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Zach Davis had stood waiting for a Cheshire kick nine times before and none came within 30 yards of him. But there was renewed hope midway through the fourth quarter when the Rams were forced to punt to Sheehan for the first time all evening.
Cheshire was already leading 56-12. Running time was on. Maybe the Rams would feel a little sympathy and give Davis a chance to show off his skills with the game long since decided.
As the punt went into the air, Davis took a couple of excited steps, but then quickly stopped dejectedly and watched helplessly as the ball sailed into the Cheshire bench about 25 yards upfield. It would be his last action of the contest.
Even with a 44-point lead, you don’t kick to Zach Davis.
It’s been a conflicted start to the senior season for Davis.
On one hand, he has emerged as one of the stars of the SCC, rushing for a state-leading 789 yards and nine touchdowns in just three games against defenses that have mostly been concocted to stop him. Cheshire — which looks like it could be a state playoff contender in Class LL — spent all week designing ways to keep him in check, only to see Davis break away for a 65-yard touchdown run on the second play of the game Friday night.
On the other side of the ledger, Davis and Sheehan remain winless through three games, falling to East Haven and Foran despite 300-yard rushing games.
On Friday, Davis’ long touchdown put Sheehan up 6-0 less than a minute into the game. But it was the only time he could truly break free of Cheshire’s grasp all night in a 56-18 defeat.
After a few frustrating rushing attempts and facing a large deficit, Sheehan coach John Ferrazzi tried to get creative. First, he put Davis at quarterback in a wildcat look. Then he put Davis at receiver (which he did a lot last season). But a bubble screen thrown Davis’ way immediately drew six Cheshire defenders into his vicinity and he was dropped for a 6-yard loss.
Davis did finish with five receptions, including a touchdown.
“He’s a very dynamic player, he’s one of the best players in the state, no doubt,” Cheshire coach Don Drust said. “You have to account for him on every single snap. All we told our kids is that you can’t run one guy at him and expect him to make the play. You have to continue to play, even if you think the play is done. He won’t stop. He’ll bounce off tackles and keep going. He got us once, but I think we did a good job on him after that.”
Cheshire has a good kicker in Ethan Bronson. But after every Rams score came a squib kick opposite where Davis stood. When Davis switched sides, so did the kick.
Davis — who also plays just about every snap on defense for the Titans — became most frustrated late in the second quarter. With the score already 35-6, his teammates couldn’t jump on one of those bouncing kickoffs. The Rams not only recovered, but scored on the next play again for a 42-6 halftime advantage.
“Zach’s doing a good job. But we have to find avenues for people other than Zach as well,” Sheehan coach John Ferrazzi said.
“Obviously, he’s a marked man, but he’s still going to get his touches and make his plays. We have to execute defensively first and limit our defensive mistakes. We gave up some coverage busts that led to easy scores and we just can’t do that, whether it’s Cheshire or whomever.”
High school sports are about life lessons. Davis and the Titans are certainly learning some early in the 2016 season. The good news for them is that five of their last seven games are against Division III competition with another against the CREC co-op team from Hartford.
Sheehan should be able to compete with all of those teams. Davis also should have the opportunity to put up solid numbers and should be in the race to be the state’s leading rusher come Thanksgiving if everything goes well.
But football is a team game, after all. Where will the Titans be in a couple of months? They’ve given up 137 points already this season, worst in the SCC by a wide margin. While they won’t have Cheshire to deal with, Division III has already seen programs like Guilford and Jonathan Law improving under new coaches.
Those were the only two SCC wins Sheehan had last season other than Lyman Hall, whom they obviously won’t see until Thanksgiving.
Davis was halfway to the team bus before I could find him. He was mad and who could blame him? After a few seconds, he collected himself.
“Sorry, I’m just upset about the loss,” he said.
These are kids after all, a fact that is sometimes lost on people who take these games way too seriously. There’s no guarantee in life and in sports that things will always go your way. Unfortunately there are more things than we like to admit that our beyond our control.
While Davis and Sheehan have been virtually eliminated from playoff contention, they will be back Friday to take on Guilford.
Six more times after that, the season and Davis’ high school career will end. Each game is a chance to make memories that will last for a long time.
“We just have to come together again and play like we know how to play,” Davis said. “We have to get over this one and get ready for next week. It’s just the way it is, I guess. I’d rather be winning, obviously. It doesn’t feel any better to have whatever yards and we still lose. It just comes with the game. We’ll get better.”
Now if we can just get an opponent to kick to him every once in a while.
Battle of the Divisions
The new SCC football divisional setup was met with begrudging acceptance by most coaches as an improvement over the old one. But it didn’t eliminate the dreaded “crossover” week completely. By going to three uneven divisions, it might have made things worse.
If you wondered why there were so many Division I schools playing Division III teams (five total), a lot of it has to do with simple math.
There are eight teams in Division I, five in Division II, and seven in Division III, meaning that there has to be some crossover in a given week. And if every Division I team plays seven games in division, that leaves three games left in a 10-game schedule. It would make sense for the other three to be against Division II squads, but trying to make that schedule can be quite complicated (go ahead and try, if you wish).
The easy way is to have what we had to endure Friday: A complete “crossover” schedule for all, including five Division I vs. Division III games, two Division I vs. Division II games, and two Division II vs. Division III games. (Xavier played a team from Massachusetts, while Wilbur Cross had a bye. Those two teams were scheduled to meet this week, but moved the game to Nov. 17 to allow Xavier to schedule an out-of-league game.
Putting logistics aside, the action on the field was not competitive in the slightest this week.
The closest of the five Division I-Division III games was Hand-East Haven, which was by the score of 35-0. Shelton beat Branford by 31, 45-14. Fairfield Prep and North Haven struggled a bit but won. Jonathan Law hung around for a while against Amity. Lyman Hall-Hamden was somewhat close.
The good news is that, while a few crossovers will still dot the schedule the rest of the way, most of the slate will feature some great intra-divisional action that has made the SCC so exciting for so long.
For instance, for your viewing pleasure, Friday night features Notre Dame-Fairfield Prep, Cheshire-West Haven, Xavier-Shelton, and North Haven-Hand.
And that’s just Division I.
So if you have a better idea on how to avoid the dreaded “crossover” week, I’m sure the powers that be would be glad to hear it. Until then, though? Let’s just enjoy the rest of the season.
…Amity took two interceptions coast-to-coast for touchdowns in the third quarter of its 41-21 interdivisional victory over Division III Jonathan Law.
First, Matthew Weidenfeller picked off a pass at the goal line and went untouched 99 yards for a score to put Amity ahead 29-7 with 7:49 remaining in the quarter.
With just 24 seconds left in the quarter, Luke Smith duplicated the feat on the left end zone. He weaved his way 99 yards for a score, pretty much wrapping up the win for Amity.
Technically, Smith’s pick was at least a yard inside the end zone, making it a 101-yard return. But official high school scoring procedures rule all end-zone interceptions returns at 99 yards.
It was Amity’s first victory of the season after losses to a pair of its former Division I (and, going back further, Housatonic League) rivals Shelton (42-6) and Cheshire (36-14). The Spartans are now in Division II and will play their first official division game when it travels to Hillhouse on Friday night.
…Tom Dyer picked up his first win at Hamden and the Dragons didn’t have to complete a pass to do it, beating Lyman Hall 27-12. In fact, Hamden has completed just two all season.
… Smarting from a tough loss at Jonathan Law, East Haven posted a great first half performance against Hand, trailing just 7-0 before eventually losing 35-0. At the moment, the Tigers look like they’re going to have a lot of trouble in Division I.
… Fairfield Prep got a big confidence boost by handling previously unbeaten Hillhouse 40-18 in Fairfield. There is some concern for the Jesuits after quarterback Patrick Conte left with a non-throwing (left) shoulder injury. Conte said after the game it was precautionary. On Sunday, Keith Hellstern said he was waiting to hear from Conte and his family about his status for the week ahead.
The Academics will not play another Division I team the rest of the season and are still favorites to make the Class M playoffs, but it was certainly a disappointing performance, especially on defense.
… The less said about the Division I-Division III crossovers, the better, probably. That is, except Branford will get its field back Friday when it hosts East Lyme. Also, Cheshire had a packed house at the Maclary Complex for its battle with Sheehan, as their fans believe they could be headed for really good things this season.
Player of the Week
Lance DiNitale and Brett Huber, Foran
After never giving the award to a losing player, we’ll now do it two weeks in a row. DiNitale completed 34-of-49 passes for 374 yards in Foran’s loss to North Haven Friday, with the 34 just six off the state record for completions. Huber caught 18 of those for 167 yards, with the 18 receptions, just one off the state record of 19 held by former Amity standout Tyler Burns in 2013 against Fairfield Prep. The Spartans lost that game, too, for what it’s worth.
Inside the Numbers
Number of lower SCC division teams to prevail over larger ones this weekend. As you’d expect, there really wasn’t a close game among the bunch. Sheer numbers dictate some of those Division I vs. Division III results once a season, but they’re not usually pretty to watch.
Game of the Week
Cheshire at West Haven, Friday, 7 p.m.
They have had their share of interesting battles over the years, and this may be a throwback. The Rams’ coach the last time they won a state title was Marc Ecke, who is now an assistant with the Blue Devils. The big question will be: Can Cheshire slow down West Haven’s speed? There should be a lot of points in this one.
- 1) West Haven (3-0; Last Week 1) – Rolling right along, can streaking Cheshire slow them down this Friday?
- 2) Shelton (3-0; LW 2) – After a couple of weeks to settle down, things start to get real for Division I this week.
- 3) Notre Dame (1-2; LW 3) – Knights looked quite angry against Guilford, which was bad news for the Indians.
- 4) Cheshire (3-0; LW 4) – Massive crowd at Maclary Complex brings back memories of two decades ago.
- 5) Fairfield Prep (3-0; LW 8) – Conte’s health a big concern, but that was a tremendous performance Friday.
- 6) Xavier (2-1; LW 5) – Expectations a bit low for Falcons, but maybe that’s just where they want to be at moment.
- 7) North Haven (2-1; LW 7) – Took a long time for Indians to put away Foran and defense will be a concern.
- 8) Hillhouse (2-1; LW 6) – While disappointing, loss shouldn’t hurt them too, too much unless poor play continues.
- 9) Hand (1-2; LW 9) – Only scored seven points in first half Friday as offensive troubles of last season resurfaced.
- 10) Wilbur Cross (1-1; LW 10) – Got bye out of way early, which is good for now. We’ll see later in season.
- 11) Foran (1-2; LW 11) – Much more encouraging for Lions’ offense, who is looking much more like themselves.
- 12) Branford (2-1; LW 13) – Was always going to be tough vs. Shelton, but at least they’ll get field back soon.
- 13) Amity (1-2; LW 14) – Took advantage of what schedule gave them, tough task at Bowen Field this week.
- 14) Creed (1-2; LW 12) – Initiation over, Howling Wolves can get back to playing schools that aren’t LL.
- 15) Jonathan Law (1-2; LW 15) – It’s a loss, but still looks like a little different Law team out there this season.
- 16) East Haven (1-2; LW 17) – Gutsy first-half effort after tough Law loss, still a Division III contender.
- 17) Guilford (1-2; LW 16) – Just have to forget about Friday’s game and carry on with rest of schedule.
- 18) Sheehan (0-3; LW 18) – Cheshire was just everywhere it seemed, intriguing game with Guilford this week.
- 19) Hamden (1-2; LW 19) – Couple of nervous moments, but first win for Tom Dyer with Dragons. They’ll be more.
- 20) Lyman Hall (0-3; LW 20) – Things don’t get much easier for Trojans with rested Wilbur Cross coming to town.