BERLIN — Berlin played nearly three quarters Thursday night without one of its best players, nearly two quarters without another.
The Redcoats gutted out a 14-8 win over Tolland at Sage Park to open the 2019 football season, getting big plays at key moments, blocking a couple of kicks and getting a game-ending sack.
“Going into the game, if I said we’re going to lose Zach Hrubiec to injury (to start the second quarter), we’re going to lose our shutdown corner (Tony Undercuffler) in the third quarter, we’re going to botch a snap and get a safety, and we’re still going eke out a victory?” Berlin coach Joe Aresimowicz said.
“Other than losing the guys, which everybody would be angry at me, I think everybody else would take that deal.”
Adam Liberda’s interception set up his own 22-yard touchdown run with 2:31 to play to, as it turned out, seal the win.
A low snap forced Berlin to take a safety on a punt attempt with 20 seconds left. Tolland got the ball at midfield after the snap, but Danny Lynch sacked Tolland quarterback Aidan Clarke to end it.
“We worked hard. We lost two of our key players,” said Elijah Crowley, who had a big kick return, blocked a field goal and stepped in for Undercuffler at corner. “We had to keep our heads up and keep moving.”
Aresimowicz said Undercuffler has been battling injury since last season. Hrubiec, injured on a carry on Berlin’s first play of the second quarter, had to be carried off the field by teammates.
“I think Zach will be OK. We’ll evaluate in the morning. He’ll be day-to-day,” Aresimowicz said. “(Undercuffler), tough kid. We’ll see with that one. Obviously he’s got to get it looked at, and we’ll see what happens.”
Tolland turned the ball over three times Berlin territory, not to mention a couple of times on downs.
“We kept stepping on our own feet. That was the story of the first half,” Tolland coach Scott Cady said. “It’s something we’ve battled in the past, especially here. Taht’s the kind of thing that bites you at Berlin.”
After Liberda’s touchdown and Aaron Senz’s point-after kick put Berlin ahead 14-6, the Eagles’ Ryan Carlson (who forced two second-half fumbles) returned the kickoff to the Berlin 15. Two runs and a pass went nowhere, though. On fourth down, Tolland wanted a defensive holding call in the end zone. It didn’t get it.
Two big plays in the first 2:11 put Berlin ahead. Crowley took the opening kickoff 69 yards to the Tolland 27.
“That’s been my specialty. I just try to find an opening and get it back,” Crowley said. “Start of the game, we needed to start with something positive.”
On fourth down, Justin Skates found Mark Addamo for a 22-yard touchdown pass.
No one scored again for 32 minutes.
“That’s a good team. They controlled the line of scrimmage,” Aresimowicz said. “Even when we had plays I thought we were good, the back side would get it, or somebody’d make a football play. I kept asking the coaches, looking on the video, ‘how’d they make that play?’ I kept getting the answer in the headset, ‘they’re getting after it.’”
After Carlson sacked Skates to force a fumble for the first time, Aaron Lange got Tolland on the board, capping a short drive with a 3-yard score.
Berlin’s Trevor Miano got through to block the extra point and keep the Redcoats ahead. But on Berlin’s next play, Carlson forced another fumble.
Clark lined up for a 42-yard go-ahead field goal on the first play of the fourth quarter; he’d had the leg for it in warmups. But this time Crowley got through to block the kick.
Cady said Tolland knew its defense was good, wanted this game badly and was disappointed. The Eagles, he said, came in with what he called a “three-season” approach.
“Berlin is such a huge game on our schedule. We had nine months to prepare. I said, go for it guys,” Cady said. “We’ll put all our eggs in one basket, go for it. At the end of the game we’ll sweep it up, win or lose, and move on to the next season, which is I believe Avon next Saturday at 10:30.
“That’s a long time to prepare for one team, but that’s a team I want to prepare for for a long time.”
The game was played on Thursday because of the Berlin Fair, which runs Friday-Sunday.
Berlin honored Nick Zuk, a player who died of cancer in 2016, and fans’ donations supported the Nick Zuk Memorial Foundation. Berlin also recognized Cady, who is battling cancer himself, and held a moment of silence in honor of Tolland track and field coach Corey Pusey, who died earlier this week.