’s Jacob Commander ran for 176 yards and a touchdown, also had a sack in a victory over Capital Prep/Achievement.
- Haddam-Killingworth’s Dalton Brown scored on touchdown runs of 20, 1, and 39 yards, and added one interception on defense in H-K’s eye-opening win over SMSA/University/Classical. The Cougars had four interceptions in total.
- Middletown’s Xzavier Reyes rushed for 102 yards and three touchdowns in the Dragons’ opening 38-20 win over Wethersfield.
Week 2 Games To Watch.
Xavier (0-1) vs. Shelton (1-0) at West Haven, 6 p.m. — The Gaels survived their opener 17-10, and now hit the road again for a home game — this time at Ken Strong Stadium to face a hungry Xavier squad, which lost to NFA on the road in its opener.
No. 10 Bloomfield (1-0) at Rocky Hill (1-0), 7 p.m. — The Warhawks, now ranked No. 10 in the latest GameTimeCT / Register Top 10, head to face their CCC Division III nemeses. Rocky Hill won last year’s meeting 24-16 and is 6-3 vs the Warhawks all-time, but Bloomfield has actually won two of the last three.
No. 8 Killingly (1-0) at Griswold (1-0), 6:30 p.m. — Nsaiah Harriet and the Redmen extended their win streak to 14 games dating back to last year and now head to face typically scrappy Griswold on the road.
Holy Cross (1-0) at Ansonia (1-0), 7 p.m. — We’re keeping an eye on Ansonia after a typically dominant win over WCA. Holy Cross heads to Nolan Field after a 58-0 victory over Crosby.
Coginchaug/Hale Ray/East Hampton (1-0) at Haddam-Killingworth, 6:30 p.m. — Coginchaug Co-Op needed to rally to beat Canton last week. Dalton Brown and H-K, on the other hand, had no issues with SMSA last week. Both teams are considered contenders this season, but who’s legit?
Valley Regional/Old Lyme (1-0) at Morgan (0-1), 6:30 p.m. — JP Nye had a fantastic night at QB for Morgan, despite a loss to Stafford and the Huskies are looking for their first win since 2016. Despite graduating a bunch of starts from last year’ Valley believes it’s a contender.
Norwich Free Acadmy (1-0) at Fairfield Prep (1-0), 6 p.m. — It’s the first Week of the Connecticut High School Alliance schedule (aka the ECC/SWC/SCC crossover arrangement) and there are 17 crossover games from which to choose. This game just pops right off the page. NFA’s Jonathan Pierre vs. Prep’s Doug Harrison. Let’s go.
Cheshire (0-1) at Newtown (1-0), 7 p.m. — New QB Jason Shumilla and the Rams had a solid debut vs. Shelton despite losing late, 17-10. Newtown bulldozed New Fairfield and looks like the team to beat in the SWC.
Law (0-1) at Weston (1-0), 7 p.m. — Law couldn’t stop Sheehan running back Terrance Bogan in last week’s convincing loss. Now they’ll look to defend the air against Class M-hopeful Weston and junior slinger James Goetz.
Brookfield (1-0) at Hillhouse (0-1), 7 p.m. — Interesting in that while Hillhouse lost on Week 1, it was against now No. 4-ranked Hand. Brookfield rolled over Masuk. But how far apart are these two Class M teams?
St. Thomas More (0-0) at Choate (0-0), 2 p.m. — Choate has won 38 games in a row. Coach L.J. Spinnato has never lost a game as head coach in four seasons. Now here comes Penn State commit Tyler Rudolph and a host of other high-profile recruits from upstart St. Thomas More-New London in a massive NEPSAC showdown. Batten down the hatches.