MERIDEN – Maloney and Platt have been going at it on the football field for six decades, but the often-bitter rivalry played out in a playoff setting for the first time Sunday.
It was Maloney’s game from start to finish, a 16-6 CIAC Class L semifinal victory at Falcon Field that propelled the Spartans to their first state championship game appearance since 2006. The victory came only nine days after Platt scored a dominant, same-site, playoff berth-qualifying Thanksgiving win.
Maloney’s defense kept No. 6 Platt (9-3) out of the end zone not once, but twice, on fourth-and-goal on their first two possessions. After the second stop, just short of the goal line, the Spartans mounted a 99-yard scoring drive that proved to be the only score they would need to win.
“We felt by making the playoffs, we didn’t want to just be one and out,” said coach Kevin Frederick, whose Spartans rallied from a 14-point deficit and held Middletown scoreless in the final three quarters to win in the quarterfinals. “We didn’t come this far to come this far. I still say that. We still have one more job to do.”
Maloney (10-2), the seventh seed in Class L, meets defending Class L champion Hand, a runaway 49-7 winner over fourth-seeded Windsor.
“It’s amazing. This is one of the best feelings I’ve ever felt, but we still got one more that I hope feels way better than this,” senior receiver Victor Marquez said. “We’ve got to keep pushing and get that next win (but) I love this win.”
Marquez, who caught seven balls for 97 yards, said the team had to manage its emotions in the days leading up to the game.
“Being a state playoff game, we had to talk (to each other) and say, ‘Listen, we can’t let them get the best of us because we’re a better football team than them.’ The only (way) they could beat us is by getting in our heads.”
The Spartans stuffed Platt first at the 4-yard line and later at the 1 in the opening quarter, then turned around and marched the length of the field in 18 plays, converting on third down three times.
Marquez, perhaps the best player on the field Sunday, caught a 3-yard pass from Good on a sprint to the right corner of the end zone on second down. James Tarver ran it in for the two-point conversion for an 8-0 lead with 8:35 left in the first half.
Referring to the momentum that was building over the course of the drive, Marquez said, “We felt it in our blood.”
Maloney then stopped Platt on downs, and after the Spartans were forced to punt themselves, Sergio Muniz intercepted Platt quarterback Lorenzo Sanson’s pass on the first play of the possession to set up his team’s second score.
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Good, starting at his own 40, took advantage of open space over the middle to build momentum in the drive. On fourth-and-2 from Platt’s 39, and following a timeout, he found Marquez open over the middle and the receiver did the rest, hitting a lane and outrunning Platt to the end zone with 45.4 seconds left.
Good, who threw for 179 yards, fired a two-point conversion pass to Jaylon Nixon to put Maloney up 16-0.
With another opportunity to put its first score on the board, Platt nearly got there before the break. On the fifth play of the drive, Sanson threw a deep ball down the right side to Tremayne Carter, who caught it, but spun out of bounds at the 2-yard line with no time left.
“I felt we’d have other opportunities (after the first two red-zone trips) and we did, but you have to score in that situation if you’re going to win the game,” Platt coach Jason Bruenn said. “It’s a situation where you have to put a touchdown on the board — no reason not to.
“We did not play inspired on offense and we played impatiently at times.”
Platt drove to the Maloney 14 on its first possession of the second half, but Roberto Salas was stopped a yard short on fourth-and-5 at the 14. For the game, Platt failed to convert fourth-down attempts from the Maloney 4, 1, 14 and 15.
“Bend don’t break. That was our battle cry,” Frederick said. “We know they’re capable of hitting the big play. We know they were going to gash some runs against us. It was just about sticking to the game plan and getting to the next play.”
The rivalry was dead even – 30-30-1 – heading into Sunday’s game. After Sunday’s outcome, the biggest win in the series belongs to Maloney.
“It doesn’t get any sweeter than that,” Frederick said. “We’re going to the state championship, and the path we took was through our crosstown rival. It’s an awesome feeling.
MALONEY 16, PLATT 6
PLATT 0 0 0 6 – 6
MALONEY 0 16 0 0 – 16
M: Victor Marquez 3-yard pass from Elliot Good (James Tarver run)
M: Marquez 39-yard pass from Good (Jaylon Nixon pass from Good)
P: Roberto Salas 2-yard run (pass failed)