Pictured: Coginchaug quarterback Aaron Faiella, who finished with a school-record 338 yards on 26 completions, drops back in the first half of Saturday’s game in Durham. (Marc Silvestrini photo)
By Marc Silvestrini
DURHAM — You can’t judge a book by its cover.
You can’t judge a relationship by a first date.
And you certainly can’t judge a football game by the opening minutes of play.
Take Saturday’s game between Coginchaug/Hale Ray/East Hampton and undefeated Rockville at the Wally Camp Athletic Complex in Durham. The Blue Devils, led by superlative early-game performances by quarterback Aaron Faiella, tight end Tyler Garretson and the entire offensive line, marched up and down the field to score two quick touchdowns on their first two possessions.
Faiella was 11 of 11 on the two drives for 123 yards. He threw for the first score and ran the ball in for the second one, giving the home team a 12-0 lead before the game was nine minutes old.
Garretson caught five of Faiella’s completions during those two drives for 52 yards and a touchdown, while Coginchaug’s offensive line — which includes left tackle Zak Cunningham, left guard Selby Manning, center Jack Huscher, right guard Anthony Toth and right tackle Eli Ripper — kept Faiella clean and free from harm.
But that was as good as it was going to get for the Blue Devils. From there, the undefeated Rams shook off Coginchaug’s opening salvo, kept their composure and went on to score the next 40 points en route to a convincing 53-19 Pequot Conference victory.
Along the way, the Rams (5-0) piled up 617 yards in total offense, gashing the tiring Blue Devils defense for several long-distance scoring plays in the second half.
“We wanted to come out and start fast, and we did a pretty good job of that,” Coginchaug coach Erik Becker said. “But we also left a few opportunities, a few scoring chances, on the board early in the game, and that hurt us.
“After our good start, Rockville woke up and began playing like the solid team they really are. And we missed a couple of opportunities to score another touchdown or two, which might have made a big difference in the way the game played out.”
Aaron Faiella had a special day in his own right, completing 26 of his 46 passes for a school-record 338 yards and two touchdowns. He also finished as the team’s leading rusher with 20 yards and a touchdown on four carries.
The Blue Devils, who fell to 2-2, have a bye next week and resume their season Oct. 25 with a road game at Haddam-Killingworth.
Rockville coach Erick Knickerbocker agreed that slowing down Coginchaug’s high-powered aerial attack was one of the important keys to winning the game.
“We didn’t react well on defense early in the game, and they took it to us,” Knickerbocker said. “Coginchaug’s a young team, but they’re very well- coached and they have some very good skill players.
“They were giving our rotation (pass) coverage some problems in the early going, but our guys eventually got their heads in the game and started covering people,” Knickerbocker said, adding that the Rams adjusted by mixing in more zone coverage after Coginchaug’s initial success against their tight man-to-man coverage.
Coginchaug took the opening kickoff and quickly marched 74 yards in 13 plays, including nine passing plays, to jump out to an early lead. A 15-yard catch and run by running back Alex Case and a 21-yard bullet to Garretson helped bring the Blue Devils to the Rams’ 10.
From there, after losing five yards on first down, Faiella hit Garretson for a short gain to the 13 and then lofted a high pass to his big tight end, who leaped and caught the ball on the 1 and then fell on his back into the end zone for the first points of the afternoon. The Blue Devils’ try for a 2-point conversion failed, leaving the score 6-0 midway through the opening quarter.
On Rockville’s ensuing series, Coginchaug’s Jackson Moore intercepted a pass by Ram quarterback Jonathan O’Coin to give the Devils the ball at the Coginchaug 35.
Faiella got his offense rolling again by hitting his twin brother, Evan, on a deep out for a 39-yard gain to the Rams’ 26. Two quick completions to Garretson then advanced the ball to the 11, from where Aaron Faiella ran the ball into the end zone on a keeper. A second straight failure to convert a two-point conversion left the score at 12-0 with 3:10 to play in the opening quarter.
After forcing Rockville’s offense off the field in three plays, Coginchaug again marched smartly downfield, covering 52 yards in eight plays and a first down at the 15. But Aaron Faiella’s attempt to complete a throw on a fourth-and-5 from the 10 fell incomplete, turning the ball back over to Rockville on downs and marking the first of those missed opportunities of which Becker spoke.
The Rams’ offense came to life immediately after the Blue Devils’ failure to turn their third possession of the game into points. Starting from his own 10, O’Coin ( 14 of 21 for 241 yards and five TDs) engineered a 90-yard, 12-play drive that culminated in a 5-yard touchdown run by Kevin Foley. Deshaun Perry’s PAT made it 12-7 midway through the second quarter.
Coginchaug responded by driving to the Rams’ 29, but eventually turned the ball over on downs for the second straight possession. O’Coin and his offense needed only six plays to cover the 71 yards that stood between them and the Blue Devil end zone with the touchdown coming on a 17-yard strike from O’Coin to Perry.
Perry’s PAT kick was blocked by Coginchaug’s interior line, leaving the score at 13-12, Rockville with two minutes left in the half.
The Rams scored on their third straight possession when O’Coin hit Jaquan Dufour with a 9-yard touchdown strike with only 28 seconds left in the half to make the halftime score 19-12.
The Rams iced the game by scoring four touchdowns in the third quarter, including three in the first eight minutes of the second half that turned their seven-point deficit nto a comfortable 40-12 advantage.
Two of those scores — a wide receiver screen pass from O’Coin to Dufour that the wideout turned into a nifty 72-yard catch and run, and a 73-yard touchdown run by Jason Clarke — were the results of big plays, while the third score of the quarter came on a 9-yard, O’Coin-to-Dufour strike.
Coginchaug answered Dufour’s second touchdown of the quarter when Moore turned a quick slant from Faiella into a pretty 29-yard touchdown pass. Colin Murphy’s extra point made it 40-19 with 2:15 left in the quarter.
Rockville closed out the scoring on a 37-yard, O’Coin-to-Dufour touchdown pass late in the third quarter and a 30-yard pass from former Xavier player Matt Ryan to Perry that set the final score at 53-19.
Evan Faiella caught eight passes for 92 yards, Moore had seven catches for 93 yards and a touchdown and Garretson caught seven balls for 83 yards and a score.
Clarke finished as the game’s top rusher with 94 yards and a touchdown on seven carries, while Dufour had a remarkable day catching the football, finishing with eight catches for 176 yards and four touchdowns.