MERIDEN – Three large young lads basked in the sunshine and post-Stoddard glow of Maloney’s hard-fought 27-21 win over Platt Thanksgiving morning watching the proceedings and enjoying their brotherhood.
Offensive linemen endure continuous challenges at the point of attack while those who take the snaps, score the touchdowns and deliver timely defensive plays reap the credit.
Even when they do get some love from their running backs and quarterback in post-game conversation, the tackles generally are lords of the line. And what further removes guys like center Ryan Martel, right guard Toby Canales and left guard Max Ganter from the publicity stream is that they’re underclassmen.
They stood together, yards away from the green wave of Spartan celebration at midfield, and absorbed the scene. Martel wasn’t the center of attention, but he didn’t fret.
“I don’t really care,” the 6-foot-5, 325-pound junior said. “We’re going to do all the dirty work. That’s enough.”
Ganter, also a junior, said, “It’s a team effort.”
Canales, a precocious sophomore starter, said, “It’s just a blessing to be with our team and play with our team, especially the seniors.”
When the Spartans escaped Conard in the 12-10 white-knuckler at Falcon Field on Nov. 10, a major part of the difficulty they encountered was due to the absence of Martel (ankle) and Canales (dislocated elbow). Coach Kevin Frederick noted that the thinning of the ranks and having to alter the line’s makeup was the source of difficulty.
Martel had to be helped off the field Nov. 3 at Newington.
“Missing the Conard game was tough for me,” he said. “They’re a really good team and I wanted to play in that game.”
Said Canales: “[The injuries are] hard to overcome. It’s all about mental strength and you have to push through it.”
With everybody was ready to go for Platt and the results speaking loudly through performance, let it be said that every great accomplishment needs a solid foundation. With a physical specimen like Martel hovering over the ball, how much more solid can it get?
Maloney’s offense began the game by marching 72 yards, stringing together five first downs and then sputtering at the Panthers’ 10 without scoring.
Midway through the second quarter, the Spartans had yet to earn another first down, Punter Adam Williams, as he’s done all season, wouldn’t allow the Panthers any short-field chances.
Beset by penalties, the Maloney defense bent and Platt took a 6-0 lead. That’s where MVP Cruz Lenhart altered the fray with a fumble recovery and return that set the Spartans up for Larue Graham’s TD pass to Chris Infante and a 7-6 lead.
“[Turnovers] were huge for us,” Frederick said. “I think that got us jump-started a little bit off that first one where we scored to make it 7-6. Turnovers happen. I think the great teams make them count.”
Lenhart’s first interception three plays into the second half set up the Spartans’ next score, too. Aden Valentin made a 13-yard TD run with Elijah Stevenson providing him a wide aisle to the end zone.
Lenhart’s second interception early in the fourth quarter was forced by bull-rushing Desmond King, the nose guard Platt coach Jason Bruenn designated as his primary deterrent to a Panthers’ victory.
Platt’s final giveaway came on a last-gasp pass from its own 21 that Kamron Moreno snared to seal the win.
The spirit of legendary Maloney coach Rob Szymaszek has a permanent home at Falcon.
Szymaszek guided the Spartans for a quarter century (1976-2000) and went 17-7-1 in Stoddard Bowl competition. He played for the first Maloney coach, Ed McGee, and captained the 1967 team.
Szymaszek died of a brain tumor on September 20, 2007, leaving a legacy and heavy hearts across the state.
Although Frederick, a 2003 graduate, played for Platt, he said he treasures Szymaszek’s memory based largely on what he’s been so often told.
Maloney restored its lead in the series, now 30-29-1. Although Platt won 12 of 14 between Szymaszek’s departure and Frederick’s first season, the only time the Panthers led the series was after winning the first game in 1958.
“That makes me happy,” Frederick said. “It makes Coach [Mike] Falis and Coach [Dan] Hatch happy. We’ll be thinking about Coach Szymaszek tonight. We’re always talking about him. We’re proud to bring that tradition back to Maloney.”
Falis, Szymaszek’s long-time assistant, filled in during the 2001 season when Szymaszek first fell ill. Another assistant, Wayne Flis, was head coach for the next two years. Ex-Newtown coach Bob Zito put in nine seasons (2004-12) and Pierce Brennan coached in 2013 prior to Frederick’s debut.
“I only met [Szymaszek] a couple times because I was over on the other side of town, but I know stories from his players about the type of person he was,” Frederick said. “He was very passionate and loved his players. I try to emulate that. I’m a players’ coach. I have a good relationship with the kids. I’m down to earth. I demand respect and these guys give it to me. I think Rob was the same way.”