— John Pierson (@JPPierson) September 14, 2019
CHESHIRE — The Cheshire and Hillhouse football teams, meeting in the season-opener on Friday, had high expectations this year coming off late-season success in 2018.
The Rams won three of their last five games last season and the Academics won four of their last six games.
Last season’s late momentum carried through for the Rams.
Jake McAlinden scored three touchdowns and ran for 85 yards on 15 carries and Colby Griffin scored a receiving and rushing touchdown to lead Cheshire to a 35-14 Tier II win over Hillhouse in front a jam-packed crowd at Maclary Complex.
Cheshire quarterback Jason Shumilla controlled the offensive tempo, throwing for 131 yards and a touchdown and rushing for 44 yards. The Rams defense was strong with three interceptions and a fumble recovery led by Alec Frione who had six tackles and two interceptions.
“In the offseason you always try to build off of things that happened in the previous season,” Cheshire coach Don Drust said. “The biggest thing is every team has its own identity. We’re not all there yet. But when you play hard great things happen. We played hard up front today and that created turnovers for us.
“It was important for us to come out strong because we knew Hillhouse would come out strong. They have strong, talented players. Right now, we’re 1-0 and that’s all that matters.”
In the first half, while the Academics had their defensive moments, offensively it was all Cheshire as the Rams took a 14-0 lead at halftime.
The Rams, who won the pre-game coin toss and elected to receive, set the tone on the first possession.
On second down from the Hillhouse 31, Shumilla connected with receiver Colby Griffin for 29 yards to set up a first and goal on the 2 yard line.
On the next play, running back McAlinden bolted untouched up the middle for a 2-yard touchdown run with 9 minutes, 33 second to go in the first quarter. Jotham Casey’s kick made it 7-0.
Early in the second quarter, Hillhouse put together a solid drive and ended up with a fourth-and-2 to go on the Cheshire 15. Hillhouse went for it and quarterback Demelle Turner was stopped for a 2-yard loss and the Rams took over on downs.
The Rams would mount another solid drive late in the second quarter to double its score.
Shumilla connected with receiver Alec Frione for a 31-yard pass to give the Rams a first and goal to go at the Hillhouse 4 yard line. On the next play, McAlinden swept to his right and scored with 48 seconds to go in the half. Casey’s kick made it 14-0 at halftime.
The Rams started the second half the same way as they did in the first half and scored on their first possession. Griffin caught a 10-yard pass from Shumilla and Cheshire led 21-0 with 11:41 to go in the second quarter.
McAlinden scored on another 2-yard run with 6:42 to go in the third quarter and the Rams went ahead 28-0. Griffin, who took over briefly at quarterback as Shumilla tended to a minir injury, scored on a 1-yard run with 3:32 left in the third quarter for a 35-0 lead.
“It was a beautiful night,” McAlinden said. “We all got pumped up and motivated by our fans rooting in the stands. It was important for us to take an early lead and build on it because Hillhouse has so many talented players. This season, we have a strong senior class and a lot of players with experience and it showed tonight.”
One of the bright spots for the Academics was quarterback Demelle Turner. He completed 10 of 12 passes for 136 yards and he ran for 90 yards on six carries.
Turner trimmed the Cheshire lead with a 46-yard touchdown run with 50 seconds to go in the third quarter. He completed a 2-point conversion pass to Marquise Rashad to cut the Rams lead to 35-8. Turner connected with Gary Moore Jr. for a 15-yard touchdown pass with 7:15 left in the fourth quarter. The 2-point pass failed for the 35-14 final.
“This is our first game and their quick score to start the game put us on our heels a little bit,” Hillhouse coach Reggie Lytle said. “But our kids are competitive and they’re not quitters. What hurt us is having two touchdowns called back due to penalties.
“We’ll just go back to the drawing board and come back hard next week.”