MERIDEN – The Maloney football team won’t have to go far for its state semifinal, just over the border in Middletown.
The No. 7 Spartans are making consecutive postseason appearances for the first time in program history. On Tuesday night they take on the No. 2 Blue Dragons in a 6:30 kickoff.
The CCC Division II squads did not square off in the regular season. The winner will move onto play No. 3 Naugatuck or No. 6 Platt in the state semifinals on Sunday.
Both squads are coming off of losses. Middletown (9-1) was handed its only defeat of the season in a 7-0 loss to Windsor at home on Thanksgiving eve.
Maloney had already clinched a playoff berth entering its annual holiday clash with Platt. But the Spartans’ regular season ended on a sour note with a 36-20 setback to the Panthers.
Platt effectively pulled out the double-wing and was able to churn out first downs and keep the high-powered Maloney offense off the field for large chunks of time.
“No one was sulking or hanging their heads,” Maloney coach Kevin Frederick said. “They know what we have to play for and that’s what this game of football teaches you. There are going to ups and downs. That’s how life is and you have to handle it accordingly.
“This was a lesson we learned on Wednesday night. I told the team it wasn’t just their fault. I let them down as a coach. I didn’t have these guys fully prepared like I should have going into a big game. So I’m more disappointed in myself and the staff than the kids. But they know they have to take some of the blame, too, and they responded really well. We are trying to introduce a game plan and get better and better as we go on.”
Frederick is familiar with the Middletown program. He was previously an assistant on Sal Morello’s staff.
“Middletown likes to run the football and be really physical with you,” Frederick said. “We’re expecting a hard-fought, in-the-trenches type of game. They have some big guys up front like we do. Their running back is a tough runner who keeps his feet moving. They have some good skill guys on the edges.
“They are are similar to us as far as personnel goes. For us though, we try to be 50-50 with pass and run. They are more run-heavy than pass-heavy. They want to come into the game and run the football. There’s no secret about it.”
Senior Xzavier Reyes is the Middletown workhorse. The running back averages just a shade under 100 yards per game with 989 on the season. He had 100-yard games in each of his first six contests of the season, including a 203-yard performance against Hartford Public.
Jontae Dempsey is the Middletown QB and his top targets are senior Tyreece Lumpkin (31 catches, 312 yards, 3 TDs) and Kenny Fountain (21-327, 5 TDs).
Maloney had compiled an 8-2 record with balance on offense led by senior quarterback Elliot Good, who is in reach of Maloney's single-season passing records. Good has completed 141 of 225 passes for 2,102 yards and 25 touchdowns.
Victor Marquez is his top target. Statistically, Marquez already the most prolific receiver in program history. He has put up 949 yards on 54 receptions and 12 touchdowns so far this year.
Good’s other top receiver is Maurice Brackett, though the senior has been hobbled since leaving the Conard game with an ankle injury.
“Maurice’s ankle is still bothering him,” Frederick said. “We hope he can play on Tuesday. He’s a huge part of our team and what we do offensively. Not having him out there hurt us on Wednesday.
“We still have other guys in the skill area that we like. We just have to roll with the punches. Hopefully, he can play. Otherwise, if we advance, we can have him for the next round.”
Sophomore James Tarver has been the Spartans’ top ball carrier this fall. He has 137 carries for 935 yards and 15 touchdowns.
Both squads are coming off of their toughest losses of the season.
“We are both coming in after losses, so whoever can fight the adversity and makes the corrections or changes in the short amount of time is going to come out on top,” Frederick said. “It’s going to be a battle with two good teams.”
In Frederick’s five-year tenure, Maloney is 0-2 against Middletown.
“This has been a year of firsts and for us and we are hoping to get that first win against those guys in my era,” Frederick said. “I’m still confident in the guys. We just have to take it one day at a time and one game at a time. We have enough talent and skill level to make it deep into the playoffs. That’s our goal. We want to win a state championship. I’m not going to shy away from saying that. That’s our goal and we are going to keep working for it.
“We’re happy to be in the playoffs, but we want to make some noise and win a state championship.”
Maloney is seeking its first-ever state crown. The Spartans made appearances in the state finals in 1989 and 2006, falling to St. Joseph and New Canaan.