By NED X. GRIFFEN
Meriden is not a town for the meek, nor is Platt.
"We preach toughness," Panthers coach Jason Bruenn said. "We preach it all year. Toughness is our key thing. We want the best 11 tough guys on the field."
Platt struggled early in the season, but has since righted itself.
Friday, the Panthers showed both their resiliency and their growth against unbeaten Berlin. They gradually took over the game one run at a time and stunned the Redcoats, 34-14, to clinch the Central Connecticut Conference Division III East championship.
The win also put Platt in good position to qualify for the CIAC Class L playoffs.
Not bad for a team that was 2-2 in early October.
"We're getting better as the season goes on," Panthers senior co-captain Justin Potts said. "Our (offensive) line is getting better and better by game-by-game-by-game.
"(The Redcoats) were way bigger than us on the other side of the ball. We just took it to them. That's what happened. We just took it to them. I think they took us lightly, and we just took it to them."
Platt ran on all but nine plays. Quarterback Andrew McBride and Potts combined to run the ball 56 times for 388 yards and five touchdowns.
Senior co-captains Brandon Crespo (left guard) and Lazarick Hogan (center) and juniors Erlin Colon (left tackle), Toledo Sharp (right guard), Michael Bennett (right tackle) cleared the way for their backfield.
"Let's just say that the o-line is on point," Hogan grinned. "The o-line is working hard."
Defensively, the Panthers held Berlin scoreless in the second half. They only allowed 67 yards, too.
"We gave up some weight up front," Bruenn said. "We don't care about that because we're going to push you, we're going to be tough up front, and our speed and our quickness are going to get after you."
Hogan said, "We were looking for this banner. We wanted this banner. We wanted this championship banner. We wanted it hard enough. We wanted it bad enough."
Platt (6-2) didn't show this kind of promise early. It lost its season-opener to Northwest Catholic, 42-36.
The Panthers were clobbered on Oct. 5 by Rocky Hill, 48-8. The Terriers led 42-0 at halftime. They also ran for 326 yards at over eight yards a carry.
Platt bounced back with three straight wins, but none were against a team with the Redcoats' reputation. It couldn't draw inspiration from history, either, as Berlin had hammered it the last three seasons — 38-14 (2009), 45-14 (2010), and 41-6 (2011).
Friday, the Panthers trailed after two plays as Berlin tailback Justin Gombotz took the direct snap and ran for a 48-yard touchdown.
"That was just one touchdown," Potts said. "I just blew it off. I knew we were going to come back the next drive and score."
Potts ran for three touchdowns on four of Platt's next possessions. His last score gave his team a 20-14 lead with over three minutes left in the first half.
Potts carried the majority of his the Panthers' offense — he had the ball on 36 of their 63 plays.
"There's no rest for the wicked," Bruenn smiled. "Sometimes, he's a bad man."
Potts ran 34 times for 212 yards and three touchdowns. He also had two catches and threw a pass.
"(I'm) a little bit tired," Potts said. "Yeah, there were a lot of big hits out there. I'm a little aching."
McBride broke the game open less than two minutes into the second half. On third-and-9, he ran for a 54-yard touchdown. His two-point conversion gave the Panthers a 28-14 lead.
McBride, a junior transfer from West Haven, had 22 carries for 176 yards and two scores. Many of his runs were on wedge plays, requiring him to man up.
"He's brought another dimension to our offense," Bruenn said. "Drew is like having another running back. He's tough. He's willing to run it up inside. He'll take hits."
McBride's run also put Berlin into panic mode as it didn't punt again. It went for it on fourth-and-8 from the Platt 42, fourth-and-3 at its own 32, fourth-and-10 from its own 30, and fourth-and-10 at its own 37.
Platt stopped the Redcoats short each time.
Oddly enough, Berlin's defense didn't allow the Panthers to score after its first three drives were stopped short.
Platt cashed in the fourth time, though. McBride scored on a 6-yard run with over three minutes left to push his team ahead, 34-14.
"We've become more focused as a team," Bruenn said. "That's the key. We've gelled and come together. We finally figured out, 'Hey — if we all play together, we can win some big games.' This is the culmination.
"When you beat Berlin, you've beaten somebody good. … To beat them is a huge bonus for a program."
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The weather once again forced the Fairfield County Interscholastic Athletic Conference to change its football schedule, this time for the better.
The threat of a nor'easter later this week prompted the league to postpone all games until Friday or Saturday. It also moved games on Tuesday, Nov. 13 to Thursday, Nov. 15-Saturday, Nov. 17.
The FCIAC also all but threw in the towel in regards to its championship game.
There were three teams in line to play for the title — Greenwich, Staples of Westport and Trinity Catholic of Stamford. Should all three teams be unbeaten after next week's games, co-champions would be declared.
Should Trinity lose one of its last two games, then the Thanksgrabbing Day game between Staples and Greenwich would be for the league title, provided both are still unbeaten.
Last week, the FCIAC postponed its Week 8 games last weekend due to the extensive damage across Fairfield County from Hurricane Sandy. The original plan was to play games this Thursday, and the Week 9 games on Nov. 13. The title game, if it involved Trinity, would've been played on Nov. 17.
Had there been a title game on Nov. 17, the participants would've played four times in 14 days. And if they made it to a state final, they would've played seven times in 30 days.
Some school systems were still closed Monday. In the case of McMahon of Norwalk, it was going to be the first day they had practiced since the storm, according to the Stamford Advocate's Dave Ruden.
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State football sage Bob Barton noted weeks ago that in Connecticut scholastic football's first 127 years, there were 25 games in which both teams combined for 102 points or more.
After this weekend, there have been nine in eight weeks:
Sept. 22: Crosby 56, St. Paul 49.
Sept. 29: Naugatuck 70, St. Paul 33.
Oct. 5: Amity 61, Guilford 43.
Oct. 12: North Branford 70, Old Saybrook/Westbrook 39.
Oct. 19: Wilby 52, St. Paul 50.
Oct. 20: Branford 62, Law 44.
Oct. 26: Fitch 56, Windham 46.
Nov. 2: Killingly 66, St. Bernard/Norwich Tech 36.
Nov. 3: Torrington 67, Kennedy 36.
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Programming alert — The Day will be streaming line Saturday's New London at Ledyard game at this website. It will be produced and shot by seasoned professionals and will be like watching a televised football broadcast.
Believe us — once you see the intro, you'll want to race outside and tackle someone. You'll have to tune in to see it, however.
The webcast begins at 10:15 a.m. at www.theday.com.
TEAM DAY member Mike DiMauro wrote today about legendary coaches Jim Buonocore Sr. and Bill Mignault. Mignault coached Ledyard to four CIAC state championships. Buonocore led New London to four state titles. He's now a Ledyard assistant coach working for his son and head coach, Jim Jr.
Peter Huoppi's video feature accompanies said feature. It rocks.
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The Day of New London Top 10 state coaches' poll was postponed this week due to the number of postponements caused by Sandy.
The New Haven Register Top 10 media poll with record in parentheses and first-place votes: 1. Hand-Madison (7-0, 18); 2. Staples-Westport (6-0, 8); 3. Ansonia (8-0); 4. Windsor (7-0); 5. Xavier-Middletown (7-1); 6. Greenwich (6-0); 7. Masuk-Monroe (7-0); 8. Southington (8-0); 9. West Haven (7-1); and, 10. Newtown (8-0).
Ned Freeman's cold, calculating computer rankings for CalPreps.com and MaxPreps.com: 1. Hand; 2. Ansonia; 3. Xavier; 4. Staples; 5. West Haven; 6. Greenwich; 7. Masuk; 8. Hillhouse-New Haven (6-2); 9. Norwich Free Academy (8-0); and, 10. Woodland-Beacon Falls (6-1).
Vaya con dios....