CANTON – There is a sense of excitement and anticipation around the Canton High football team this season. And why not?
After going 0-10 two years ago in 2011, the Warriors responded with an outstanding season under first-year coach Paul Philippon. Canton (7-3, 7-3 Pequot Uncas) won a school-record seven games, set a new single season scoring record of 217 points and finished four games over .500 for the first time since 1958.
Outside of leading rusher Kyle Mullins, who ran for a school-record 977 yards and 13 touchdowns, Canton has the bulk of the team that achieved those accomplishments returning.
That’s a good sign because the Warriors face a challenging schedule in 2013 if they hope to contend for a divisional championship in the Pequot Conference or if they hope to be among the top eight teams in Class S and earn a berth in the CIAC playoffs for the the first time.
“If you saw us last year, you’ll see some familiar things from us,” Philippon said. “We’re a very similar team to the team we were last year.”
A year ago, Canton relied on its running game and disciplined play on both sides of the ball to win seven games. The Warriors lost the ball just five times (four fumbles, one interception) while forcing 19 turnovers of their own (11 fumble recoveries, 8 interceptions).
They made some big defensive stops in tight wins over Enfield, Windsor Locks/Suffield/East Granby (to snap a 13-game losing streak in week 2) and Coventry/Windham Tech/Bolton.
“We try to be a sound team that plays smart, clean football,” Philippon said.
The Pequot Conference realigned into three divisions and Canton will be in the Western Division along with Avon, Gilbert/Northwestern, Granby, Lewis Mills, Nonnewaug and Housatonic/Wamogo.
To schedule other Pequot Conference games from outside the divisions, the teams were placed into the new divisional alignment based on last fall’s results. Canton would have finished third in the West so they got games with two third place teams (Hyde and Coventry/Windham Tech/Bolton) and games with two fourth place teams (Enfield and Haddam-Killingworth).
Canton ends up with seven games on this year’s schedule against teams that finished over .500 last year including five games against teams that won at least seven games – Avon (10-1), Hyde (10-2), Ellington/Somers (9-2), Gilbert/NWR (7-3) and Coventry/WT/Bolton (7-3).
“Last year’s good feelings aren’t getting in the way of their work ethic,” Philippon said. “There is a nucleus of kids who know what they have to do.”
Senior Eric Scott returns at quarterback for his third season. He has thrown for 923 yards and nine TDs over the past two seasons. Two of his top targets from a year ago are also back. Senior tight end Jake Wood caught 17 passes for 219 yards and three touchdowns while All-Pequot junior Sebastian Gumbs caught 14 passes for 109 yards.
Gumbs also made an impact returning eight kickoffs for 213 yards and 1 TD. Cam Daley returned 10 kickoffs for 180 yards.
Mullins has graduated but All-Pequot linebacker and running back Dan Delos is back. A year ago, Delos rushed for 574 yards and six touchdowns.
Defensively, Canton has some veteran players returning. Junior All-Pequot linebacker Henry Bonini is back on the field. He was the team’s leading tackler with 95 stops including 60 solo tackles.
Delos was the team’s second leading tackler with 84 tackles, including 53 solo tackles is back along with cornerback Cameron Daley, who had 83 tackles and 57 solo tackles, three interceptions and recovered a pair of fumbles. Five of the top six tacklers are back on defense for Canton, including Wood and Patrick Lawlor.
With many of their athletes playing on both sides of the ball, Canton will need to stay away from injuries to have a successful campaign.
Canton will be challenged right from the start with four of its first six games against teams with winning records a year ago.
Canton opens the season against Class L playoff participant Avon (10-1) on Thursday on the road at 4 p.m. After hosting Housatonic/Wamogo on Sept. 28, the Warriors host Class S playoff participant Hyde (10-2) on Oct. 5, travel to face Coventry/Windham Tech/Bolton (7-3) on Oct. 11 and host Gilbert/Northwestern (7-3) on Oct. 26.
There are two night games on the schedule at Coventry (Oct. 11) and Enfield (Nov. 21). Canton is trying to secure permission to use portable lights and perhaps host Housatonic/Wamogo in a night game on Sept. 28 on the new artificial turf at the track and field complex currently being built at the high school. If those plans fall through, it will be a day game as currently scheduled.
The team is scheduled to play their home games on West Field this season.
Last year: 7-3, 7-3 Pequot Uncas
Coach: Paul Philippon, second year (7-3); career 41-19-2
Team website: http://chsfootball.homestead.com/home.html
Home field: grass
Lights: No permanent lights
Key losses: RB/DE Kyle Mullins (977 yards rushing, 13 TDs), RB Jesse Lachance (190 yards rushing, 3 TDs). Mullins was an All-Pequot selection at DE.
Top players: Seniors: QB Eric Scott, RB Terrance Brophy; RB Mike Amoroso, TE Jake Wood, DB/WR Andrew Zukowski, DE Patrick Lawlor; Juniors: LB/RB Dan Delos, WR/DB Cameron Daley, WR/CB Sebastian Gumbs, LB/G Henry Bonini
Outlook: The Warriors return the core of the team that won a school record seven games and scored a school record 217 points last year after going winless in 10 games in 2011. The biggest loss is running back Kyle Mullins, who ran for 977 yards and 13 TDs and made 65 tackles on defense. QB Eric Scott returns for a third season and will have experienced receivers in Sebastian Gumbs (14 receptions, 109 yards) and Jake Wood (17 receptions, 219 yards, 3 TDs). Defensively, Canton will be led by All-Pequot linebacker Henry Bonini (95 tackles), linebacker Dan Delos (84 tackles) and Gumbs and Daley in the secondary. Canton will need to stay away from injuries with many of their athletes playing on both sides of the ball.
Of note: The Warriors expect to play most of their home games on West Field this year. However, there are efforts underway to see if they can get permission to play Housatonic/Wamogo under portable lights on Saturday, Sept. 28 on the new artificial turf field at the track and field complex currently being built at the high school. … CPTV Sports will be taping the Hyde at Canton game on Oct. 5 for broadcast a few days later. It is one of 22 high school football games that CPTV Sports will broadcast this fall. … Bonini (LB), Gumbs and Daley (DB) were All-Pequot selections a year ago.
September – 12 at Avon, 4:30 p.m; 28: HOUSATONIC/WAMOGO, 1 p.m.
October – 5: HYDE, 1 p.m.; 11: at Coventry/Windham Tech/Bolton, 7 p.m.; 19: at Nonnewaug, 1 p.m.; 26: GILBERT/NORTHWESTERN, 1 p.m.
November – 2: HADDAM-KILLINGWORTH, 1 p.m.; 9: at Ellington/Somers, 1 p.m.; 16: LEWIS MILLS, 1 p.m.; 21: at Enfield, 7 p.m.; 28: at Granby, 10:30 a.m.