Opportunities that never existed for decades of Canton High athletes stand today in front of the Canton High football team.
With two games remaining in the regular season, Canton (8-1, 7-0 Pequot Uncas) has an opportunity to win its first league championship since 1958. The Warriors can also earn a berth in the CIAC state playoffs with victories in their final two games.
They need to beat Avon, a team that has won five Pequot Uncas Division titles in the last seven years and has earned three playoff berths in the last six years. Avon (6-2, 6-1 Pequot Uncas) is hoping to keep their own flickering playoff hopes alive with victories in their two last games.
With so much on the line for both teams, Avon and Canton will meet for the tenth and final time on the football field Saturday at 1:30 p.m. in Canton. Both teams have games remaining on Thanksgiving morning but this week’s game looms as a season-defining contest for both schools.
The Warriors can clinch the Pequot Uncas Division title with a win over Avon. It would be Canton’s first pennant since claiming the 1958 North Central League title. And it would move Canton one step closer to a berth in the CIAC Class S tournament.
“This has been a long standing rivalry,” Avon coach Jim Caouette said. “Knowing we’ll never play these guys again is in the back of everyone’s minds. The Canton and Avon kids respect each other. They want to bang heads and have a great football game.”
This is the best football team Canton has assembled since they resurrected the program in 2007 after a 43-year absence. It may be one of the best in school history. Canton is on its way to breaking the school record for most points in a season for the second consecutive season. They’ve allowed just 97 points in nine games, by far its best performance since 2007.
This isn’t a lot of mystery around the Warriors. They control the game with their running game led by seniors Dan Delos, Cam Daley and Sebby Gumbs and a strong, physical offensive line. Canton hasn’t attempted a pass in the past three games.
Delos is the first runner in school history to rush for more than 1,000 yards. He has run for 1,210 yards and 16 touchdowns in nine games while Daley has run for 882 yards and 13 touchdowns. Gumbs ran for a school record 226 yards and three TDs in last Saturday’s win over Hyde.
“They’re big up front. They have the biggest front line in the Pequot. They owned the line of scrimmage and that is how you win football games,” said Jason Qua, head coach at Windsor Locks/Suffield/East Granby after the Warriors scored 30 unanswered points to erase a six-point deficit and earn a 37-13 victory.
Canton’s offensive line consists of Shane Toland (left tackle), Caiden Permenter (left guard), Will Carlson (center), Keegan Toland (right guard) and Pearce Walsh (right tackle).
Defensively, Canton is disciplined and creates turnovers. They’ve allowed just 97 points, have six interceptions and have recovered nine fumbles. Delos and Henry Bonini (team-leading 78 tackles) at linebacker have been outstanding along with Shane Toland (68 tackles) on the defensive line. Daley has 66 tackles and three interceptions from his cornerback position.
With just 27 players in the entire program, nearly all of the Warriors play on both sides of the ball. But Canton has been tough to beat in hard-fought victories over Ellington/Somers, 21-14, Hyde, 28-14 and Windsor Locks/Suffield/East Granby. The only hiccup so far was a 31-7 loss to Morgan where the Huskies scored 19 unanswered points in the final 15 minutes.
“Folks say they don’t have depth because they don’t have a lot of players. But they do have depth. They have kids who can come in and play and play hard,” Enfield coach Jay Gaucher said. “They play physical.”
Avon poses another challenge for Canton. The Falcons have a solid offensive line in center Dean Zacchio, tackles Max Kritikos, Kurt Ollestead, Gino Bonalumi and guards Harrison Gill and Justin Nastri.
They open the path for Avon’s hard-running backs Teddy Allmendinger and Jamie Dlugolecki. Allmendinger leads the way with 1,040 yards rushing and 11 touchdowns. Allmendinger and Dluolecki (39-186) have been hard to bring down to the turf.
Avon will be without its dynamic QB Ian McDonald, who can throw the ball and has the speed to race away from the opposition. McDonald, who missed four games after breaking his wrist in a season-opening loss to Ellington/Somers, broke his hand in the loss to Valley Regional/Old Lyme. He had rushed for 694 yards and six TDs. Tackle and defensive lineman Ryan Rogers will also miss the game with a leg injury suffered against Valley.
Sean Del Gallo doesn’t have the running speed of McDonald but did an outstanding job as Avon’s starting QB. He has completed 30-of-51 passes for 583 yards and six TDs. Avon’s Geoff Kirk (12 receptions, 324 yards, 4 TDs) and Luke Meaney (11-221, 2 TDs) are the Falcons’ primary targets when throwing the ball.
Avon, which ran for a school record 707 yards and nine TDs in a 62-34 win over Windsor Locks/Suffield/East Granby earlier this month, used its ground game to control the clock in Saturday’s 14-9 loss to undefeated Valley Regional/Old Lyme. Avon was able to move the ball on Valley. However, two fumbles inside Valley’s 10-yard line trailing by one point in the fourth quarter doomed the Falcons.
Turnovers have been Avon’s Achilles heel this season. They’ve lost the ball eight times in three losses to Ellington/Somers, North Branford and Valley Regional/Old Lyme.
Defensively, Avon’s linebacking corps led by Allemendinger and Kirk has been outstanding. Nose tackle Harry Gill has been played well, too.
For Avon, their playoff hopes are simple. They have to beat Canton and Gilbert/Northwestern to remain alive for a Class M playoff berth and hope they get some help. And it’s not inconceivable that the teams in front of them No. 6 Bethel, No. 7 Cheney Tech, No. 8 New London and No. 9 Wolcott High could lose a game – opening up an opportunity for Avon to be on the eight teams to qualify.
Beating a Canton team with eight wins would be very helpful in terms of strength of schedule and points.
Avon isn’t forgetting that it was Canton that drove the length of the field in the 2013 season opener and scored on the final play of the game to beat Avon, 16-13. It’s a loss that probably kept Avon out of the playoffs a year ago. And it will likely be the final football game ever between the two schools with Avon moving into the Central Connecticut Conference next fall.
There is so much on the line for both teams. Kickoff is scheduled for 1:30 p.m.
NOTES: Avon leads the overall series between the two schools, 9-1. … Canton concludes the regular season by hosting Granby on Thanksgiving morning. … Avon concludes its regular season by playing in its first-ever Thanksgiving Day game when they host Gilbert/Northwestern. … If Canton and Ellington/Somers finish the season tied at 8-1 in the Pequot Uncas, Canton would be the league champion based on their 21-14 win in September. It is unknown at this time how a three-way tie between Canton, Ellington, Avon for the Uncas Division title would be broken if all three teams finished at 8-1 in the league. … Canton has scored 300 points in nine games. They are 13 points shy of the mark they set a year ago. … Canton didn’t have a varsity football program from 1964 through 2006.
Canton (8-1, 7-0 Pequot Uncas)
Canton 35, SMSA/University 6
Canton 46, Stafford/East Windsor 0
Canton 21, Ellington/Somers 14
Canton 42, Coventry/Windham Tech/Bolton 8
Canton 37, Windsor Locks/Suffield/East Granby 13
Morgan 31, Canton 7
Canton 42, Enfield 7
Canton 42, Gilbert/Northwestern 6
Canton 28, Hyde 14
Avon (6-3, 6-1 Pequot Uncas)
Ellington/Somers 28, Avon 14
Avon 50, Granby 21
Avon 42, SMSA/University 6
Avon 48, Stafford/East Windsor 0
Avon 34, Enfield 0
North Branford 47, Avon 7
Avon 49, Coventry/Windham Tech/Bolton 6
Avon 62, Windsor Locks/Suffield/East Granby 34
Valley Regional/Old Lyme 14, Avon 9