NEW HAVEN — A hunger has been building at Hillhouse over the season’s first four weeks.
The Academics were hard-hit by graduation after beating Berlin for the Class M title in December — their second in three years. But expectations remained high with prolific running back Harold Cooper and lineman Tarrol Stafford among those returning.
Why not? New coach Reggie Lytle inherited a Hillhouse legacy of winning more games than any other team in the SCC since 2001.
Losses to Darien, Hand and Xavier were not taken lightly, so winless Lyman Hall picked a rather discouraging time to pay a visit.
Cooper scored five touchdowns and piled up 211 yards in the first half Thursday afternoon as Hillhouse took out some frustration on the Trojans, 54-20, in an SCC Division II West thrashing at the Wilbur Cross Sports Complex.
“We were very hungry,” said Lytle, who took over when Tom Dyer accepted the athletic director’s position at Hamden. “We started off the season with probably the roughest schedule in the state. We had to keep them motivated. The coaches did a good job at practice all week and we’ve started to perform.”
Cooper, now within 130 yards of 6,000 for his career, scored on runs of 49, 8, 7, 53 and 56 the first five times the Academics (2-3, 2-0 SCC DII West) had the ball.
Cooper hearkened back to his freshman year when the Acs were 2-2 but went on a run that carried them to the Class M title.
“We’ve been practicing all week with the mindset that we have to win,” Cooper said. “We have to do what we did my freshman year. Everybody that year was used to it and we want to get everybody on board. We’ll see where it takes us.”
The Trojans (0-5, 0-2) have run an early season gauntlet, too. After an opening day battle against Fairfield Ludlowe that took two days to complete, Cheshire, Guilford and Amity took their licks. Through it all, affable Lyman Hall coach Rob Marone maintains a positive attitude.
“Here’s what I said to our kids today that I want them to know: every single time I’ve left the field this year and I’ve shook hands with the opposing coach, the opposing athletic director and people I’ve known from other schools, they all say the same thing. Although the scoreboard looks similar to last year, the way this team is playing football is different, the way we approach things is different, the way we keep our heads up is different,” Marone said.
“That’s not a knock on the guys last year. There are positive things happening here and I hope for the sake of the kids things start happening on the scoreboard.”
The LH passing game continues to take shape with the Kyle Smith-Jerry Rodriguez connection paying major dividends. Smith hit Rodriguez in stride midway through the second quarter for a 65-yard touchdown strike that put the Trojans on the board.
They hooked up again in the final minute of the half on a third-down play from five yards out and cut the Hillhouse lead to 47-13 at halftime.
“We have a heck of a quarterback and quality receivers,” Marone said. “Sometimes it’s tough to get things going but we executed well.”
Smith scored the Trojans’ final touchdown on a keeper in an abridged third quarter that featured running time. Hillhouse primarily used its junior varsity throughout the second half.
Marone got a strong defensive effort from junior end Tucker McClure and senior back Lucas Furgalack in the early going but Hillhouse was quick to exploit mismatches in the trenches.
Lytle noted that enough games remain for the Trojans to craft a credible campaign.
“It’s still early,” he said. “We were 1-3 and we still have a chance for the playoffs. Anything’s possible. Anything can happen, you just have to stay focused.”
Hillhouse 54, Lyman Hall 20
At Wilbur Cross Sports Complex
LeftAlign.52Lyman Hall 00-13-07-00—20
H—Harold Cooper 49 run (run failed), 11:05
H—Cooper 8 run (Cedil Ogniovi kick), 7:30
H—Cooper 7 run (Ogniovi kick), 4:10
H—Cooper 53 run (Ogniovi kick), 1:25
H—William Barnes 15 fumble return (pass failed), 1:06
H—Cooper 56 run (Ogniovi kick), 7:35
LH—Jerry Rodriguez 65 pass from Kyle Smith (John Witik kick), 6:35
H—Ritchie Washington 56 run (Ogniovi kick), 6:10
LH—Rodriguez 5 pass from Smith (kick failed), :38.2
LH—Smith 3 run (Witik kick), 5:06
H—Ogniovi 59 run (Ogniovi kick), 4:15
RUSHING – Lyman Hall (24-minus 1): Koby Mensah 9-20, Kyle Smith 7-6, Brandon Forbes 3-6, John O’Malley 2-minus 9), Dan Calcagni 1-0, Team 1-minus 24. Hillhouse (32-415): Harold Cooper 10-211, Ritchie Washington 3-60, Cedil Ogniovi 5-89, Ja Von Taylor 2-31, Dennis Coleman 2-4, Brennon Coleman 1-0, Marlon Hagwood 2-5, Deontae Merritt 4-17, Aundre Patterson 1-minus 2, Team 1-minus 15).
PASSING – Lyman Hall: Kyle Smith 9-17-0, 130 yds. Hillhouse: Ja Von Taylor 0-1-0, 0 yds.
RECEIVING – Lyman Hall: Jerry Rodriguez 4-102, John O’Malley 1-4, Lucas Furgalack 2-20, Stephen Grammatico 1-minus 3, Nick Vendetto 1-7. Hillhouse: none.