MERIDEN — The Stoddard Bowl doesn’t need any hype. The annual Thanksgiving morning clash at Falcon Field always draws massive crowd, whether the teams are 9-0 or 0-9.
This season, Platt and Maloney are both 8-1 and both are playoff bound.
The winner of Thursday’s game is assured of a home playoff spot and the losing team could still have a home game. Either way, both are playing next Tuesday in the state quarterfinals.
But, first, a Thanksgiving that has all the ingredients of a classic.
“Two 8-1 teams sounds pretty competitive to me,” Platt coach Jason Bruenn said.
“They played Greenwich and Southington, and we played some good teams,” Bruenn added. “I’m hoping going to be a good game. I’m hoping everyone comes ready to play and we put on a great show for the Meriden crowd. This speaks to the quality of Meriden football. Sixteen wins between the two public schools is pretty impressive. I don’t know many multi-high school towns that have that many wins.”
A quick check show no others do. Next in line is Wallingford, where Lyman Hall (6-3) and Sheehan (5-4) take a combined 11 into the Carini Bowl.
“Other places around the state numbers are down and it’s the opposite here in Meriden,” Bruenn said. “This is always going to be an exciting game. There are great expectations for a high-level game with both teams with such good records and going to the playoffs.”
Platt enters the rivalry game No. 3 in Class MM. The Panthers started the season with a 15-14 win over Tolland and then dropped a 32-14 Alliance game to Wilton.
Then the winning came — lots of it. There were seven straight victories in all for Platt: Avon in a driving rain (34-0), RHAM (36-10), Rocky Hill (38-8), Bristol Eastern (7-6), South Windsor (21-19), Farmington (28-7) and E.O. Smith (42-14).
Platt won the CCC Tier 3 championship with an unbeaten league mark of 7-0.
“Our overall team culture has been our biggest strength,” Bruenn said. “The kids have brought it and have played the way we wanted them to play. The defense has been playing pretty well and we’ve had some goal-line stands that I’ve been impressed with.
“I knew special teams were something we needed to rely on this year, and last game we had a fumble recovery and a punt return for a touchdown.”
Bruenn said the team’s offense has improved greatly as the season has gone on.
“They are being disciplined,” Bruenn said. “They are going out and doing what they are coached and are playing hard.”
Platt’s offensive linemen are junior LT Omri Hudson, sophomore LG Alexi Beltran, junior C Isaiah Smith, junior RG Jahi Mitchell, senior RT Andres Villanueva and senior TE Jayden Vega.
At the skill positions are junior QB Melvin Sanchez (75-135, 884 yards, 8TD, 6 INT) , junior RB Joel Rey (208 carries, 1,136 yards, 11 TDs), senior WR Zack Baker (33 catches, 410 yards, 4 TDs) and senior WR Amari Robinson (29 catches, 328 yards, 3 TD).
Sophomore WR Adrian Blackwell has two interceptions as a DB.
On defensive line are Vega (16.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks) at defensive tackle and senior Julian Frias at nose tackle. Senior Michael Melendez (3 sacks) and junior Eli Mercado share time at the defensive ends.
The Platt inside linebackers are seniors Avelino Nieves (89 tackles) and Landon Freemantle (68 tackles, 8 TFL). The outside linebackers are Rey and junior Joel Yaport.
Baker and Robinson (2 INT) are the safeties. Sophomores Daelon Bond-Streater and Javon West-Buttram are the cornerbacks. Platt’s punters are senior Trevor Cannata and sophomore Jesus Vasquez.
Maloney is coming off of two straight state championship appearances. The Spartans won it all against Windsor in 2021 and fell to New Canaan in 2022.
This fall, the Spartans are the CCC Tier I champions and have won six in a row following a 30-28 loss to No. 1 Greenwich on Sept. 22.
Maloney’s marquee win of the season was 20-18 at Southington on Nov. 3.
Spartans coach Kevin Frederick said the Stoddard Bowl is always a huge day in Meriden.
“It’s a big game for us,” Frederick said. “We want to clinch home field advantage during the playoffs. When we won the state championship two years ago, we had home field throughout. We had it last year, too. Our goal is to win the state championship and this win would get us a home game.”
Frederick said the Panthers have had a strong year.
“They beat the teams they should have beaten,” Frederick said. “They have to play the teams on their schedule and they had a close game against Tolland. They lost to Wilton, a very good football team.
“I’m happy for them,” Frederick added. “They won the Tier 3 championship and took care of business. It’s hard to gauge how good they are based on who they played. They have good athletes and their record is a credit to them.”
Frederick added that his team is the healthiest its been all season.
“Everyone should be suited up and playing,” Frederick said. “Anytime you are healthy going into the end of the season, it’s a good thing. This is the first time we have been fully healthy all season.”
Maloney’s is led by its talented receiving corps of Donte Kelly (38 catches, 614 yards, 9 TDs), Jesus Martell (33 catches, 708 yards, 13 TDs), Marquis Ward (22 catches, 286 yards, 4 TDs), Jayden Reed and Messiah Abrahante.
The tight end is Brendon Borak and the linemen up front are Aiden Valerie, Kaleb Marquez, Rafael Figueroa Rosario, Rafael Rodriguez and Logan Kicklighter.
Alex Perez is back as the team’s starting center after missing a few games. Kamarii DuBose also will get time on the offensive line in front of quarterback Ethan Nedinsky (109-for-178, 1,683 yards, 26 TDs, 5 INT).
Zakkai Moore (68-269-6) and Donald Highsmith (87-385-3) combine as the two-headed monster in the backfield. Kelly leads the team with seven rushing touchdowns on 33 carries for 245 yards.
Maloney’s three down defensive lineman are Drew Aitken, Rodriguez and Borak. Marquez and Jamarie Davis will also be in the mix up front.
The outside linebackers are Nick Arroyo and Joshua Hawkins. The inside linebackers are Highsmith (75 tackles, 7 sacks) and Moore (60 tackles).
The cornerbacks are Ward and Kelly. Martell (team-high 4 INT) is the free safety and Armani Ortiz (65 tackles) is the strong safety.
Trevoy Marrow is second on the team with five sacks.
Mark Whittington is the punter and Valerie handles the field goals and kickoffs. Madison Huskes and Ayden Carrero split the extra points.
“Defense wins championships and our defense has been lights out,” Frederick said. “We’ve been balanced on offense. We’ve had great senior leadership and we do the right things in the classrooms and hallways. That’s been a key for us.
“On the field, our schedule has prepared us for the long haul,” Frederick added. “We were a half of a second from being the No. 1 team in the state. We want to make the case for us being the best team in the state. If we take care of business, we will have a chance to make that right again.”
Frederick said the heartbreaking loss to Greenwich on a field goal with 0.5 seconds left has fueled the team.
“We took it on the chin and we’ve grown from that. We’ve experienced big games — it’s something we’ve done a lot at Maloney over the last five or six years,” Frederick said. “Against Platt, we need to get 11 hats to the football. We need to execute and cut down on mistakes and play penalty free. We need to stick to the game plan and keep our emotions in control.
“Our games have drawn some big crowds. It’s something we are used to.”
Maloney leads the Stoddard Bowl Series 33-30-1 and have won the last three meetings.