In 2001, Collinsville Press founder and editor Gerry deSimas, Jr., was a freelance sportswriter and one of his clients was the New Britain Herald where he would cover high school football games on Friday nights in the fall. One memorable and emotional game was the season-opening football contest between Newington High and Hall. Many sporting events had been cancelled after the horrific 9-11 attacks in New York, Washington, D.C. and Pennsylvania.
Major League Baseball postponed all games through Sept. 16., the NFL postponed their schedule of games for that weekend (Sept. 15-16) to the end of the season. Minor league baseball cancelled the remainder of their postseason playoffs which left the New Britain Rock Cats as co-champions of the Eastern League. Still, the high schools played. Here is what Gerry saw on a Friday evening in Newington.
By GERRY deSIMAS, JR.
Special to The Herald
NEWINGTON, Sept. 14, 2001 — Candles twinkled brightly in the grandstands and the only sound you could hear was a nearby dog barking.
Fans and players observed a moment of silence before Friday night’s CCC football game at Newington High in honor of the men and women who lost their lives in Tuesday’s terrorist attacks in New York City, Washington, D.C., and western Pennsylvania and the men and women working long hard in search and rescue operations.
The Newington High team took the field carrying an American flag.
Within a few minutes, though, the sounds of high school football filled the air — the sound of young men straining against each other on the line of scrimmage, players smacking into each other and the crowd cheering a big run, a big sack and touchdowns. It was an evening to savor the sweetness of life in America.
When it was over, the Newington High players had a big reason to smile after its 35-20 season-opening win over Hall High at Alumni Field. Not only did the win snap Newington’s 12-game losing streak, which dated back to the 1999 season but the Indians won its first season opener in nearly a decade (1992).
Six-foot senior running back Matt Carlin scored three touchdowns for the Indians, including a 56-yard scamper in the third quarter. Teammate Tyler Libby ran a kickoff back 78 yards for a touchdown and the Indian defense recovered six Hall fumbles. John Johnson and Dan Dulac each recovered a pair of fumbles.
“We’re working as a team,” said Carlin, who led Newington with 178 yards rushing on 26 carries. “We got the blocking up front. You can’t get anything done unless you work as a team.”
“We never quit,” said a pleased head coach Dick Vida. “They wouldn’t let the rope go. No matter how much they slipped, they kept climbing it.”
When it was over, Newington didn’t forget the tragic events of this week while they celebrated a victory. The team will give the game ball to Dave Gowel, the Newington assistant superintendent, whose brother, Douglas, died on a plane that crashed into the World Trade Center.
“We know how special it is to play and we wanted to play our hardest,” Carlin said. “We didn’t take this for granted. We wanted to play our hearts out.”
Johnson recovered the first Hall fumble on the Warrior four-yard line with only 1:23 gone in the game. Three plays later, Tim Owens scored on an 8-yard run for a 7-0 lead.
Hall fumbled the kickoff but marched 98 yards on eight plays in 3:15 to tie the game at 7-7. But Libby broke through the pack to race 78 yards for a touchdown on the ensuing kickoff for a 14-7 lead. Hall QB Zared Shai’s 3-yard run tied the game at 14-14 late in the first quarter.
Newington seized control in the second quarter on a 16-play, 61-yard march that ate up 7:34. Carlin carried nine times for 48 yards, scoring on a 1-yard run for a 21-14 lead with 2:51 left in the half.
Newington stopped a Hall drive on the Indians’ 12-yard line with 10 seconds left in the quarter when sophomore Russ Karas stripped the ball from Shai and Dulac recovered the ball.
Newington scored on its first drive of the third quarter on Carlin’s 56-yard run for a 27-14 lead. Hall cut the lead to seven, 27-20 but Newington extended the lead to 35-20 on a Carlin 1-yard run with 9:27 left in the contest.
Karas recovered a fumble by Hall’s Elliott Maltz after a 25-yard kickoff return. On Hall’s next possession, Tom Jackson fumbled on the 1-yard line after a 39-yard run when he was tackled by Libby.
Jackson led all rushers with 207 yards on 17 carries while teammate David Costales scored two touchdowns and ran for 165 yards on 15 carries. But the six fumbles were too much for Hall, a team that has now lost 22 games in a row, dating back to 1998. “We have a lot of work to do but we have some talent,” Vida said. “I’m very proud of the team and the coaching staff.”
GRID DUST — The 35-point outburst by the Indians was the most since scoring 36 against Platt in 1999. … Libby, who predicted in school that he would run back a kickoff for a touchdown, had 123 yards in kickoff returns before Hall stopped kicking the ball to him. In the second half, Hall kicked the ball out of bounds on kickoffs instead of letting Libby field the ball.
Newington 35, Hall 20
Hall (0-1) 14 0 6 0 — 20
Newington (1-0) 14 7 6 8 — 35
N — Tim Owens 8 run (Jared Schumann kick), 9:28
H — David Costales 44 run (Brendan McCabe kick), 6:13
N — Tyler Libby 78 kickoff return (Schumann kick), 5:57
H — Zared Shai 3 run (McCabe kick), 3:48
N — Matt Carlin 1 run (Schumann kick), 2:51
N — Carlin 35 run (kick blocked), 10:25
H — Costales 14 run (kick failed), 5:03
N — Carlin 9 run (Billy Smith run), 9:27
RUSHING — Newington: Matt Carlin 26-178, Reno Denovellis 2-minus 8, Billy Smith 9-24, Tim Owens 1-8; Hall: Pat Shortell 16-95, Tom Jackson 17-207, David Costales 15-165, Zared Shai 4-29, Steven Pedemonti 7-55
PASSING — Newington: Reno Denovellis 2-5-1, 42; Hall: Zared Shai 0-1
RECEIVING — Newington: Owens -1-23, Smith 1-19
MISSED FIELD GOALS — none