CHESHIRE — It had been 646 days since the Cheshire Rams last played a football game, by head coach Don Drust’s count.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic erased the 2020 CIAC football season and the Rams opted not to play any 7-on-7 games, there was an extra sense of urgency and anticipation on the field and in the stands at Alumni Field as the Rams returned to action on Friday night.
The Cheshire student section, dressed all in black, was as loud as it had ever been. Parents up and down the aisles of the bleachers had smiles plastered on their faces.
“This is what football is supposed to be, and it feels tremendous,” Drust said about the atmosphere at Cheshire High School that night.
The crowd was treated to one of the most entertaining games the Connecticut high school football slate had to offer in Week 1, and to one of its top rushing performances.
Cheshire running back Christian Russo put on a show in the Rams’ 26-20 overtime victory over the Notre Dame-West Haven Green Knights, piling up 182 rushing yards on 28 carries, including two touchdowns of nine and 10 yards.
The latter score was the game-winner in OT.
After his outstanding night, Russo was “a mess,” by his own description. The senior was in tears as he walked around hugging teammates and coaches.
A varsity player since his freshman year, Russo was feeling every single emotion of having a brilliant night after the longest hiatus in his football career.
“We just worked so damn hard for this,” Russo said. “To see it pay off, there’s no better feeling.”
During the game, it was clear to see that Notre Dame did its homework. The Green Knights consistently put eight defenders in the box in an effort to slow down Cheshire’s potent running game. Russo still lit them up to the tune of 6½ yards per carry.
“Everybody knows who we are,” Russo said. “We run power. They clearly knew that and we out-tough teams.”
And Drust made it clear that he trusted his senior captain. Even in a high school offense, 28 touches of the football is a considerable workload. Russo carried the ball on 14 of Cheshire’s first 21 offensive snaps of the game.
Drust constantly fed Russo the rock and, ultimately, was rewarded for his faith on the final play of the game. Connecticut football uses the “Kansas tiebreaker” in overtime, with each team getting a set of downs to score from 10 yards out. Cheshire, after turning over Notre Dame on its first series, ran power on its first play and Russo took it right to the house.
“We’re confident in our ability to run the football, and Christian is a tremendous human being. He’s a leader and, obviously, he’s a pretty good football player, too,” Drust said. “At the end of the day, a guy like him needs the football in his hands.
“I couldn’t be prouder of him; I couldn’t be happier for him,” Drust added. “He’s worked so hard.”
Drust acknowledged that virtually every other high school football team in Connecticut went two years without an official game. He knows that Russo probably wasn’t the only kid in the state who felt the way he did upon lacing up and showing out.
In Ramland, at the end of this long-awaited Friday night, there was victory on the scoreboard and euphoria on the field.
“It speaks to the character of our kids; it speaks to who they are and what they are,” Drust said. “They’ve been through so much, and we’re not the only town that’s been through a lot. But this is what you want. You want this feeling for these guys because there’s no replacing it. They’ll talk about this for the rest of their lives.”