SIMSBURY, Nov. 21 – Two years ago, the Simsbury High football finished with a 1-9 mark, giving up a school-record 371 points. A year ago, the Trojans finished at .500 with a 5-5 record.
This fall, Simsbury dropped three of their first four games to then-No. 2 Southington, East Hartford and South Windsor, who is now ranked among No. 11 in the state coaches poll. East Hartford is currently ranked No. 12.
But Simsbury didn’t falter. The Trojans (7-3) won six straight games to end the campaign including a dominating 42-0 win over Avon Tuesday night to capture the Valley Gridiron Classic for the second year in a row.
For years, Simsbury has been a team that runs the football. They embraced it further under former coach Jeff Osborne by running the triple option veer. But things have changed. Quarterback Jackson Masters set a host of new school records this season, completing 189 passes for 2,305 yards and 19 touchdown passes – all new records.
Against Avon on Tuesday night, Masters completed 22 of 30 passes for 310 yards and four touchdown receptions. He is just the second passer in school history to throw at least 4 TD passes in a single game.
“I’m not a real athletic kid, we’re going to throw it,” Masters joked. “It had to happen. The triple option was working (for us) and in three years, we’re finally getting it. It’s been nice.”
Masters’ long-time friend Ralph Gilliard helped, too. Gilliard set new single season school records with 86 receptions for 1,009 yards. A year ago, Gilliard caught 52 passes for 805 yards.
On Tuesday night against Avon, Gilliard pulled in 14 receptions for 172 yards and two touchdowns. The 14 receptions is a new single game record, snapping the record that Gilliard set against Conard (13-104) in October.
“We thought (Avon’s) strength was their defensive line so we stayed away from it,” Simsbury High coach Dave Masters said, referring to Simsbury’s passing attack. “The bottom line is that the kids know what they are doing now. They’re executing. We have a vision of running and passing the ball equally. We have a vision of playing sound defense and that is coming along.”
Simsbury gave up just seven points in the past three weeks and pitched a pair of shutouts. They allowed Avon just 124 yards of offense. Freshman back Quandrell Stewart led the Falcons (3-7) with 84 yards on 12 carries.
Avon (3-7) has been bothered by injuries all season long. And it didn’t end in this game, either. When the third quarter began, quarterback Dylan Burgos was on the bench with an ice bag on his arm that he had hurt early in the game. Two-way lineman Henry Schrecengost was on the bench, too, out with an injury.
“We’ve had very, very limited depth,” Avon coach Sal Cintorino said. “Defensively, we knew we could make some plays. Our plan was to bend but not break but (Simsbury) came up with some big plays out there. Our guys never quit and played to the end.”
Avon hoped to keep Simsbury’s high-flying offense off the field and moved the ball well on their first drive with Stewart racing for 19 yards on his first carry of the game. The drive stalled at the Simsbury 33-yard line – which would be the deepest penetration that Avon would make into Trojan territory.
Simsbury scored on their first possession. A 27-yard gain on fourth down and eight from the Avon 32-yard line put the ball on the Falcon eight yard line. Gilliard took a short pass from Masters and broke a tackle or two for a big gain. Rafael Nieves scored from four yards away to give Simsbury a 7-0 lead with 5:14 gone in the first quarter.
Simsbury made it 14-0 on a 13-yard touchdown pass from Masters to Jackson Butler, who caught seven passes for 127 yards and a pair of TDs.
In the second quarter, Avon forced a Simsbury punt and ate up nearly six minutes with their next drive. Burgos converted on a fourth down and two on the Avon 29 to keep the drive going.
After the drive stalled and Simsbury took over, Masters scored on an 11-yard run with 39 seconds left in the second quarter for a 21-0 lead. On Avon’s next possession, Burgos was intercepted by Butler, who returned the ball 15 yards to the Avon 35-yard line.
Masters threw a 35-yard touchdown pass down the middle to Butler for a 28-0 lead with 15 seconds left. In the second half, Gilliard caught a pair of TD passes from Masters. Simsbury kicker Korey Zall was a perfect 6-for-6 kicking extra points.
Afterwards, the Simsbury players celebrated with the Valley Gridiron Classic trophy, a Gatorade bath for coach Dave Masters and plenty of hugs, smiles and photos with their Smartphones.
“I’m very proud of them,” Dave Masters said. He voice stopped and he just surveyed his players, their friends and their parents near the 40-yard line. There were just a lot of happy people on the Holden Field turf. “I just love this scene.”
GRID DUST: It was the biggest win in the 12-game series between the two teams, beating the 37-point win by Simsbury over Avon in 1968, 43-6. … It was the largest margin of victory by the Trojans in a game since beating East Hartford, 40-0, in 2011. … Jackson Masters beat the previous school record for most touchdown passes in a single season. This fall, Masters threw 19 TD passes, beating the previous record of 16 by Doug Cramphin in 1968. … Masters became the second player in school history with 4 TD passes in a single game. Crampin threw 5 TD passes against Avon in 1968 and Southington in 1969. He also threw 4 TD passes in a game against Windsor in 1968. … Twice this year, Masters had 3 TD passes against Conard and East Hartford. … Simsbury leads the series against Avon, which began in 1961, by a 7-5 margin. … Avon had five fumbles in the game but they recovered them all.
Valley Gridiron Classic
2015: Avon 55, Simsbury 26
2016: Simsbury 28, Avon 13
2017: Simsbury 42, Avon 0
Simsbury 42, Avon 0
Avon (3-7) 0 0 0 0 — 0
Simsbury (7-3) 14 14 7 7 — 42
S: Rafael Nieves 4 run (Kory Zall kick), 5:14
S: Jackson Butler 13 pass from Jackson Masters (Zall kick), 1:44
S: Masters 11 run (Zall kick), 0:39
S: Butler 35 pass from Masters (Zall kick), 0:15
S: Gilliard 15 pass from Masters (Zall kick), 9:39
S: Gilliard 42 pass from Masters (Zall kick), 8:39
RUSHING: Simsbury – Jackson Masters 1-11, Rafael Nieves 6-43; Avon – Quandrell Stewart 12-84, Arhant Vimal 1-minus 7, Ian McCutchon 8-minus 1, Dylan Burgos 9-18, Chris Gens 1-0, Dan Quick 4-15
PASSING: Simsbury – Masters 22-30-0, 306; Avon – Burgos 0-3-1, Tim DelGallo 1-1, 15
RECEIVING: Simsbury – Gilliard 14-172, Butler 7-127, Colin Cremens 1-7; Avon – Dan Quick 1-15
RETURNS: Kickoffs – Butler (S) 2-11, Ryan Ollestad (A) 2-0, Jackson Davis (A) 3-9, Francesco Longo 1-minus 2; Punts – Burgos (A) 1-0
INTERCEPTION: Butler (S) 1-15