WALLINGFORD — Riccitelli Field had long emptied out Monday night.
The Berlin Redcoats had headed home to celebrate their 34-22 victory in the CIAC Class M football semifinals. The Sheehan Titans had trudged to the locker room to contemplate their season-ending defeat.
Sportswriters were laboring on deadline in the press box. Concession stand volunteers were putting the wraps on their night.
There wasn’t a soul on the field, though up on the hill that overlooks it, at the furthest reach of the lights, one Sheehan player stood.
No. 70: senior Miguel Pinos, helmet on, eyes fixed on the field even as tears welled and ebbed and welled again.
“I was just looking at everything we’ve accomplished, from all the preseason workouts to all the games we won on this field,” he said. “We were an amazing team and I would not have wanted to play with anyone else but this team.”
A four-year player who had worked his way up to a starting postion on the offensive line, Pinos was loath to walk away from that field for the last time as a Sheehan football player. It was such a good run, even when he was a junior and learning tough ropes in practice from teammate Stephen Zenisky.
Zenisky was last year’s SCC Tier 3 Player of the Year. The year before that, it was Sheehan running back Zach Davis. This year, it was Sheehan running back Terrence Bogan.
Pinos was aboard for all of that. He was aboard for the three straight SCC Tier 3 championships.
He was aboard for the two straight trips to the state playoffs, for the 43-20 quarterfinal victory last Tuesday over Wolcott in the Class M quarterfinals, the first playoff victory for Sheehan since the state championship year of 1985.
All told, it was a 25-8 run for Pinos and his 14 fellow seniors, many of whom were on the varsity field as sophomores back when Zach Davis was rewriting the state record book and Sheehan was turning the corner to its current status as the best small-school football team in the SCC, which makes it one of the best small-school football teams in the state.
So, really, even as the Titans walked off Riccitelli Field after Monday night’s loss to Berlin, they were leaving plenty behind.
“I’m going to remember the mark that this team, especially these seniors, have helped leave on the program,” said John Ferrazzi, Sheehan’s head coach since 2005.
“When we felt the tide start turning three years ago, in the 2016 season, all these guys were sophomores, and a lot of them got on the field and were playing varsity ball. Some of them weren’t ready. All they’ve done was just put the ax to the grindstone since that time and work to get better,” Ferrazzi continued. “Their work ethic, the standard that they help us set in terms of buying into our message has been like no other group. They helped change the way football is looked at here now.”
Monday’s loss was a bitter end to what was a brilliant season. The 10 wins matched the program record from 1985.
Monday’s loss was the end of the road for Wes Terzi, a third-year starter at quarterback who threw for 1,839 yards and 23 touchdowns this season. It was the end of the line for his leading receivers, Jake Smith (41-729) and Aaron Simmons (37-575), who were also key parts of the defense.
It was the end of the line for Pinos and his fellow starters up front — Willie Seay, Jason Klemm and Luke Willette, the two-year captain.
It was the end of the line for guys who emerged as formidable forces on defense — linebackers Tyler Ekstrom (110 tackles) and Nick Barbieri (88), and safety Ryan Paul (137).
It was the end for role players like Caden Cloutier, Joe Perry, Mario Papale, Liam Brien and Joe Lowell.
Even as Pinos mourned the end of one era and raved about the talent in the one that’s about to follow — “they’re going to be a force to mess with next year.” — he recognized the legacy his class leaves for Sheehan football.
“Oh, yeah, definitely. Each and every single senior, no matter if they didn’t start, if they just got partial varsity time, they all played a big role in this,” Pinos said. “We can look back and look at what we’ve done and we can be proud of ourselves.”
A number of the seniors were playing hurt Monday night. Actually, a number were playing hurt in games before then.
It was a grueling November for the Titans. After two bye weeks in October, they played six games in a stretch of 31 days.
On Monday night, that grind — plus an impressive Berlin team — took a toll on Sheehan. Yet all hands were on deck, regardless of what was aching or cramping or at less than 100 percent.
“It was starting to catch up to us. We were playing short week after short week, changes to the schedule, weather — and we were banged up,” Ferrazzi said. “It tells you how tough some of our kids are because they persevered. Kids I didn’t think would be able to play in a game played in the last couple weeks. We came into this game unsure about a couple kids and they pulled it out.”
Putting themselves in a 21-0 hole is what ultimately doomed the Titans on Monday. They did battle back. They got one last aerial TD from Terzi to Smith, a highlight-reel grab at the back of the end zone from junior receiver Jordan Davis and one last score from Bogan, who finished his breakout junior season with 2,481 yards rushing.
Bogan’s score came with 16 seconds left to play. Even though the game was lost in the first quarter, the Titans literally saw it through to the final minute.
That, says Ferrazzi, is the hallmark of this year’s senior class.
“It sets an example and sets a standard for every group that’s going to follow. That’s what I’m most proud of,” the head coach said. “There was never a time where we felt our kids gave up or didn’t play hard. They left it all on the field every single night.”
“Including tonight. We didn’t play our best game tonight, but we played hard and, as a coach, if you can get your kids to buy in the message you’re selling and play hard, that’s all you can ask for.
“I just hope the next crew is ready to continue this going forward,” Ferrazzi added. “And it’s more than wins and losses. It’s more about the attitude and the approach to want to get better and upholding that standard of excellence that we’ve been trying to set, and I think we have set now.”
Back atop the hill overlooking Riccitelli Field, helmet still on, eyes still fixed and welling, ebbing and welling again, Pinos stood a while longer.
“I worked my heart out each and every year and I know each and every other guy did and … I’m sorry ... I’m just proud of each and every one of them. They’re a great group and they’ll forever be my brothers.”