MERIDEN — In the end, after the triumphs and the disappointments, it comes down to this for the Wilcox-Kaynor Tech football co-op in 2022: a chance to finish at .500 with a win on Thanksgiving Eve at Falcon Field over VG Techs in the Route 66 Bowl.
It may seem modest, but after seeing only the south side of .500 since debuting with a 5-5 season in 2007, getting back to break-even is a palpable step in the right direction for the Wildcats (4-5).
It’s also a symbolic re-boot for a program in its second season as a co-op and first under head coach Alonzo Relaford, the long-time program assistant who has the Wildcats playing far more competitively this year, even in the games they don’t win.
There were breakthroughs ths year. In beating Prince Tech 28-16 in Week 2, the Wildcats took down a Vo-Tech rival they’d hadn’t beaten in 15 years.
Other chances got away, such as the 14-10 loss to unbeaten Northwest United in Game 6, when a turnover killed a late drive into the red zone.
A lot of joy, a lot of frustration and, with an 0-9 opponent coming to town on Wednesday, a chance to walk off the field solely feeling the former.
“I look at the season as successful, but these guys, I know they want it more,” Relaford said. “It’s just little tweaks, little stuff we’ve got to fix. Wednesday, I’m hoping that we come out of there with a win.”
That’s exactly what the Wildcats did last Thanksgiving Eve in winning for just the second time in the six-year series.
The Route 66 Bowl, oscillating back and forth between Falcon Field and Palmer Field, dates back to 2014. It’s the Jethro Tull of Thanksgiving rivalries. There’s been a lot of shifting players.
The constant has been Vinal Tech in combination with Goodwin Tech. East Hampton was part of their equation for first three years in the series — all won by the Vinal group.
Then East Hampton was out and Whitney Tech joined in 2018 and 2019, when Wilcox, still solo, earned a split.
Combining with Kaynor after the lost COVID season of 2020 and rebranding as the Wildcats, the locals won 42-12 at Palmer Field last year over the newly minted VG Techs.
Add it up and Vinal-Goodwin holds a 4-2 series lead, but will be the underdog on Wednesday night.
After losing their first seven games by an average of 41 points, including four straight by shutout, the Hawks have played better as of late. They played their most competitive games of the season the last two weeks, falling 26-8 at O’Brien Tech on Nov. 12 and 12-8 at home to Prince Tech on Nov. 18.
Wilcox-Kaynor, meanwhile, was playing a pair of games at Waterbury’s Municipal Stadium, which allowed Kaynor to host for the first time and cut down on the travel time for the opponents, Platt Tech of Milford and ATI United of Danbury.
The Wildcats fell behind 14-0 in both games. They recovered to thump Platt Tech 48-20. They played catchup in vain against ATI United, 33-14.
Power football has become Wilcox-Kaynor’s calling card under Relaford. Their most successful offensive set is a double-tight end set that features three blocking backs and a Wildcat quarterback.
The Wildcats run their brand of “Wildcat” quickly and, when it gets in a rhythm, it’s hard to stop.
Simple? Sure. Effective? Hell, yes. Wilcox-Kaynor averages just under 235 rushing yards a game and an even 7.0 yards a snap.
“There are a few things that we’ve set up that we can get,” said Relaford.
There are three feature backs, starting with Wilcox senior Brandon Alvarado. With 1,020 yards on 100 carries, Alvarado is one of just two area backs to go over 1,000 yards this season. The other is Southington senior Lincoln Cardillo (1,410).
Alvarado is a dynamic around-the-edge, reverse-the-field sort of playmaker. Along with being Wilcox-Kaynor’s leading rusher, he’s the leading return man.
His counterparts from Kaynor, senior Raysean Emrie and junior Malik Sanchez, bring different skill sets to the table. Emrie (103-564) is a downhill power guy. Sanchez is vertical speed (89-496) who can air it out when Wilcox-Kaynor needs to pass.
The Wildcats will also deploy senior QB Caden Kennedy when they need to go up top, with Alvarado (13-126) being the main target.
Mostly, Wilcox-Kaynor wants to clench that Wildcat fist, punch the ball downfield and control the clock.
Defensively, the Wildcats are led up front by senior ends Connor Fletcher and Brandon Monteiro. Fletcher has 51 tackles, including four sacks. Junior linebacker Patrick LaChance leads the team with 57 tackles.
The one potential hitch to Wednesday is the short week. But there’s no advantage there. VG Techs also played on Friday night.
Wilcox-Kaynor goes in healthy. “Nobody’s hurt; nobody’s banged up,” said Relaford. And everybody in blue and black is looking to go 5-5.