FOOTBALL: Platt on the verge of milestone victory

FOOTBALL: Platt on the verge of milestone victory


Platt head coach Jason Bruenn and his Panthers go for program win No. 300 Thursday night when they host Windham at Falcon Field at 6:30 p.m. | Justin Weekes / For the Record-Journal

MERIDEN — Football feeds on the “just another week” mindset. This week, at Platt, it just doesn’t apply.

For one thing, the Panthers are playing a rare Thursday night game. For another, they’re going for a milestone victory.

Solar eclipse, 300 wins: These things just don’t happen every year.

The former came and went on one of the first days of preseason back in August. The latter could come to pass Thursday night at Falcon Field when Windham plays a non-league visit at 6:30 p.m.

Platt, now in its 60th season of football, goes into the game at 299-287-10 all-time.

“It’s pretty momentous,” said head coach Jason Bruenn, whose time in the Platt program dates back a quarter century to his playing days in the early 1990s. “I didn’t even realize we were coming up on it. It’s just another year. It’s kind of ironic that it ends up being on a Thursday, a home game and a team that we haven’t played since 1973.

“That’s well before me,” Bruenn added with a pause and a chuckle.

It is uncanny Windham is tonight’s opponent. The Whippets were one of the nine teams the Panthers played when they debuted varsity football in 1958. The teams met every season for the next 15 years before going their separate ways after Windham’s 21-10 victory in 1973.

The late Henry Zaleski was coaching Platt at the time. Bruenn and his staff have reached out to Zaleski’s family to attend tonight’s game. They’ve also reached out to Paul Crone, Platt’s first first coach, and to Tom Ryan, Bruenn’s predecessor.

The Panthers are pulling for a big crowd. Alumni and former players, if they haven’t heard already, will be nudged on social media. Here’s a direct appeal from players: the bigger the crowd, the bigger the buzz and the better they play.

“It just gets me juiced up and has me feeling ready when I see the stands filling up,” said senior captain and quarterback A.J. Marinelli.

The Panthers can use the proverbial12th man tonight. Windham was 8-2 a year ago, like Platt, yet missed out on the Class S playoffs while the Panthers qualified in Class L.

The Whippets have a force in 6-foot-3, 237-pound junior fullback Nate Barbosa, who had 258 yards rushing with three touchdowns in a 49-37 loss last week to Ledyard.

“The thing is, their fullback, our defense is going to have to make tackles,” noted Platt senior captain and free safety Javon James. “He’s a big dude. I’ve seen his film. He’s pretty good.”

The Panthers are pretty good, too. They are coming off a 42-7 dismantling of Farmington in last week’s season opener. Marinelli completed 10 of 13 passes for 198 yards. He threw four touchdowns to four different receivers. Junior running back E.J. Dudley piled up 142 yards and two TDs on 16 totes.

The defense was stout. It faces a sterner test in Week 2 with a milestone win hanging in the balance. If the Panthers don’t get it tonight, 300 might not come at home. Platt is on the road for the next three weeks.

“It’s a big chance for us to make history; 300 wins at Platt is big deal,” said senior captain and linebacker Pierce Matias. “It helps Coach Bruenn’s legacy being the coach to reach it. But it is going to be a tough game. It’s going to test our strength as a defense.”

Bruenn is 68-40 since taking up the reins from Ryan in 2007. Ryan is the cornerstone. He coached the longest at Platt (27 seasons, 1980-2006) and he recorded the most wins (147-130-4).

Other than that, there was just Crone and Zaleski. Platt football has had only four head coaches in its 60 seasons. Crone ran the ship for the first nine (1958-1966) and went 34-46-1. Zaleski ran it for the next 13 (1967-1979) and went 50-71-5.

Win No. 100 came in 1984. No. 200, fittingly, was in 2000. Both were on Ryan’s watch.

Bruenn and his three assistants — Brian Frederick, Jason Nelson and Mark Thornton — all played for Ryan and were later coaches on his staff.

Meriden School Superintendent Mark Benigni played for Ryan. So did the city’s Parks & Recreation Director, Chris Bourdon.

It’s quite a list. It includes the current Platt QB’s father, Aurelio Marinelli Sr.

“The first thing is winning the game,” the younger Marinelli said. “That’s what I’m most worried about. I want to go in there and secure the W. But after that, yeah, it would mean a lot. I know my dad, Coach Bruenn, Coach Tom Ryan probably would be the three happiest guys in town.

“Hopefully, we can get it done for their sakes. Hopefully, for our sakes, as well, to be a part of history.”

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