STAMFORD — A popular refrain in Connecticut high school football this fall has been that since it’s the 7-on-7 format, the games don’t mean anything.
That would be hard to tell by the outpouring of joy from the Westhill football team after its win over New Canaan on Friday in Stamford.
“They took our regular season from us, so this is all we have,” Westhill senior Eddy Charles said. “This means everything to us. It’s fun, it’s competitive and we enjoy it a lot.”
Charles made the game-ending play, intercepting a pass at the goal line after the final horn sounded in the Vikings’ 34-30 win. He then bolted up the sidelines to the other end of the field with his teammates in pursuit as the team celebrated.
“You see a lot of emotion out here,” Westhill coach Joe DeVellis said. “At the end of the day, if you get down to a minute left and it’s a close football game, you’re going to see emotion. You don’t think about it’s no pads, you’re just making calls and trying to win games.”
— Dave Stewart (@DStewartSports) October 9, 2020
The 7-on-7 format has replaced traditional full-contact 11-on-11 football, which was tabled this fall due to the COVID-19 pandemic and DPH recommendations.
The new format starts with a strength challenge for linemen, with those points being added to the score from the 7-on-7 passing competition. All coaches, officials and sideline personnel are required to wear masks.
Players on both sides said they’d like to be playing 11-on-11, but were happy to be on the field for any competition.
“It’s really different and it’s tough,” New Canaan junior Henry Cunney said. “There’s situations where you just want to hit someone and if you had pads on, it would be a different play. But you can’t do anything about it, you’ve just got to keep going. We’re grateful that we’re playing 7-on-7.”
“It’s hard not getting in that 100% game, those full-contact practices and games that you need,” New Canaan junior Barrett Schmitz said. “With 7-on-7, I love doing it. You see us getting emotional and really fighting out there. It’s just good to be out there doing something better than nothing.”
The Vikings’ linemen gave them an 8-0 lead after the strength challenges, but the Rams worked back into the lead at 22-14 by halftime. Westhill scored twice in the third quarter for a 26-22 lead.
In the fourth, New Canaan went up 30-26, as Cunney directed a touchdown drive, but Westhill responded when quarterback Joshua Ortiz hooked up with Charles for the go-ahead score.
Charles’ pick as time expired then ended the game.
“At the end, four seconds left, we didn’t want them to score, so I got up for it, got it and ran,” Charles said with a smile. “The little dogs came out big.”
“I’m really proud of this group and how they’ve dealt with all the adversity,” DeVellis said. “We talked about it at the end, whether you have pads on or not, there’s a lot of lessons that can be learned here. Any time we can get out on the field, compete and get a win, especially when we haven’t had that many the last couple of years, is awesome”
Chances to play 11-on-11 this school year aren’t completely gone. There’s been talk of a private league for a while this fall, and the CIAC is hoping a shortened season can be held between the winter and spring seasons.
“We would love it,” Charles said. “We’ve got 7-on-7 going on now, and then in the spring, 11-on-11, that’s what we want to play. They took it from us early but we could get it late, so it will be fun.”
“I’d be so excited to get any form of 11-on-11, full contact, especially for the seniors,” Schmitz said. “I really want to see them play. I want to see our senior class do really well and compete out there.”
Whatever the season, or style of play, DeVellis said it’s important for all the players to enjoy the moment.
“We tell even the younger guys to cherish this right now, because who knows what happens tomorrow, who knows what happens (in) a week or a month or a year,” the coach said. “I really think they’re cherishing it.”