CIAC FOOTBALL: Underdog Cheshire relishes the opportunity to keep playing

CHESHIRE — Waiting is always the hardest part.

One doesn’t have to tell Cheshire head football coach Don Drust.

Long after losing 21-14 to rival Southington on Thursday in the Apple Valley Classic, Drust was among the last men standing on the Cheshire football field.

The others? A few assistant coaches and friends. But more importantly, GameTime CT reporter Sean Patrick Bowley and his cell phone.

Drust paced anxiously, wanting to know for sure if he could walk into the Cheshire locker room and tell his team there was indeed a silver lining.

As Bowley kept refreshing his phone and crunching the CIAC numbers, the Class L playoff picture became more and more clear.

Then, nearly 30 minutes after losing, Drust got the good news: Cheshire had qualified for the Class L playoffs as the No. 8 seed.

When the CIAC playoff numbers became official Friday morning, they confirmed the scenario. The Rams owned the No. 8 seed and would live to play again despite losing to Southington. 

Its reward? A Tuesday night date with No. 1 seed St. Joseph’s (9-1) at Kennedy Stadium in Bridgeport.

“Heck, I’d play the New York Giants,” joked Drust.

While the Rams (6-4) won’t have to worry about stopping Saquon Barkley or Daniel Jones, dealing with the Hogs will be tough enough.

St. Joseph’s is a perennial state power. Since 1980, the school has won 15 state titles, including three in a row from 2017-2019. The Hogs’ quest for four in a row ended last year in the Class L semifinals against Windsor, which went on to lose to Maloney in the final.

This year, St. Joseph’s only loss was at Greenwich, 36-26, on Oct. 14. The Hogs beat FCIAC rivals Darien, Staples, Ridgefield, New Canaan and Trumbull.

Cheshire will be a decided underdog Tuesday night. Drust, however, is just happy to be around his team for a few more days.

“I’m just really, really excited to spend more time with those guys,” said Drust.

“Obviously, you want to win on Thanksgiving, but at the end of the day, to get a few more days with those seniors and this group, you just want to be in the room with them,” Drust added.

The Rams remained alive to play Tuesday night because Darien, also 6-4, lost 13-10 to New Canaan on Thanksgiving morning. Cheshire edged the Blue Wave by 35 playoff points.

Not that Drust was scoreboard watching, but when he heard the news that New Canaan had come back to beat Darien in the moments after Cheshire’s loss, he knew there was still a chance his Rams would make the playoffs.

“Somebody said something and, yes, the thought goes through your head,” said Drust. “Listen, I’m a football coach. What is it they say? ‘Short memory, move on, what’s next?’

“For me, yeah, it’s about playing,” added Drust. “But it’s about getting more days with a tremendous group of human beings. For me, that’s the most important part. At the end of the day, I want to give these seniors everything they deserve, and they deserve (the playoffs). They’ve worked so hard, getting extra time together is the goal.”

While Cheshire may have lost its final regular-season game, it hardly backed into the postseason.

The Rams beat two playoff-bound teams: New Milford (No. 6, Class L) and Notre Dame-West Haven (No. 2, Class M). They topped New Milford 35-7 on opening night en route to starting 4-0. They had a 27-12 bounce back win over ND on Oct. 21 after suffering their first loss to the season.

That loss, 33-10, came at Fairfield Prep. The Jesuits are the No. 5 seed in Class LL.

Cheshire’s other losses were also to playoff qualifiers: 10-0 to North Haven (No. 5, Class MM), 34-14 to Shelton (No. 7, Class LL) and 21-14 to Southington.

Southington just happens to be the No. 1 seed in Class LL.

Drust said the way his Rams rallied in the fourth quarter of the Apple Valley Classic was the latest testament to their character. Cheshire trailed 21-0 entering the final 12 minutes.

“Good, bad, indifferent — it’s been that way all year,” said Drust. “We stay at it, and the seniors just keep leading us.”

It was junior Matt Jeffery, however, who ran for both Cheshire touchdowns in the fourth quarter. And Matt Jeffery will once again be the focal point of the Rams’ offense Tuesday night.

Against Southington, Jeffery lined up in the backfield to take direct snaps at quarterback after starting the game at wide receiver.

Seeing Jeffery at quarterback wasn’t surprising. He started the season at QB before suffering a shoulder injury against Fairfield Prep.

On Thursday, Jeffery was also the recipient of several swing passes from sophomore Aniston Marsh against the Blue Knights.

Getting Jeffery the ball in space will be key to Cheshire’s hopes against St. Joseph’s.

“Down 21-0 to a very good football team (SHS) and they never quit,” Drust said. “They fought, but that is who we are. That showed our character; that’s who those guys are.

“It may sound cliche, but I’m really proud of the seniors,” Drust added.


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