AVON – There has always been that question. Even with the success of the Avon High football team over the past eight years in the Pequot Conference, folks have wondered just how good are the Falcons?
Avon has put together eight consecutive winning seasons – the longest stretch of success in the program’s history. The Falcons won five Pequot Uncas Division titles, had a pair of 10-0 seasons and earned three state tournament berths. They didn’t win any of the playoff games but were very competitive in each contest, a few plays away from a victory.
Just how good is Avon?
The Falcons get an opportunity to prove themselves beginning next week. Having outgrown the North Central Connecticut Conference and the Pequot Conference, Avon begins play in the 33-team Central Connecticut Conference – the largest conference in the state. They face Rocky Hill on Friday night on the road beginning at 7 p.m.
Instead of being the largest team in the league, Avon is the 23rd largest school in its league. “The CCC is a whole different animal,” Avon’s third-year coach Jim Caouette said. “You play bigger schools. Not that the Pequot wasn’t competitive but it is a battle every week in the CCC. You have to come prepared to play every week.”
Avon (7-4, 7-2 Pequot Uncas) is in the CCC Division III Eastern Division where they should be able to contend for a division title. Defending champion Berlin (10-1, 4-0) went to the playoffs a year ago but none of the three remaining teams in Eastern Division – Rockville (1-10), Fermi (0-11) or Tolland (4-7) – had winning records a year ago.
The Falcons have some veteran players returning including 6-foot-2 senior Ian McDonald, a game-changing quarterback who can run and pass effectively. McDonald ran for 694 yards and six touchdowns in just five games a year ago. He was electric in the season opener against Ellington/Somers before his hand was broken on a tackle.
Running back Teddy Allmendinger became the 10th runner in school history to race for more than 1,000 yards in a single season, rushing for 1,278 yards and 13 touchdowns. He was also an All-Pequot Uncas Division linebacker pick.
Speedy Andrew Blackmore (56-469, 7 TDs) returns along with leading receiver 6-foot-4 Geoff Kirk, who has already begin accepted to attend West Point next fall. Kirk caught 17 passes for 428 yards and five touchdowns. No. 2 receiver Luke Meaney (12-235, 2 TDs) also returns. Look for more plays for quick sophomore Jordan Williams, who was a successful kick returner last fall.
“We have some great athletes,” Caouette said. “It is a matter of putting the puzzle together.”
The offensive line isn’t as experienced as Avon’s skill position players but Caouette is confident they will come together. Senior center Dean Zacchio is a three-year starter who will anchor the line. Senior Andrew Marshall, sophomore Liam Russell and Max Kritikos will be on the line, too.
“I hope to be balanced as we possibly can,” Caouette said. “We’ll take a look at the defense and if it is crowded in the box, we’ll throw. If it is loose, we’ll run.”
One of the priorities this preseason has been ball control. In four losses a year ago, Avon had 11 turnovers. “We have to get serious about protecting the football,” Caouette said. “Three of our losses were directly due to turnovers. It had to do with the fact that were fatigued late in the game. We weren’t as mentally sharp as we should have been.”
Defensively, look for Allmendinger, Kirk, Blackmore and sophomore Ryan Ollestead at linebacker with Zacchio and Marshall on the defensive line. In the secondary will be Meaney, Williams and Sean Del Gallo, a smart ballplayer who stepped in at quarterback last year in game one after McDonald and backup QB Dom DeBaradino were injured.
For the season, Del Gallo completed 37-of-66 passes for 703 yards and seven TDs – not bad for stepping in at the last minute. Only five other Avon High quarterbacks have thrown more touchdown passes in a single season. This year, Del Gallo will be contributing as a receiver and defensive back — barring any injuries.
The Falcons also have returning kicker Alden Getz, who connected on 41-of-49 extra points a year ago and hit two field goals.
“We have to stay healthy, protect the football and play great defense,” Caouette said. “If we can do those things we can be competitive.
“I’m just so excited. I can’t wait to play some CCC football,” he said.
The Falcons get to renew old rivalries in the CCC. Avon had a spirited rivalry with Tolland in the Pequot Conference before Tolland left for the CCC in 2009. They meet in week three at home under the lights at the high school. The Falcons had a long 20-year rivalry with Berlin in the old Northwest Conference. The Oct. 23 contest at Sage Field in Berlin could be for the division championship if preseason predictions are accurate.
Avon will play Simsbury on the road two days before Thanksgiving. The two schools played yearly in the 1960s. The Falcons will also get to see their old coach, Brett Quinion, who was hired to lead Northwest Catholic in West Hartford. That game is on Halloween in West Hartford.
Avon will play Fermi for the first time. Fermi, which has lost 44 games in a row, is in its final year of competition. The school will close in June and merge with Enfield High.
Coach: Jim Caouette, 3rd year (15-7)
Last year: 7-4, 7-2 Pequot Uncas Division
Key losses: All-State G Ryan Rogers, All-Pequot Uncas T Harrison Gill, defensive lineman Jamie Dlugolecki.
Top players: QB Ian McDonald, TE/LB Geoff Kirk, RB/LB Andrew Blackmore, RB/LB Teddy Allemendinger; WR/DB Sean Del Gallo; WR/DB Luke Meaney, C/DT Dean Zacchio; T/NG Andrew Marshall; K Alden Getz
Outlook: Avon has some talented athletes and hopes to contend with Berlin for the CCC Div. 3 East championship and contend for a Class L tournament berth.
Of note: Allmendinger and Kirk were also named to the All-Uncas Division team. … Even though Avon is joining a new league, Avon has played eight of its scheduled 10 opponents. … The night home game is Friday, Sept. 25 against Tolland. … Avon will play Rockville for the first time.
Fri. Sept. 11: at Rocky Hill, 7 p.m.
Sat. Sept. 19: EAST CATHOLIC, 1 p.m.
Fri. Sept. 25: TOLLAND, 7 p.m.
Sat. Oct. 3: FERMI-Enfield, 2 p.m.
Sat. Oct. 10: BLOOMFIELD, 1 p.m.
Fri. Oct. 23: at Berlin, 6:30 p.m.
Sat. Oct. 31: at Northwest Catholic, noon
Sat. Nov. 7: ROCKVILLE, 2 p.m.
Sat. Nov. 14: PLAINVILLE, 1 p.m.
Tues. Nov. 24: at Simsbury, 6 p.m.