Pictured: Cromwell/Portland junior quarterback works out in a preseason practice. Latronica is nursuing a leg injury and is expected to miss a few weeks.
By Paul Augeri
Cromwell/Portland again will turn its offense over to freshman Cole Brisson at quarterback when the Panthers host Pequot Conference rival Valley Regional/Old Lyme on Friday night (6 p.m., Pierson Park).
Brisson gets the start in place of junior Cam Latronica, who suffered a left leg injury on the first play in the Panthers’ season-opening 3-0 win against Haddam-Killingworth. The 6-foot-1, 210-pound Latronica is expected to miss several weeks, coach Randell Bennett said Wednesday.
“Cam has been at practice every day coaching up Cole,” Bennett said. “I think Cam understands he’s going to be out awhile.”
Latronica, who was replacing graduated All-Pequot quarterback Bryce Karstetter, absorbed a hit below the knee against H-K, Bennett said. The coach believes Latronica might have suffered a hyperextension.
From there, Brisson took the reins.
“Being that early in the game, he was rightfully pretty nervous,” Bennett said. “I said to him in the pregame, ‘We’ll never know when we need to go to you, so stay ready.’ And there, second play of the game, he’s in there.
“The first half was a lot for him. I don’t think he completed a pass until his ninth throw in the game, but we just stick with it. I told him, ‘Calm down. We’re going to figure out a way to get it done.’”
Brisson, who is 5-10 and 150 pounds, and Latronica have been working together since summertime. Bennett said the offense will not change with Brisson under center.
“They were both learning how to play the quarterback position, so we just dialed everything back,” the coach said. “Both were there at the passing league this summer, and everytime we had team activities, they were there. Both got to work on the same things. They worked with Bryce to get acclimated to the offense, so I feel like we’re on the same page still (with Brisson).”
The Panthers were a veteran team when they beat Valley/Old Lyme last season in overtime en route to reaching the Class S playoffs. They have a young roster in place now – Bennett said five freshmen and four sophomores got playing time against H-K last week.
“I’ve never seen our team play with that much emotion. You wouldn’t think it’s a young team,” he said.
The Warriors opened their schedule with a 23-6 win over Morgan, which coach Tim King described as “a tale of two halves.”
“The first half, we played a solid game for it being the first game of the year,” King said. “There were penalties, we made a few mistakes, but it was bearable. And we put 23 on the board. The defense was playing great. The second half was the polar opposite. We made coverage mistakes and were backed up the whole time. I don’t think we got past our 25-yard line the whole second half.”
This season’s Warriors-Panthers meeting comes early. The two in 2018 met at the end of October, already seasoned and playing some of their best football. Valley ended up finishing 7-2 but missed the Class S playoffs, hurt by not having a 10th (replacement) opponent after Nonnewaug dropped football.
“Playing Cromwell is always a challenge,” King said. “They are always one of the top teams in our league and you always try to step up your game to play against the best teams in the league. My philosophy always has been if you want to be the best, you have to beat the best.”