BURLINGTON – The Lewis Mills High School football just can’t seem to catch a break. After nearly a decade of being part of a co-op team with St. Paul in Bristol, the Spartans finally got enough players to form their own team in 2010.
They were accepted into the Pequot Conference and placed in the Sassacus Division with teams from the shoreline and the greater Middletown area – some of the stronger teams in the Pequot Conference. Mills took their lumps for three years, winning just four games.
In 2013, the Pequot Conference realigned into three divisions and Mills was placed in the Western Division with teams from the northwest corner of the state. The Spartans went 2-9 on the field but they were more competitive. One of the more exciting games was a 17-14 loss to Granby thanks to a 36-yard field goal in the final four seconds of regulation.
But with Housatonic/Wamogo deciding not to field a varsity team this year, the Pequot has moved back to two 10-team divisions. And once again, the Spartans will be facing a schedule primarily of shoreline and greater Middletown area teams. The opponents in Mills’ first four games (Hyde, Valley Regional/Old Lyme, North Branford, Coginchaug) went a combined 35-14 last year. The closest opponent is Berkshire League rival Nonnewaug of Woodbury on Thanksgiving.
But second-year coach Jose Santana is optimistic. “Last year, we were very competitive in our games,” he said. “Everyone was competitive (in the Pequot West Division). This will be tough. We picked up Valley Regional and we’re still playing Morgan (10-2) and Coginchaug. It’s a brutal schedule. But it’s time to get ready for each one of them.”
Mills graduated two All-Pequot West players in defensive back Max Stone and linebacker Cameron McHale. Stone was Mills’ leading rusher (171-633, 5 TDs) and a record 100-yard fumble return for a TD against Canton. McHale led the team in tackles with 63, including 52 solo stops. The two top receivers, Dominic Jankowski (25-336, 1 TD) and Trevor Watts (14-275, 2 TDs) also graduated.
Junior Lucas Lanning (38-98-8, 664 yards, 8 TDs) returns for a second year as the starting quarterback for Mills. He’ll be joined in the backfield by junior Cullin Kennedy and sophomore Connor Kennedy. At receiver will be senior Justin Pease (9-182, 3 TDs) and senior Grant McGregor.
Three starters are returning on the offensive line – junior guard Tyler Mello, junior center Adam Positano and senior tackle Will Woolsey III. They’ll be joined by guard Nick Canteullo and senior tackle Andrew Kucharski. “This is the most experienced line we’ve had,” Santana said.
Defensively, look for Connor Kennedy, senior Hayden Macri and sophomore Bill Yeager at linebacker. Mello will be playing at defensive end with Pease, McGregor and Casey Ciemniewswski in the defensive backfield for the Spartans.
“We’re more cohesive as a team,” Santana said. “I think we have the ability to compete each game. They’ve grown a lot.”
Coach: Jose Santana, 2nd year (2-9)
Last year: 2-9, 1-5 Pequot West (6th)
Key losses: All-Pequot West DB/RB Max Stone (171-633, 5 TDs), LB Cameron McHale (63 tackles); WR Dominic Jankowski (23-336, 1 TD) and WR Trevor Watts (14-275, 2 TDs)
Top players: Junior QB Lucas Lanning (38-98-8, 664 yards, 8 TDs); RB Cullin Kennedy; RB/LB Connor Kennedy, WR/CB Justin Pease, WR/CB Grant McGregor; LB Hayden Macri, LB Bill Yeager, DE/G Tyler Mello
Outlook: With the realignment of the Pequot Conference thanks to Housatonic dropping its varsity team this fall, Mills returns to the Sassacus Division and a schedule primarily consisting of teams from the Shoreline and Middletown area. It will be a challenging schedule for the Spartans.
Of note: Mills will be playing two games on campus against Morgan (Oct. 25) and Stafford/East Windsor on Saturday, Nov. 8. The other three remaining home games will be played at Bristol’s Muzzy Field.
Sat. Sept. 13: at Hyde, noon
Sat. Sept. 20: VALLEY REGIONAL/OLD LYME, 1 p.m.
Sat. Sept. 27: at North Branford, 6 p.m.
Sat. Oct. 4: at Coginchaug, 1 p.m.
Sat. Oct. 11: HADDAM-KILLINGWORTH, 3 p.m.
Sat. Oct. 18: at Windsor Locks/Suffield/EG, 1 p.m.
Sat. Oct. 25: MORGAN, 1 p.m.**
Sat. Nov. 1: CROMWELL, 1 p.m.
Sat. Nov. 8: STAFFORD/EAST WINDSOR, 1 p.m.**
Sat. Nov. 15: at Old Saybrook/Westbrook, 1 p.m.
Thur. Nov. 27: at Nonnewaug, 10 a.m.
Three home games at Muzzy Field, Bristol
**At Lewis Mills in Burlington