BERLIN, Oct. 23 – The Avon High football team had a point to prove Friday night as they challenged Berlin, a team with four divisional titles and five CIAC playoff berths in the last six years.
Playing in the Central Connecticut Conference for the first time, the Falcons came inches short of scoring twice in a two-point loss to East Catholic in September. They agonized over a few defensive lapses in a 14-point loss to Bloomfield two weeks ago.
“It was time for us to learn how to finish and win a big game,” Avon High coach Jim Caouette said to his team before the game.
On Friday night at Sage Park, Avon forced two Berlin turnovers, sacked QB Jack Lynch three times for 30 yards and stopped two drives inside the 20-yard line. Avon’s Luke Meaney used his speed to score a pair of touchdowns, including a 72-yard TD reception as the Falcons beat Berlin for the first time since 1983 with a 21-14 decision.
“We knew we could play with a team like this,” said Caouette, soaked from a celebratory bucket of water thrown on him by his players after the final horn. “We knew we had to play a clean game, not have any turnovers and play tremendous defense. I’m just so proud of this team.”
Avon (4-2, 3-0 CCC Div. 3 East) is one win away from a potential division championship in its first season in the CCC. If the Falcons can beat Rockville (0-6) at home on Nov. 7, they’ll capture the CCC Division III Eastern Division pennant.
More importantly, they picked up a big win against a Berlin team (5-1, 2-1 CCC Div. 3 East) that Caouette doesn’t think will lose again this season. That should help Avon in its hunt for a CIAC Class L playoff berth. “That’s a good football team,” Caouette said. “They’re physical, well coached and have some good weapons.”
Avon bent but didn’t break in the first quarter. Berlin ate up nearly the entire quarter, marching 64 yards on 17 plays. The Redcoats converted twice on fourth down to keep the drive alive. But on fourth down and 1 on the Avon 16-yard line, Falcons linebacker Teddy Allmendinger blasted through an open gap and sacked running back Owen Taylor in the backfield for a one-yard loss, giving Avon the ball.
“I saw the guard block down, saw (Taylor) in the middle and said I guess I’m going to make this tackle,” Allmendinger said.
Avon took over with 1:58 left in the first quarter. McDonald completed a 33-yard pass across the middle to Geoff Kirk for a first down. On the next play, Meaney took the handoff, zipped around the right side and sped down the sideline for a 35-yard touchdown run. The extra point from Alden Getz made it 7-0.
On Avon’s next drive, the Falcons were facing a third down and 11 on its own 28-yard line. McDonald found Meaney on the right side about 20 yards downfield. Meaney caught the ball, pulled away from two Berlin defenders and sped away down the sideline for a 14-0 lead with 8:23 left in the second quarter.
“For him to step up and make the two plays he made and for Ian to have the trust in him to throw the football was big,” Caouette said.
Berlin had an impressive drive to close out the second quarter. Lynch completed a 48-yard pass to Ryan Cop on third down to the Avon 38-yard line as Berlin marched downfield. Berlin drove to the Avon six-yard line and had first down and goal with a minute remaining. But McDonald made a great interception with 52 seconds left to end the threat.
“This was a stressful week (of preparation),” Allemendinger said. “Berlin runs a lot of offensive formations. But we got it (defensively). We began calling the right plays and learned how to read (their offense). This was a team win, a team effort.”
Max Kritikos stripped Taylor of the ball and Sean Del Gallo recovered on the Avon 44-yard line to end Berlin’s first drive of the second half.
Avon extended its lead to 21-0 on the opening drive of the second half. McDonald, 4-of-6 for 148 yards passing, completed a 36-yard pass to Geoff Kirk to the Berlin 28-yard line. After a two-yard loss, McDonald scrambled and scored on a 30-yard touchdown run.
But Berlin refused to yield. Murphy had a career-high 23 completions on 30 attempts for 167 yards and two touchdowns as he tried to rally his team. He was 7-of-8 for 70 yards on a fourth quarter drive that ended with a 40-yard touchdown pass from Murphy to Jake Loiselle that cut the lead to 21-7 with 6:49 remaining.
Berlin got the ball back with 3:18 remaining and Murphy again led the Redcoats down the field, completing 6-of-7 passes for 63 yards and a 30-yard touchdown pass to Loiselle, who got behind two Avon defenders with 1:24 left in the game.
But the attempted onside kick didn’t travel 10 yards. It came to a rest on the field with Avon’s Jack Jones and a Berlin player standing over it. Then, Jones scooped it up and ran about 40 yards to the 15-yard line where Avon was able to run out the clock.
“This means more than most (wins) because not only does this our capabilities but it gives us a chance to win the division,” Allmendinger said.
Jones had a 13-yard sack while Leon Asberry had a seven-yard sack of Lynch. Allemendinger and Kirk paired up to sack Lynch for a loss of 10 yards in the second half.
Berlin spread the ball around with eight receivers catching passes from Lynch. Cody Lacasse caught eight passes for 48 yards. Loiselle caught three passes for 80 yards. Avon got burned on the two touchdown passes but they had three tackles for losses on pass plays and allowed another three completions for one or zero yards.
Berlin coach John Capodice was unavailable for comment. The Redcoats left the field shortly after the final horn sounded.
It was Avon’s first win over Berlin since 1983, snapping a streak of 19 straight wins by the Redcoats in this series. “This is the biggest win we’ve had here in the last three years,” Caouette said.
Highlights from WTNH-8 in New Haven. And its Luke Meaney (80) with the big receptions.
Avon 21, Berlin 14
Avon (4-2) 7 7 7 0 — 21
Berlin (5-1) 0 0 0 14 — 14
A: Luke Meaney 35 run (Alden Getz kick), 0:43
A: Meaney 72 pass from Ian McDonald (Getz kick), 8:23
A: McDonald 30 run (Getz kick), 9:26
B: Jake Loiselle 40 pass from Jack Lynch (Giancarlo Tufano kick), 6:49
B: Loiselle 30 pass from Lynch (Turfano kick), 1:24
RUSHING: Avon – Ian McDonald 14-62, Teddy Allmendinger 10-30; Berlin – Jack Lynch 6-minus 14, Owen Taylor 13-63, Jake Loiselle 5-16, Jack Hamel 2-7, Zach Pajor 2-8, Deonae Spence 1-3
PASSING: Avon – McDonald 4-6-0, 148; Berlin – Lynch 23-30-1, 167
RECEIVING: Avon – Geoff Kirk 2-69, Luke Meaney 2-77; Berlin – Owen Taylor 2-12, Cody Lacasse 8-48, Alex Fleeton 1-6, Nick Liberda 1-minus 1, Garrett Guite 4-25, Ryan Cop 3-60, Jake Loiselle 3-80, Mitchell Maslowski 1-11