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Images from one of the state’s greatest football games – The Collinsville Press
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Images from one of the state’s greatest football games

By GERRY deSIMAS, JR.
Connecticut Sports Online
NEW BRITAIN, Sept. 21, 2002 — It was one of those rare games that will be talked about for years to come —  one of the few high school football games that lived up to and exceeded the hopes and desires of the fans and participants.

There was something for everyone. Long runs that brought the crowd to its feet, hard hitting defensive plays that drew the breath away from the estimated 9,000 fans that filled Veterans Memorial Stadium and two teams that refused to yield to each other’s will. The New Britain High marching band simply added to the atmosphere with its pulsating pre-game and halftime shows and its continual musical contributions throughout the contest.

“This was real special,” said Bloomfield senior running back Josh Lawrence after his No. 3 Warhawks dropped a 42-35 decision to the top-ranked Hurricanes. “I was glad I had an opportunity to play in it. It was probably the biggest game of my life.”

And this is a runner who ran for nearly 2,000 yards as a junior and has played in a pair of Class S championship games that Bloomfield won. “I’m proud and glad I was in condition to play this,” he added.

The spotlight before the game rested squarely upon the game’s two coaches  New Britain’s Jack Cochran and Bloomfield’s Bobby Gibson. From 1992-2000, the two worked together at Bloomfield, leading the Warhawks to four straight state titles and were best friends. But when Cochran left for New Britain prior to the 2001 season, the relationship became strained and became the intense focus of much of the pre-game coverage.

But once the ball sailed high into the night air for the kickoff, the attention was deservedly on the field where the athletes of New Britain and Bloomfield were spectacular.

On the first play of the game, New Britain defensive end Luke Jennings caught the opening kickoff, turned left, followed a block and burst out into the open field. He outran a pack of four Bloomfield defenders for a 75-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. Before the kick, Jennings hoped it wouldn’t come to him because he had been dropping kickoffs in practice and even in pre-game warm-ups.

Six seconds later on Bloomfield’s first offensive play, Lawrence broke away down the right sideline for a 77 yard touchdown run. When the snap on the extra point bounced off the turf, holder Calvin Williams stood up, scrambled and found teammate Andrae Smith for the conversion and a 8-7 lead.

On New Britain’s first offensive series, Hurricane QB Andru Maisto attempted his first pass, which deflected off the hands of a New Britain receiver into the hands of Bloomfield defensive back Kory Sheets, who raced 55 yards for a touchdown with 11:01 left in the first quarter. After just 59 seconds, there had been three touchdowns. The crowd roared with delight and Bloomfield had a 15-7 lead.

The Hurricanes settled down and scored on four of their next five possessions. Maisto threw a pair of touchdown passes to Elfen Quiles as New Britain took a 35-15 lead with 1:14 left in the second quarter. The Warhawks looked tired and beaten but they responded with a short four-play, 64-yard drive in the final 1:06 of the second quarter. Limping QB J.J. Wilson completed his only three passes of the half, including a high 32-yard completion to Andrew Wilson in the end zone with 14 seconds left to cut the New Britain lead to 35-22.

Bloomfield showed its courage in the third quarter with its opening drive, marching 80 yards on eight plays, capped off by a one-yard plunge by Wilson to trim the lead to six, 35-29. A 20-yard completion to Lawrence and a 31-yard completion down the sideline to Lawrence, who eluded several tackles were key in the drive.

But the Hurricanes, led by Jennings, who had four tackles for losses, gave up few yards. New Britain extended its lead again to 42-29 on a six-yard run by Maisto but the heavy work was done by running back Randy Luke with 29 yards on the40-yard drive. The Hurricanes had a chance to take a 16-point lead but a 25-yard field goal attempt was blocked by Bloomfield’s Andrae Smith.

Bloomfield responded with an 80-yard march that took 16 plays and saw the Warhawks convert twice on three times and once on fourth down, courtesy of a penalty, to keep the drive alive. Lawrence’s four-yard run with 5:08 left cut the lead to seven.

But the Hurricanes were able to run out the clock, helped by a clutch third-and-six pass from Maisto to Julian Cartie from the New Britain 24-yard line that went for a 20-yard gain. The crowd was roaring as the Warhawks applied the pressure but Cartie got one foot in bounds to make the catch down the sideline.

“We knew it would be a battle,” Gibson said afterward. “And it was a battle and a close contest. It was two great programs, very disciplined teams. The fans saw two teams come out and play to the best of their ability.

“We left everything we had on the field. No regrets,” Gibson said.

FEEL THE FORCE: Hurricane junior Randy Luke had something to prove Friday night in the tiantic match with No. 3 Bloomfield at Veterans Memorial Stadium. He had felt that he had been overlooked in the pre-game hype that featured Bloomfield back Matt Lawrence, who had run for 1,958 yards and 22 TDs a year ago.

But Luke ran with a mission, making sharp cuts upfield and running hard for a career-high 217 yards and one touchdown on 27 carries. Lawrence finished with 114 yards on 15 carries but 77 yards came on his first carry of the contest in the first quarter.

“We executed on offense and defense,” said Luke. “I had the line opening up some great holes for me.” Teammates Jordan Raineault, Mike Fiori, Kyle Kummer, Oliver Oron and Corey Thomas opened those holes.

Only five more Hurricanes in the last seven years have rushed for more yardage in a game than Luke.

“It was a special game to me,” he admitted. “I had something to prove.”

Added New Britain coach Jack Cochran, “(Luke) has the physical tools to be the best back I have ever coached and that is saying a lot. I see the potential for greatness in him.”

Former Cochran coached runners include South Carolina’s Andrew Pinnock and Iowa’s Jermaine Lewis.

NO EXCUSES: Many of the Bloomfield High players played on offense and defense. Some were visibly tired in the second half. Quarterback J.J. Wilson and receiver Andrew Wilson spent the second half limping around due to cramps.

New Britain had the luxury of playing one group on offense and one group on defense, although Kyle Kummer was playing on both sides of the ball.

“At Bloomfield, we never think about us being a Class S school and New Britain as a ‘LL’ school,” a proud Warhawk coach Bobby Gibson said. “Our guys have to play both ways but that’s what we do in Bloomfield. We were in great condition but whenever you have two giants colliding and you have one team playing half the game versus a team that has to play every snap, it has to take an effect. But at Bloomfield we don’t think about that.”

Lawrence played offense and defense. He said all the preseason running prepared the players for the contest.

“We were energized and hyped up,” he said. “In the first half, we made our mistakes. But we didn’t fold. We expect to go both ways. I think maybe they thought we would crack.”

SPECIAL SWEATER: Dr. William Waskowitz pulled out the varsity letter sweater that his father, David, had been given when he retired after spending 40 years as the team physican for the Hurricanes.

William, a practicing orthopedic surgeon and the head physician at Central Connecticut State, is helping out New Britain this year. He is the team physician for home games.

In honor of Friday night’s special game, William found the sweater that his father had been given and wore it as he patrolled the sideline.

GRID DUST: New Britain took a 9-3 lead in the series. The last time the two teams had played was in 1992, Cochran’s first year at Bloomfield. … New Britain has won four in a row over the Warhawks, dating back to 1990. … New Britain entered the game ranked No. 1 in the New Haven Register’s top 10 poll of state sportwriters and No. 2 in the Hartford Courant rankings. Bloomfield was No. 3 in both polls.

New Britain 42, Bloomfield 35
At New Britain
Bloomfield (1-1)        15     7    7   6 — 35
New Britain  (2-0)    14   21   7   0 — 42
First Quarter
NB  Josh Jennings 75 kick return (Mike Garcarz kick), 11:48
B  Matt Lawrence 77 run (Andrae Smith pass from Brandon Williams), 11:30
B  Kory Sheets 59 interception return (Glenn Llewellyn kick), 11:01
NB  Andru Maisto 1 run (Garcarz kick), 2:12
Second Quarter
NB  Elfren Quiles 23 pass from Maisto (Garcarz kick), 11:20
NB  Quiles 18 pass from Maisto (Garcarz kick), 10:00
NB  Randy Luke 1 run, (Garcarz kick), 1:14
B  Andrew Wilson 32 pass from J.J. Wilson (Llewellyn kick), 0:14
Third Quarter
B  J.J. Wilson 1 run (Llewellyn kick), 8:59
NB  Maisto 6 run (Garcarz kick), 2:58
Fourth Quarter
B  Lawrence 4 run (kick fail), 5:08
INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS
RUSHING: New Britain —  Randy Luke 27-217, Andru Maisto 11-32, Mike McLeod 3-17, Julian CartIe 2-3; Bloomfield — Matt Lawrence 14-112, Brandon Williams 3-4, J.J Wilson 8-minus 5, Kenneth Walker 3-20, Martin Manson 1-minus 15, Donovan Orie 1-6
PASSING: New Britain — Maisto 10-18-1, 119 yards; Bloomfield — J.J. Wilson 10-20-0, 151 yards
RECEIVING: New Britain — Elfren Quiles 6-69, Cartie 4-51; Bloomfield — Calvin Manson 2-12, Brandon Williams 1-8, Lawrence 4-74, Andrew Wilson 2-32, Jesse Pickett 1-20
MISSED FIELD GOAL: New Britain  Mike Garcarz 25, 40
Attendance: Estimated 9,000

This was first published at the Connecticut Sports Online website.

 

Since 2009, the Collinsville Press has been providing award-winning coverage of sports and news in the Farmington Valley and across Connecticut.

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