[aesop_character img=”http://www.gametimect.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/Headshot.png” caption=”SEAN PATRICK BOWLEY” align=”right” force_circle=”on”]
As Hunter Cobb raced around the corner en route to his third touchdown of the day during Newtown’s 34-0 victory over New Fairfield, the sports reporters present had already crafted the crux of their stories in their heads.
It went something like, Newtown lost the SWC championship to New Fairfield. ...They extracted some vengeance in the season-opener… Yada, yada, yada.
Presented this idea to some of the evening’s star players, back Hunter Cobb, who didn’t get to play more than a handful of plays in that game because of an ankle injury, and All-State linebacker Ben Mason nipped the narrative in the bud.
“Uh…no not really,” Cobb said.
“To be honest, last year didn’t really matter at all to me,” Mason said. “I wasn’t thinking about it at all.”
Awrighty then. Message received: Newtown’s focus is solely on the season ahead, not what happened in the past. Perhaps no team has perfected that mantra like Newtown during its run as a perennial SWC champion and playoff contender.
Newtown was all about Newtown on Friday night, regardless of what the names on their opponents’ jerseys said.
Newtown took the opportunity in Week 1 to assert what should be a bruising run game in 2016. “Early on, our ground-and-pound game is what we were focused on,” coach Steve George said. “It’s not the only thing we can do, but it’s all we needed to do tonight.”
The ground game was important to establish, since Newtown returns just one starter from last year’s offensive line, who happens to be a 6-foot-4, 315-pound tackle and BYU Commit Seth Willis.
But, as it showed Friday night. It will be good. One of the newcomers is 6-foot-1, 230-pound sophomore guard Rolt McIntyre, whom George is especially excited about. “He’s going to be the next big thing,” George said.
Willis, McIntyre and the rest of the O-line parted New Fairfield’s large front seven like a scout team. Cobb ran for 137 yards and two touchdowns on 12 carries. Mason ran for 101 yards and two touchdowns on two carries.
Mason also forced a fumble on defense which Cobb scooped up for a touchdown as Newtown built a 27-0 lead at halftime. Getting Cobb back on both sides of the ball is a boon for Newtown as it attempts to return to the state playoffs for the sixth-straight season.
“He has tremendous potential,” George said of Cobb. “He got a bit nicked up last year and couldn’t really realize his potential. We expect big things out of him this year. …Hunter Cobb is going to be a tremendous find for some college somewhere, he just doesn’t have (the attention) yet after having a rough junior year. After a couple more games like this, he will.”
Mason can’t wait to work alongside his fellow senior.
“I think it just adds a whole ‘nother dimension to our game game,” Mason said. “He’s just a very fast player and he’s powerful. It’ll be like a one-two bunch with me and him. We’re going to pound the ball. I’m very excited.”
Welcome back, Pompy
Last season, Pomperaug was winless for the first time since 1993. It was tough nadir to swallow the proud program, which last played for a state title in 2009 — Chuck Dury’s last as head coach.
The Panthers didn’t waste time ending the 10-game losing streak with an 18-13 victory over Barlow.
“We were pretty jacked,” said coach James Reed, who received a well-deserved (and, frankly, welcomed, given the oppressive heat) ice bath from his players. “I wish we weren’t so excited about one win. But it was a pretty heavy weight lifted off our guys. So I’m glad we could get it out of the way.”
Mike Murgatroyd’s long touchdown run gave Pomperaug the lead for good in the fourth quarter. But throughout the game Pomperaug had endured so many of the same misfortunes that had plagued it the previous year — a reversed fumble recovery, a blocked punt, and so on — that Reed was unsure if his team could seal the team’s first win since Thanksgiving 2014.
“Friday a lot of things went wrong that, if they’d happened last year, we probably would have gone in the tank,” he said. “Emotionally, we didn’t handle things well last year. We worked hard a changing the way we played emotionally over the summer.”
But the Panthers’ defense held, officially putting last year’s 0-10 season in the rearview mirror as the teams head to Bunnell this Friday to play Masuk.
“It was hard,” Reed, who came over from Ridgefield after the 2013 season, said of last season.
He’s the second coach since Drury retired. But he’s had support from some of the Pomperaug old-timers: freshman coach Tom Tata and former head coach Bob Slavinsky, an assistant principal at Ridgefield, where Reed still works. Drury also calls often, and did so to congratulate Reed after Friday night’s victory.
“Those guys have been through it before,” Reed said. “They helped me understand it’s not always going to be the 2004 (state championship) team running around. Their support has been a big help.”
Reed said he’s blessed to have a good core of seniors to help the Panthers continue their climb back. All of them had a hand in the Pomperaug victory. In addition to Murgatroyd at tailback and safety, Tom Satkowski, Joe Lacava and Jake Harwell at linebacker.
Harwell made a crushing tackle to force a fumble and also scored a touchdown, which he set up with a long catch to the 1-yard line. “He’s so talented. He’s good at everything,” Reed said of Harwell. “He could be our placekicker or punter. I think he’s tried everything but quarterback.”
Speaking of which, Pomperaug made a switch at quarterback from projected starter Joe Lacava to senior Matt Lenczewski, who’d missed his entire junior year with a laundry list of injuries. Lenczewski threw a long touchdown pass in his first game as starter.
“Joe (Lacava) is such a physical player, we thought if we could play Joe somewhere else, let Matt run the offense,” Reed said. “It makes us that much deeper. Plus, Joe is such a program guy, he just wants whatever’s best for the team. I think likes mixing it up at tight end and fullback and when he’s in the backfield, he can help.”
Pomperaug’s offensive lines haven’t been the immovable object they were in the program’s heyday. Bt Reed thinks this year’s unit — led by big Jacob Gran, “our resident road raider,” Reed said — will reform the mold. “When we looked at our depth chart, we had eight guys we thought we could put into a game, whereas other years, we had four guys and we needed one more,” Reed said.
Reed is especially pleased with the development of center John Dinsdale, “He’s a real big guy who has worked his butt off to get into good enough shape to play four quarters,” Reed said. “It took him a few varsity seasons, but he’s going to be a real good center for us.”
Masuk, a league contender, looms on Friday. The two programs were fierce rivals in the 2000s and Reed hopes his team can rekindle it with a good performance. “Even in bad years, we always play Masuk tough,” he said. “That’s a good thing. We’re hoping to play them tough again.”
…Of all the league’s results Friday night, perhaps the most surprising was New Milford’s 41-13 victory over Weston. The Trojans had been touted by coaches as a team to watch in the preseason. New Milford graduated many of last year’s stars.
But the Green Wave still had Max Vaughey at receiver and he merely caught two passes for 118 yards and two touchdowns, one from 85 yards out. Junior Matt Brevard got in on the action with one catch, but it went for a 60-yard touchdown. Sophomore Kendall Green had three catches for 85 yards and a TD. It all added up to a pretty successful debut by quarterback Tyler Sullivan, who managed 285 yards on just 7 completions.
… Speaking of quarterback debuts, Bunnell’s Mike Castelot had an efficient one. The senior, who has taken over for two-year starter Adam Wojenski, completed 12 of 17 passes for 243 yards and three touchdowns in a 47-6 victory over Bethel. It helps that Castelot has one of the best receiving corps in the league: All-Stater Brett Bogdwicz caught 4 passes for 127 yards and a TD. Zhyaire Fernandes caught two TDs.
…In case you missed it, Notre Dame-Fairfield has a 6-foot-1, 225 pound tailback, freshman Taevian Jackson. He ran for 108 yards and a pair of touchdowns in his debut, a 17-14 loss to Brookfield. Jackson turned a few heads when he showed up at McCarty Field.
With All-State LB Mike Bevino at receiver and linebacker, Micah Brantley at quarterback and a good supporting cast of starters returning, the Lancers’ prospects in 2016 just got rosier.
Player of the Week
HUNTER COBB, Newtown — Tough call to kick off this feature, but 130-plus rushing yards, a pair of long touchdown runs and a fumble recovery touchdown is a nice way to start your senior season.
Game of the Week
BUNNELL at NEW FAIRFIELD, Friday, 7 p.m. — Is Bunnell as good as its rout of Bethel? Is New Fairfield as bad as its shutout loss to Newtown? These are things to ponder as we head into this clash.
Inside the Numbers
9 Years since Notre Dame-Fairfield had a winning season, which was 6-5 under then-coach Jason Hart in 2007. The Lancers are on their sixth coach during that stretch and, until last year’s 3-7 finish, hadn’t won more than a single game for four-consecutive years. The schedule’s tough, but can this group finally break the ceiling?
The FAB 5
1. NEWTOWN (1-0) — Still far and away the team to beat in this league. The Hawks proved it with a thorough slashing of New Fairfield.
2. MASUK (1-0) — Did someone say their 49-7 dismantling of Stratford was a surprise? Didn’t we tell you Masuk’s supposed to be good, or do you just not pay attention?
3. BUNNELL (1-0) — Bethel‘s rebuilding, so take what you will from Bunnell’s victory. But if Castelot and Bulldogs can be this efficient, they’ll be much tougher than advertised.
4. BROOKFIELD (1-0) — Might have claimed No. 3 had it not been for all those mistakes that nearly lost the Bobcats a 17-0 lead. Still, senior RB Harrison Manesis didn’t play because of a thumb injury, so the Cats have plenty of potential to rise.
5. NEW FAIRFIELD (0-1) — We’re not going to get crazy because Rebels were shut out by Newtown. The Hawks are just that must better and New Fairfield is learning to run an offense with two new tailbacks. This is a very shaky position, however.
JUST MISSED — New Milford (1-0), Notre Dame-Fairfield (0-1).
FRIDAY, Sept. 16
Newtown at Stratford, 6 p.m.
Pomperaug at Masuk, 7 p.m.
ND-Ffld at Barlow, 7 p.m.
Weston at Brookfield, 7 p.m.
Bunnell at New.Fair., 7 p.m.
New Milford at Bethel, 7 p.m.