ALL-RECORD-JOURNAL FOOTBALL: Doubling down, brothers, and going both ways

ALL-RECORD-JOURNAL FOOTBALL: Doubling down, brothers, and going both ways



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MERIDEN — We’re big fans of the two-platoon system in football.

We like the idea of running separate units on offense and defense, and being able to coach them up and as soon as they come off the field and keep them fresh while less-deep opponents wear under the grind of four quarters.

That said, the 2018 All-Record-Journal Football Team is no two-platoon outfit. 

Nor is it a collection of 11 two-way players.

Rather, with a few exceptions, it’s an offense that can be a second string to the defense — and vice versa.

We didn’t intend this. We went in with our usual game plan of looking for 11 guys on offense (plus a kicker) and 11 other guys on defense (plus a punter).

Pretty soon, we found ourselves settling tight races by going with guys who made valuable contributions on both sides of the ball.

And so the Two-String Team, as it were, came to pass. (And run: Ours is a balanced offense.)

Our selections, with two exceptions, are entirely from Maloney, Platt, Southington and Sheehan, the teams that made this the first-ever season in which more than two football teams in the R-J’s coverage area qualified for the playoffs.

Platt and Maloney made it together for the first time in city history and wound up playing each other in the Class L semifinals, where the Spartans avenged Platt’s upset win in the Stoddard Bowl.

In the same vein, we’d take wagers on how our Two-String Teams would fare if they went head to head. Here’s the breakdown, by position.

Quarterback

This devolved into a three-man race between Maloney’s Elliot Good, Southington’s Jacob Drena and incumbent All-RJ quarterback Wes Terzi of Sheehan. All three put up strong numbers:

■Good: 187-for-314, 2,634 yards, 32 TD, 7 INT;■Drena: 168-283, 2,676, 30 / 8;■Terzi: 124-213, 1,839, 23 / 4.

All three were All-Conference. (Good and Terzi were also All-State; Terzi has been offered by Trinity.)

All three led their teams into the postseason. In the end, we go with the guy who took his team the farthest, and that’s Elliot Good.

Good not only got the Spartans into the Class L final (and continued to battle even after Daniel Hand took early and firm control), he broke Maloney’s single-season passing records along the way.

Now, for Good’s backup, we go not with Drena or Terzi, but the fourth area QB to lead his team into the postseason, and that’s Platt’s Lorenzo Sanson.

Sanson, like Good, was a first-year starter who also made All-Conference. We named Sanson All-RJ as a punter (32.4 average, 56 long, 6 inside the 20). For that skill and for his ability to make plays with both his arm and legs (1,458 passing, 371 rushing) he’s our second QB.

Running back

This was one of the most prolific years for area running backs. Six teams had a 1,000-yard rusher and the seventh, Cheshire, had one who came within 27 yards of the milestone.

And yet, remarkably, this is the one position that warranted the least debate. For in this season of the 1,000-yard rusher, one stood alone in the 2,000-yard club, and that was Sheehan junior Terrence Bogan.

Bogan led not merely the area, but the state with 2,481 yards. He averaged better than 206 yards a game and 10 yards a carry as the Titans went 10-2 and reached the Class M semifinals.

Bogan had a breakout game with 406 yards and 8 TDs against Branford. Neither was a state single-game record — Sheehan predecessor Zach Davis holds those at 543 and 10 — but Bogan put himself on the list.

Bogan finished with 34 TDs on the season and was named SCC Tier 3 Player of the Year, the third straight Titan to garner that recognition after Davis in 2016 and Stephen Zenisky in 2017.

Bogan was one of the top-26 vote-getters on the CHSCA All-State ballot and is one of three finalists for the Walter Camp Foundation’s Connecticut Player of the Year.

His backup on the All-RJ Team? It could have been any of the area’s six other All-Conference running backs:

■Wilcox Tech’s Devario Reid (1,365 yards); ■Lyman Hall’s Austin Ruiz (1,350); ■Platt’s Roberto Salas (1,330); ■ Maloney’s James Tarver (1,100); ■Southington’s Tanner LaRosa (1,054); ■Cheshire’s Jake McAlinden (973).

We go with Ruiz, the Trojan senior who was a true workhorse with 224 carries, only two fumbles lost and nine 100-yard games. We’d also use him at free safety, which was his avenue onto the All-RJ Team.

Wide receiver

We’re deep here. Mad deep. Where to start?

With Maloney’s Victor Marquez, of course.

The senior signed off with virtually every program record after a senior season in which he caught 74 passes for 1,146 yards and 16 TDs. All were area highs. For his career, Marquez had 181 receptions (5th all-time in CT) for 2,397 yards and 31 scores.

Marquez also made 97 tackles in the secondary, so we’d use him there, too.

First and foremost, though, Marquez is our go-to receiver. He was named All-CCC, was in the All-State Top 26 and made the Walter Camp All-Connecticut First Team.

Joining Marquez are the area’s next three leading receivers, all seniors: Platt’s Jake Baker and Southington teammates Will Downes and Jacob Flynn.

Baker had 49 catches for 718 yards and 10 TDs and was also a dangerous return man, finishing with 1,179 all-purpose yards. The MVP of the Stoddard Bowl, Baker was named All-Conference and All-State Class L. (Baker made All-State as a DB, so we’d use him in the secondary, too.)

Downes was second in the area to only Marquez with 52 catches and 843 yards and was also in the All-State Top 26. Downes had three 7-catch games and a season-high 8 hauls in the Apple Classic against Cheshire.

His running mate, Flynn, led the Blue Knights in touchdown receptions with 11. Flynn pulled down 44 passes for 816 yards. He was named All-CCC and All-State Class LL.

A fifth receiver is in the mix and that’s Sheehan’s Jake Smith. Gaining All-RJ entree on defense, where he had 67 tackles as an outside linebacker, Smith would see plenty of snaps in our offense. The senior led the Titans with 41 catches for 729 yards. He also had 216 rushing yards on 38 carries.

Smith was All-SCC Tier 3 and All-State Class M as a receiver.

Offensive line

We’ve got a solid five here, including a few who would see time on the All-RJ defense, just like they did in real life.

All five were All-Conference: Sheehan center Willie Seay, Southington tackle Sam McCarty, Platt tackle Cristian Calero and Maloney tackles D.J. Posey and Trevor Santiago.

We’ve got some serious size here. Santiago, a junior, goes 6-foot-5 and 300 pounds. The 6-4 Posey and 5-10 Seay are both 290 and fellow senior McCarty is 6-4, 275.

Calero is the “small” guy at 5-10 and 180, but earned rave reviews from Platt coach Jason Bruenn for his tenacity and toughness. With Calero on the right end of the line, the Panthers averaged 310 yards a game.

McCarty and Santiago were ultimately named All-State — McCarty in Class LL, Santiago in Class L.

McCarty also earned a spot on the Walter Camp All-Connecticut Second Team. He anchored a Southington offense that averaged 385 yards and 35 points.

Posey and Santiago helped fuel a Maloney attack that put up just shy of 370 yards and 34 points a game. They also played on the defensive front. Posey notched 39 tackles at nose. Santiago racked up 66 at end.

Seay was also a two-way guy. Along with helping Sheehan average an area-high 406 yards and 43 points, he was a run-stuffer at nose guard with 54 tackles.

Defensive line

Although we have a number of nose guards who would enable us to go with a three-man front, we’re putting four up front. The pool of quality interior defensive linemen was simply too deep this year.

Getting our starting nods are junior Jaylen John of Platt and Sheehan senior Luke Willette.

Like most of their O-line brethren, John and Willette went both ways. John, in fact, made the Walter Camp All-Connecticut Second Team as an offensive lineman and All-State Class L as a defensive player.

Same with Willette: All-SCC Tier 3 on defense, All-State Class M on offense.

They’re rotating on both sides of the line for us along with Seay, Posey and Santiago. The 245-pound John made 67 tackles — including 15 behind the line of scrimmage — for a Platt defense that allowed just 12.8 points a game. The 280-pound Willette recorded 60 tackles for Sheehan.

One other thing to know about John: He’s nimble. When Platt unleashed the double-wing against Maloney in the Stoddard Bowl, John was at fullback and rushed for 70 yards on eight carries.

One other thing to know about Willette: He was a two-year captain, following in the footsteps of another Sheehan lineman, Sean Merrill, who went on to play at Sacred Heart.

The bookends of our front four? Two seniors, Southington’s John Miller and Lyman Hall’s Zach Kizer.

Both were All-Conference picks. Miller was among Southington’s tackling leaders with 98. The 23 he had against New Britain was the second-most in a single game by a Southington defender in program history.

Kizer terrorized SCC Tier 3 with 73 tackles, including 9 for a loss. We’d also bring Kizer in on offense from time to time as a short-yardage back. LH coach Bill Weyrauch did and Kizer got his number called for 10 carries and 3 receptions.

Linebacker

Our emphasis at the second level is speed. Of our four All-RJ linebackers, three are outside guys — Maloney’s Jaylon Nixon, Sheehan’s Tyler Ekstrom and Southington’s Angelo Plantamuro — who weigh less than 200 pounds.

The one middle ‘backer is Platt’s Jasiah Cooper, an All-CCC 215-pounder who led the Panthers with 79 tackles, 57 of them solo. Cooper is only a sophomore — the first in that grade to make an All-RJ Football Team.

Plantamuro is also young, only a junior. He led the Blue Knights in tackling throughout his All-CCC season, finishing with 119. He had 7 double-digit tackle games, including season highs of 15 against Glastonbury and Cheshire.

As for Nixon and Ekstrom, they are both seniors with versatile skills. Both were among the tackling leaders on their respective teams — Nixon with 106 for Maloney, Ekstrom with 110 for Sheehan.

Both were also used in skill positions on offense. Nixon, as a slot receiver/tight end, caught 13 passes for 178 yards and 4 TDs. Ekstrom, whether split out or lined up in the backfield, caught 7 balls for 94 yards, including a TD in the Carini Bowl, when he also had a 70-yard scoop-and-score on defense.

Secondary

We’ve got so many two-way guys rotating here — Marquez and Baker from Meriden; Ruiz and Smith from Wallingford.

Our mainstay would be the guy who had more tackles than any other among area defenses. In fact, by the measure of teams that report stats to MaxPreps, this player had the second-most tackles in Connecticut in 2018.

That’s Sheehan senior safety Ryan Paul. Though only 155 pounds, Paul threw that weight around. He was in on 137 tackles, with 89 of the solo variety. That’s a Sheehan record.

On pass defense, Paul broke up 10 attempts and picked off three others. Somehow, he did not make All-SCC Tier 3. He has a home on the All-RJ.

Special teams

As mentioned, Platt’s Sanson is our punter and his teammate, Baker, with 406 return yards, would be our deep man.

Southington’s Plantamuro would be back there, too. The junior compiled 230 yards returning kickoffs, including a 96-yarder taken back against Fairfield Prep in the Class LL quarterfinals.

Sheehan’s Paul (10-214) and Ekstrom (7-74) would also be in the return mix.

Maloney’s Nixon would be one of the good-hands people up front. He recovered the game-opening onside kick against Hand in the Class L final.

As for kicker, that’s open and shut: Southington senior Evan Johanns.

One of just three returning All-RJ players from a year ago — Maloney’s Marquez and Lyman Hall’s Kizer are the other two — Johanns was by far the best area kicker (though Cheshire sophomore Jotham Casey had a fine rookie year).

Johanns was virtually automatic on PATs, missing just 1 of 50 attempts. He connected on 4 of 6 field goals, including a school-record 47-yarder against Conard. Johanns averaged 51.4 yards on kickoffs with 20 touchbacks.

If need be, Johanns (38.1 average) could also spot Sanson on punts. On this team, everyone’s got someone’s back.


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