After having 17 kids on the sidelines at one point this preseason with various injuries and illnesses, Valley Regional/Old Lyme football coach Tim King entered Game 1 against conference rival Ellington last week with plenty of uncertainty.
"Of course you always want the W, but we also wanted to see what we had," King said Thursday. "It was tough. I didn't know what to expect."
About 30 minutes into the new year, King and his players had a better idea of what they were working with this season. After two failed drives got things off to a dismal start, Valley Regional/Old Lyme came together to beat perennial Pequot Conference contender Ellington, 33-7. The co-op, led by a determined senior class, scored 33 straight points before Ellington got on the board in the fourth quarter.
"I saw a bunch of kids coming together," King said. "We've got some pretty good athletes."
Early on against Ellington, the co-op stumbled. In the first quarter, they failed to score after getting to getting into the redzone on the opening drive and a little later they had a costly fumble for a turnover. But in the second quarter they quickly regrouped.
"One of our big things is: Never give up," King said. "That's kind of the motto. In the second quarter, we got it together a little bit."
Anchored by strong play from their offensive line, including Ian Neviaser, and a promising start from quarterback, Michael Cullina, the offense was able to go work. Josh Donahue ran for two touchdowns of 11 and 5 yards and Jae'len Arnum caught touchdown passes of 15 and 13 yards from Cullina.
At the end of the second quarter, Valley Regional/Old Lyme went for it on fourth and goal from the 15-yard line and Cullin connected with Arnum for a score.
"The game play we came up with was pretty good," King said. "We were going to try and use our athletes and put them in a position to make plays."
It also helps to have the athletes. Despite losing four linemen, a quarterback, running back and top wide receiver to graduation and tailback Cole Ensinger, the co-op still brought back plenty of playmakers that play three sports. And after arriving in camp this preseason in good shape, they've committed themselves to getting on the same page with the coaches.
"They're pretty football savvy," King said. "They do a pretty good job of listening. Hopefully they've been learning."
King doesn't need to remind many of the players what is at stake this season. The group includes many younger brothers. Wide receiver/defensive backs Jason O'Brien and Ernest Jean-Pierre both watched their brothers come up through the program. The co-op was the top seed in Class M a year ago, but lost in the semifinals to St. Joseph, 28-7.
"As younger kids, they've seen what they're brothers have done and its builds the culture," King said.
The co-op plays Morgan Friday at 6:30 p.m. in the home opener.
"It was a good win [against Ellington], but we've got to move on," King said. "We're still uncertain of what we got, but the potential is there."
Staying On Track
In 2015, Platt High of Meriden finished the season with two straight losses to Bloomfield and Maloney to end the season with a disappointng record 4-6.
"I'm still trying to forget to that," coach Jason Bruenn said last week.
Led by quarterback A.J. Marinelli, the Panthers have done their best to help their coach and program move on.
Since losing to Maloney to end 2015, the team has won nine of their last 12 games and advanced to the Class L playoffs, where it lost to Middletown.
"Last year, we set the standard," Bruenn.
One game into the new year, the Panthers look like they ready to keep that standard the same. In the season opener against Farmington, Platt's offense came up big for a 42-7 victory.
Marinelli passed for 198 yards and four touchdowns in the win. He was 10-for-13.
"He was was breed to play quarterback," Bruenn said.
Despite having a new group of players that need to step into bigger roles, Marinelli is encourged to see what the team can do this season.
"I think we can match last year, but it is going to take a lot of effort," Marinelli said. "I think the kids are trying real hard. I think they want to learn and do the right thing, but it is going to take some time."
As the team tries to get better and adjust to some key departures, they'll also look to running back EJ Dudley and Javon James (Bruenn said: "all he wants to do is tackle guys") to set an example.
"I think they will work well together," Bruenn said. "The raw bones are there."
Room For Improvement
Southington opened the season last week with two touchdowns on its first two drives and 34 points in the first half. But senior quarterback Will Barmore was more focused on his team's finish in the 34-7 victory over Central Connecticut Conference rival Glastonbury.
After taking a 27 point lead in the first half, Southington struggled to score in the rain in the final two quarters.
"Honestly, we need to play better than that," Barmore said. "We want to get better every single quarter, every single play. I'm very happy with the first half, but we have some stuff to work on."
Barmore, who passed for 211 yards and two touchdowns, came out in the second half after a hard hit. But appeared fine after the game. With Barmore leading the way on offense, the Blue Knights are looking to return to the Class LL semifinals once again. Southington host Simsbury Friday night.
"Game 1 is just seeing the potential and seeing where we can be" Drury said. "We just got to keep working every day." ... Jack Moore passed for 249 yards and two touchdowns to help Conard beat New Britain 30-22 last Friday. Moore, who was 26-for-38, also ran for a touchdown and connected on a pair of two-point conversions. ... Connor Kapisak passed for 237 yards and two touchdowns to help the Bobcats beat East Hartford 41-14 at East Hartford last Friday. ... Simsbury's Rafael Nieves had four touchdowns in last week's 42-7 win over Hall-West Hartford. ... Capital Prep/Achievement First quarterback Kyle Zajack picked up where he left off last season, passing for 304 yards and four touchdowns in the co-op's 40-26 victory over Griswold to start the season.