By GERRY deSIMAS, Jr.
With 22 teams in two divisions, the Pequot Football Conference has virtually become two separate leagues. With 11 teams in each division, there is no need for teams to face opponents from the other division.
Unfortunately, it robs fans, coaches and players the opportunity to challenge themselves with potentially outstanding games. Avon has won the last four Uncas Division championships and until they were stunned by Gilbert, 7-0, in the season finale last November, the Falcons had won 34 straight games against Uncas Division opponents.
Avon coach Brett Quinion misses the chance to test his team against Cromwell, Hyde and North Branford. Avon’s 37-31 win over Cromwell in 2009 was judged to the most exciting Falcon game of the decade by Avon Football Online website in 2010. The Falcons scored two touchdowns in the final 1:15 including a 57-yard TD run by Ross McDonald on the final play of the game to beat the defending Class S champions.
Still, there should be competitive games in both of the Pequot Conference’s Uncas and Sassacus Divisions. Avon and Cromwell are the early season favorites to win division titles with Gilbert and Coventry threatening in the Uncas Division and Coginchaug, Haddam-Killingworth and Valley Regional vying with the Panthers in the Sassacus Division.
Here is a quick look at the league’s 22 teams.
AVON lost a pair of All-State performers in running back McDonald, who ran for over 1,000 yards for the second straight year, and wide receiver Tyler D’Onofrio, who pulled in a school-record 51 receptions for 974 yards and 12 TDs. All-conference QB Colin Pavano, who threw for a school-record 1,106 yards and 10 TD passes, also graduated.
“We lost a lot of team speed but we’re very strong,” said Quinion, who is in his ninth year. “Last year’s team didn’t work hard in the weight room. This team is the strongest team I’ve ever had. They’ve been very diligent for the last 11 months.”
Colin Moore is the quickest playmaker on the Falcons. Moore, who ran for nearly 700 yards and TDs a year ago, rambled for a career-high 237 yards, a pair of touchdowns and three 2-point conversions in the season-opening 30-7 win over Stafford/East Windsor. He also threw a 35-yard touchdown pass to Will DiStefano. “Colin was the difference maker,” Quinion said. “He is shifty and can make you miss.”
Defensively, Jeff Marshall had two interceptions against Stafford. “We have a lot of parity,” Quinion said. “There are some good, young kids to look at. A lot of the skill positions are wide open.”
COVENTRY/WINDHAM TECH: The Patriots return a strong team this season. They forced seven Gilbert turnovers in a 28-0 win over the Yellowjackets, recovering six fumbles and picking off a pass. The Patriots received a diverse offensive effort with QB Michael Faley running for a team-high 104 yards and throwing a 26-yard TD pass to Justin Lindinger. Defensively, Coventry scored on a 33-yard fumble recovery from Austin Ives and a 45-yard interception return from Travis Lemire.
ELLINGTON/SOMERS: Mitch DiRista ran for 115 yards and three TDs in an easy 53-16 win over Canton in week 1. Bryan Rider is leading the team at quarterback and he ran for three TDs in a scrimmage win over Rockville. On Saturday, the Knights limited Canton to just 87 yards of total offense. All-State wrestler Ken Vollaro of Somers is a stud at linebacker for the Knights and he and Zac Paquette combined to make 15 tackles against Canton. Ellington is looking to improve on its 6-4 record from a year ago.
HOUSATONIC/WAMOGO: Will Perotti and Jake Sutterlin return at running back for the Mountaineers, who will again employ their old fashioned but effective single wing offense. Sutterlin had three touchdowns in a 36-20 win over Windsor Locks while Jeremy Stiewing added two scores. Tough to learn and tough to stop, the Mountaineers hope to build upon a 5-5 campaign. All-Pequot lineman Mark Wildman returns along with linebacker Jake Foley.
GILBERT/NORTHWESTERN: The Yellowjackets return running back Devon Molway, who rambled for over 1,409 yards and 11 TDs a season ago, and some offensive linemen. The key is to find some help to take the pressure off of Molway. Gilbert starts sophomore John Lippincott at quarterback and the Yellowjackets will have to take care of the ball. They coughed up the ball seven times in its season opening loss to Coventry.
STAFFORD/EAST WINDSOR: The Bulldogs won’t be an easy win for many teams. They played Avon tough in a 30-7 loss on opening night. The Falcons led just 14-7 going into the fourth quarter. The Bulldogs are a physical team but they wore down in the later stages of the game. Zach Rollins had a strong run against Avon with a 65-yard run, breaking a few attempted arm tackles.
ENFIELD: The Raiders are young but QB Tony Romano looked sharp in week one by completing 7-of-9 passes for 171 yards and three touchdowns in an easy 40-29 win over Granby. He has some targets in receivers Sean Gill, Andre Crichton and Tyler DeMontigny. The Raiders lost 20 of 22 starters from last year’s team but feel good about their passing game.
WINDSOR LOCKS/SUFFIELD/EAST GRANBY: It’s a new era at Locks where long-time coach Pat Sczela has been replaced after 38 years. He founded the program in 1972. Marty Powers, a former coach at Stafford/East Windsor (2008, 2009) and Tolland (2001-05), takes over the Raiders co-op squad. Look for plenty of running from Tristan Cauley, who ran for 237 yards on 28 carries and two TDs in a season-opening loss to Housatonic/Wamogo.
SMSA: Sport Medicine Science Academy/University High graduated six seniors from last year’s team that went 4-6, including quarterback Johnny Mojica, who threw for 859 yards and 14 TD passes. The Tigerhawks have a solid core of seniors including senior receiver Rashod Cauley, who caught 29 passes for 499 yards and 13 TDs, including a school-record six TDs in the season finale against Bulkeley.
Senior back Kiante Macon and junior back Kayron Macon (101-400, 2 TDs) return along with senior tight end Caleb Martin. Senior center Kenneth Prigodich, who has been in the starting lineup since his freshman year, returns to anchor the offensive line. Sophomore Wilfred Alicea is set to start at quarterback.
Most players will play on both sides of the ball. “We’re a speed team,” SMSA/University assistant coach Dante Boffi said. “We have good team speed. We’re not the biggest team on the block. But they have a great work ethic and they want to get better every week."
CANTON: While the future looks bright, this year might be a campaign of little triumphs and growing pains. “We’re getting better every day,” fourth-year coach Roger Pearl said. “We’re young and the attitude is fantastic. It’s 100 percent better than it was last year.”
Canton returns five starters including All-Pequot Conference running back Kyle Mullins (64 rushes, 516 yards, 2 TDs). Center Josiah Durbois, guard Erick Latvis, fullback Rob Grillo (33 rushes, 127 yards) and receiver Tim Gavin return. Sophomore quarterback Eric Scott should start for the Warriors along with senior guard Ryan Glynn and senior wide receiver Zach Powell. Defensively, Canton will be young. “There are no superstars on this team. They’re all working together as one,” Pearl said.
GRANBY: The Bears went 0-10 in their varsity season. They still have a ways to go after a 40-29 loss to Enfield in the season opener. Coach Paul Schmutz’s Bears are a small squad with 36 players. Zach Balboni and Curt Field will share time at quarterback with Jim Utso and Kevin Blake expected to handle the running duties.
CROMWELL: The Panthers lost just six seniors from a 7-3 team that went to the Class S quarterfinals last year. First-year coach Chris Eckert has high expectations that include playing football in December at Rentschler Field in the state championship game.
It’s an experienced, quick squad led by seven seniors including QB Anthony Morales, who completed 20 of 28 passes for 270 yards and three TDs in a 40-24 win over East Hampton/Vinal Tech in opening day. Cromwell scored on its first three possessions.
Receivers Brett Director, Mike Antonio and Rick Feggins will help drive the offense while linebackers Peter Bennett and David Kuczynski should lead the Panther defense.
VALLEY REGIONAL/OLD LYME: The Warriors graduated most of their starters, including four of five offensive linemen. But they return talented QB Jimmy Fairfield-Sonn and that gives Valley an advantage. A year ago, Fairfield-Sonn was stellar as Valley went 10-0 in the regular season, running for 1,608 yards, scoring 29 TDs and throwing 16 TD passes. He was also an outstanding defender in the secondary. Valley won a CIAC quarterfinal game over Sacred Heart, 37-24 before being eliminated by eventual Class S champion St. Joseph-Trumbull in the semifinals, 44-7.
But there are still some talented players on the roster. Senior captain Colin Devlin, junior Chris Connor and senior Graham Girty will help the offense run. Fairfield-Sonn was the difference in a 48-47 win over North Branford on opening night. He scored six of Valley’s seven touchdowns, running for four TDs and scoring two more on a 30-yard interception return and an 80-yard kickoff return.
HADDAM-KILLINGWORTH: A senior-laden Cougar team earned an impressive victory in week one with a 51-30 decision over Hyde as Dan German ran for three TDs. The Cougars outscored Hyde, 21-0 in the fourth quarter and scored 29 unanswered points to earn its first win over Hyde since 1999.
H-K has some experienced backfield players led by German and Andrew Vollaro, who are both linebackers. Junior Alex DiMauro-D’Amico will be at quarterback. Look for some solid offensive play. Dennis O’Rourke, the only coach the Cougars have ever had, is concerned about depth.
COGINCHAUG: This second-year varsity squad looks to continue the success they achieved in their first varsity season with a 7-3 record. They were 7-1 before stumbling in their final two regular season games. Senior QB Tyler Doherty will lead Coginchaug, which has 15 seniors on the roster. Alex Corazzini scored two TDs and ran for 97 yards in the Blue Devils’ 47-0 win over Nonnewaug Saturday while Zev Kartigainer rambled for 115 yards and a touchdown on just six carries.
EAST HAMPTON/VINAL TECH: The Bellhawks begin their first varsity season with 43 kids and veteran coach Joe Ceferatti, who was previously the head coach at St. Paul (1999-03) and Bulkeley (2004-06). He has also coached at Fermi and Newington. The co-op team has some offensive talent. Senior QB Spencer Daly, running back Stephen Hall and fullback Ryan Gillispie look sharp. Daly and Hall had two touchdowns each in a 40-24 loss to Cromwell on opening day.
NORTH BRANFORD: The Thunderbirds graduated 19 seniors and nine of 11 starters on offense. But coach Mark Basil hopes to build on a 6-4 campaign marred by the forfeit loss to Lewis Mills following a mid-game fight at Muzzy Field in Bristol. Quarterback Brandon Basil threw for 3 TDs in a 48-47 shootout loss to Valley Regional in the opener with Joe Delucia (2) and Alex McGuigan pulling in TD receptions.
HYDE: The Howling Wolves have a young, small team and mistakes hurt them in the second half of their opening game loss to Haddam Killingworth. The Wolves are carrying just 27 players with just three seniors led by running back Maurice Alston. Sophomore DB Elijan Nixon, junior back Devon Dolpin and sophomore back Gary Ormond look to play well.
OLD SAYBROOK/WESTBROOK: The Rams have a new head coach in Rudy Bagos who hopes to build upon last year’s record of 4-6. Old Saybrook lost 12 seniors including Dane Pallotto, who rushed for 1,217 yards and 13 TDs and QB John McElhone, who threw for 641 yards and 5 TDs. Old Saybrook will be young with seven seniors and a bunch of juniors who gathered some experience a year ago. Linebacker Mike Sweeney (70 tackles) and receiver Ken Dower (7-85) should lead the way.
LEWIS MILLS: The Spartans won two games in its initial varsity campaign with a win over a first-year team from Granby on opening night and a season-ended win over Wolcott Tech. In between was an eight-game losing streak including a forfeit loss to North Branford following a mid-game brawl and a forfeit loss to Cromwell the following week.
New coach Greg Todd has helped build winning programs at Woodland Regional and Naugatuck and he has the Spartans playing with a purpose this fall. Todd moved receiver Devin Pease to quarterback and he looked solid in a 42-28 win over Morgan on opening day, completing 13-of-24 passes for 246 yards and 3 TDs. Playmaker Bobby Martinotti scored three touchdowns on a running play, a school record 90-yard kickoff return and a 80-yard interception return. Mills made plenty of mistakes in the opener including nearly a dozen penalties but they should be competitive.
MORGAN: It may take time for a young Huskies team that made a host of mistakes in a loss to Mills on Saturday at Muzzy Field. Young QB Mark Zumprano threw three touchdown passes and 191 yards but also had two interceptions.
NONNEWAUG: The Chiefs return to varsity play for the first time in nearly two years. They were overmatched in their first two varsity seasons in 2007 and 2008 in the Southwest Conference and when they finally got to the Pequot Conference in 2009, they were short of players and called it a season after one lopsided defeat. The Chiefs had two solid seasons of junior varsity play, which gives third-year coach John Oko hope.
But with just six seniors led by co-captains Adam Violette (WR/DB) and Kevin Krantz (C/DT), the Chiefs will find success difficult against some seasoned teams in the Sassacus Division. The season got off a rough start with a 48-0 loss to Coginchaug.
Gerry deSimas, Jr., is the editor and founder of Avon
Football Online, the state’s oldest continuous high school football website, Canton
Football Online and the Collinsville Press.com
. He began covering Pequot Conference football in 1986.