Pictured: From left, Cromwell/Portland received huge efforts from quarterback Cole Brisson and linebackers Ted Williams and Ryan Rozich in Friday’s lopsided win over H-K. (Photo by Marc Silvestrini)
By Marc Silvestrini
CROMWELL – Most everyone who follows Pequot Conference football knows all about Cromwell/Portland’s three outstanding linebackers.
It doesn’t take a Bill Belichick-type football mind to figure out that Ted Williams, Owen Brunk and Ryan Rozich form one of the most potent linebacking trios in all of Class S. What is now becoming apparent in the wake of Cromwell’s 41-3 win over an injury-riddled Haddam-Killingworth team Friday night is that the linemen playing in front of those linebackers are pretty special, too.
“The defensive line really stepped it up big tonight,” Panthers coach Randall Bennett said. “They were more focused tonight (than in Cromwell’s Week 1 victory over Morgan). They played much better as a unit within our scheme and a lot less like a bunch of individuals.”
The Panthers’ defensive front includes Alex Hair and Emeka Yearwood at defensive end, Jackson Williams as the three technique (a defensive tackle who usually lines up on the outside shoulder of a guard) and Connor Egan, Jihad Blake-Singleton and Ethan Philbrick rotating at nose tackle.
“It’s great that I can always count on my defense to get a stop when we really need one,” Panthers quarterback Cole Brisson said. “I just have a lot of confidence in those guys.”
The Panthers’ defense limited the Cougars — who were playing without their starting quarterback and their best running back — to 87 yards in total offense and produced three turnovers. But the win wasn’t entirely based on the work of the defense.
Brisson and the offense had a big night too, piling up 389 yards in total offense and ringing up six touchdowns in the Panthers’ first home game in two years.
“We came out all excited and ready to play because it’s been 21 days since we last played a game and we all wanted to make sure we didn’t come out all rusty,” the junior quarterback said.
Brisson completed 13 of his 20 passes for 246 yards and two touchdowns, while Rozich caught five of those passes for 77 yards and Williams added three catches for 78 yards and a touchdown.
Williams also had an interception and a fumble recovery on defense.
“Our offense moved the ball well tonight,” Bennett said. “They came out and made some big plays early, just like they did in our first game.”
Cromwell, which has not played a game in three weeks due to a bye week and a COVID-related postponement of their scheduled game against North Branford last week, scored on their first two possessions of the game, with both scoring drives set up by Cougar turnovers.
After recovering an H-K fumble at the Cougar 33 on the opening kickoff, Brisson took all of two plays to get the Panthers into the end zone, completing a 31-yard catch-and-run to Rozich and scoring himself from two yards out. Allen Cohen, who would kick five straight PATs before having one blocked, converted the extra point to give Cromwell a 7-0 lead 47 seconds into the game.
H-K’s ensuing possession lasted three plays before Ben Fagan intercepted a pass to give the Panthers the ball at their own 44. On the first play following the turnover, Brisson launched a long, towering pass to Williams, who hauled the ball in over his shoulder and raced into the end zone to complete a 56-yard play and stretch Cromwell’s lead to 14-0.
After an exchange of punts, the gutsy Cougars launched their best drive of the night behind the passing of quarterback Alex Phipps, marching 69 yards in seven plays to the Panther 11.
A 36-yard Phipps completion to Kevin Cavrell followed by a 27-yard bullet to Ryan Duncanson brought the ball deep into Cromwell territory, but the Panthers’ defense stiffened from there and the drive stalled. Cavrell then got the Cougars on the board by nailing a 28-yard field goal to close the gap to 14-3 with 7:43 left in the half.
As good teams will do, Cromwell/Portland responded on its ensuing possession with a nine-play, 85-yard scoring drive. The Cougars appeared to have stopped the drive when they forced the Panthers into a fourth-and-8 at the H-K 26, but Brisson hit Williams with a pass that carried to the 2-yard line and Hair blasted into the end zone on the next play to give the home team a commanding 21-3 at the half.
The Panthers then put the game away by scoring three touchdowns on their first three possessions of the third quarter.
Brunk capped a 50-yard drive off the second-half kickoff by scoring from 11 yards out while Brisson hit Brandon Rose with a pretty rainbow of a pass from 32 yards out to make it 35-3 with 3:37 left in the quarter.
A bad snap from center on a fourth-down punt attempt then set up a 17-yard touchdown burst by Hair to complete the scoring. Besides his strong play at defensive end, Hair was the game’s leading rusher with 61 yards and two touchdowns on six carries.
Phipps completed 8 of 20 passes for 129 yards for the Cougars. Zenon Kolcio caught three of those passes for 33 yards while Duncanson and Matteo Piacenti each grabbed two for 44 and 16 yards, respectively.
Kolcio recorded H-K’s only sack of the night while Duncanson chipped in with an interception and a fumble recovery.
“They’re a very physical team that looks and plays like a team that lives in the weight room,” H-K coach Tyler Wilcox said. “Hats off to those linebackers and that defense.”
While H-K will be without injured starting quarterback Tate Callender and running back Orion Inkel, an All Pequot-caliber player, for what looks to be a few more weeks, Wilcox refused to use the injuries as an excuse for his team’s performance Friday. He also said he was proud of the fact that the Cougars never stopped playing hard.
“I’m proud of the way we stood in there against a very good opponent,” he said. “Our guys never gave up and never stopped fighting.”
H-K…..0 3 0 0–3
C/P….14 7 20 0–41
C/P: Brisson 2 run (Cohen kick)
C/P: Williams 56 pass from Brisson (Cohen kick)
HK: Cavrell 28-yard field goal
C/P: Hair 4-yard run (Cohen kick)
C/P: Brunk 11-yard run (Cohen kick)
C/P: Rose 32-yard pass from Brisson (Cohen kick)
C/P: Hair 14-yard run (kick blocked)
Records: H-K 1-2; Cromwell 2-0
Up Next: H-K visits Coginchaug-Hale-Ray/East Hampton on Friday, 6:30pm; Cromwell/Portland plays Valley Regional/Old Lyme at Old Lyme High School on Oct. 9, 1pm.