CHESHIRE — For the senior class of the Cheshire High School football team, Friday’s final regular-season home game against West Haven was years in the making. Before even getting to CHS, many of the players had spent countless hours playing junior football on the turf at Alumni Field.
“The whole game, I was just trying to take it all in,” said Logan Kranyak. “This experience has meant a lot to me.”
To honor the leaders of their program, CHS recognized 19 players and 14 cheerleaders on Senior Night. Head Coach Don Drust is appreciative of what the seniors have accomplished on and off the field.
“They are great people who care about each other and the program,” stated Drust. “They are all hard working. I’m fortunate to coach and be around them every day.”
The Rams (7-2) were driven to win their final home game, but ended up falling 25-14 to the rival Blue Devils (8-1). Despite playing without five starters, CHS battled to cut the deficit to 19-14 in the third quarter, but a play in special teams propelled the road team to victory.
On fourth down in the third, senior Adam Vernon booted a punt, but before the Rams could down the ball, WH senior standout Armani Reid picked it up at the 8-yard line and then ran outside for a 92-yard touchdown.
The Blue Devils didn’t get the two-point conversion on a pass play, but they still led 25-14 with 2:28 left in the third.
“We knew that he (Reid) is a really good football player,” reflected Drust. “We didn’t want to kick it to him, but he got the ball and made a play.”
Defensively, WH made five fumble recoveries to win the turnover battle 5-2.
“You can’t turn the ball over against a good football team,” stated Drust. “That being said, I can say that our guys never let up. They played hard for 48 minutes.”
This year, it has become traditional for the Rams to start off with a special play and Friday’s game was no different. On the first play from scrimmage, sophomore Aiden Gregorich handed off to senior Lucas Chymbor, who then threw the ball to Gregorich for a 11-yard gain to the WH 47-yard line.
The play meant a lot to Gregorich, who was making his first varsity start at QB after junior Aniston Marsh was injured at the end of last week’s game at North Haven.
“It was definitely amazing this week; we all wanted to play for the seniors,” said Gregorich. “Aniston has been helping me with everything.”
On the opening drive, Cheshire drove to the WH 34-yard line, but the Blue Devils forced a fumble and senior Jayden Franklin fell on the ball.
The Blue Devils drove down to take a 7-0 lead on a 5-yard touchdown run by senior Camren Kemp with 8:21 left in the opening quarter.
After a punt, WH took possession again, but the Rams defense needed just one play to tie the game. On a pass from junior quarterback Nick Conlan, senior Jeffery Gonzalez made an interception at CHS 45-yard line and then sprinted down the field.
When WH senior Aedan Coe tackled Gonzalez at the 6-yard line, the ball came loose, but Kranyak scooped it up and ran into the end zone with 3:05 remaining in the first quarter.
“Every time (we have a return on defense), I’m running full speed in case that happens or I can be the first one to celebrate,” explained Kranyak. “Jeffery did all of the work and I was in the right place at the right time.”
Cheshire took possession right back after recovering the ball on the ensuing kickoff. CHS had the ball on the WH 36-yard line, but in trying to throw a backward pass, the ball dropped to the turf and junior Devin Gardner made the recovery for the Blue Devils.
In the second quarter, the Rams fumbled an exchange and Franklin made his second recovery at the CHS 36-yard line. The Blue Devils had a 3rd-and-1 inside the red zone, but from there they picked up two penalties and Cheshire senior co-captain Evan Russo added a sack to help force a punt.
While dealing with penalties in the first half, WH put together its second scoring drive. The Rams forced a fourth down at their 29-yard line, but Conlan converted with a 5-yard pass to Reid.
The Blue Devils finished the possession with a 5-yard touchdown blast by Coe with 2:29 left in the second quarter. The Blue Devils missed the extra point, leaving them up 13-7.
WH extended the lead on the opening drive of the second half. Conlan threw down the sideline to senior Demarco Eady, who sprinted for a 68-yard touchdown with 9:22 left in the third quarter.
“They have a lot of speed, so that makes it tough on the back end,” stated Kranyak.
The Blue Devils went for a two-point conversion; Conlan’s pass fell incomplete.
Down 19-7, Cheshire received a spark from a 41-yard kickoff return from junior Nick Miller. From there, CHS rode the running of Gonzalez, who scored on a 5-yard run to cut the deficit to 19-14 with 5:24 remaining in the third.
“I can’t say enough about Gonzalez and his toughness,” said Drust. “He works so hard and plays for his teammates.”
Cheshire had seized momentum. Then came Reid’s 92-yard punt return to put the Blue Devils back up by 11 points.
The Rams tried to rally in the fourth, but the Blue Devils recovered two fumbles to keep the home team from building momentum.
In the final two minutes, Cheshire turned the ball over on downs inside its own 10-yard line and the Blue Devils knelt down to end the game.
Cheshire will now have 13 days to prepare for the regular-season finale on Thanksgiving at Southington (6-3). The 27th Apple Valley Classic will start at 10 a.m.
CHS seeks to get their first rivalry win since 2011. Southington currently has a 17-9 lead in the holiday series.
“(Winning on Thanksgiving) is one of our goals for this season,” stated Gregorich. “We also want to win a state championship, so those goals are still in front of us.”