MERIDEN — The Maloney football team is back in the Class L semifinals, this time with a pair of players who have emerged after small roles last season.
The 2018 Spartans made the Class L finals with Elliot Good at quarterback and Victor Marquez as the standout wide receiver. Both had record-breaking seasons as seniors and seemed to be impossible to replace.
However, Maloney has reloaded at those two skill positions with sophomore quarterback Angel Arce and senior wideout Kam Moreno.
After a solid regular season in which Arce completed 124 of 211 passes for 1,714 yards — including 55 for 853 yards to Moreno — the duo combined for four touchdowns in their postseason debuts Wednesday night. Arce tossed three touchdowns to Moreno in the first half and added a fourth in the third quarter as No. 3 Maloney buried No. 6 Berlin 35-7 at Falcon Field in the Class L quarterfinals.
Arce and Moreno worked on their relationship in the offseason to be at the top of their games when the playoffs arrived.
“We were out here pretty much every day in the summer,” Arce said. “The coaching staff is amazing year in and year out, and they come up with a great game plan for us.”
Moreno caught TD passes of 14, 8 and 46 yards in the first half. He added a 11-yard TD grab in the second half as the Spartans extended a 21-7 halftime lead.
The prettiest score was the 46-yard seam pass late in the second quarter.
“I was shocked,” Arce said. “I didn’t think it was going to come out like that because it was so cold. I just had to get it out to my guy Kam.”
“I hit him with two sticks and he clicked his hips, and I knew I was open and that was it,” Moreno said of the coverage.
The 14-yarder was on a fade, the 8-yarder on a quick hitch.
“I knew he was covering me inside, and Angel got it to me and I made a move outside and got to the end zone,” Moreno said of the latter score.
Moreno said he hadn’t scored in four weeks, so the senior was due. He now has 15 touchdowns on the season. Arce has thrown for 26.
“We executed and everyone did their jobs; this was a great team win,” Moreno said. “Angel and I worked in the summer to make sure our connection was good at all times. It takes a lot of work to have a strong connection with a quarterback.”
Maloney did get a scare late in the third quarter when junior running back James Tarver went down with a right knee injury. He was carried off the field by his teammates and didn’t return.
“I ran up the middle on an inside run,” Tarver said. “I kind of felt my leg twist back. I thought I heard something pop, but I’m not sure. I think I will be fine to get ready for Monday.”
Nothing will be certain until Tarver is checked out by medical personnel.
Before leaving the game, Tarver broke Edwin Roman’s single-season school rushing record of 1,868 set in 1999. With 170 yards on 15 carries against Berlin, including a 34-yard TD and an 83-yard breakaway that set up an earlier score, Tarver now has 1,955 yards on the season.
“James is such a great kid,” Maloney coach Kevin Frederick said. “You never want to see anything bad happen to him.”
The Spartans defense was also dominant with a handful of sacks, including two from lineman Trevor Santiago. Linebacker Kody Talento had a key fumble recovery in the second quarter. at the Maloney 2-yard line. Defensive back Sergio Muniz had another interception after grabbing a pair on Thanksgiving against Platt.
“I thought our D-Line played really well,” Frederick said. “We found the football and had a bunch of sacks, and Sergio had another pick.
“We are playing well,” Frederick continued. “Mike Dargan is a great defensive coordinator and he put together a great game plan. We got to win No. 10 and we move on.”
Next up for Maloney (10-1) is No. 2 seed and defending Class L champion Daniel Hand (11-0) on Monday night in Madison. It was the Tigers who defeated Maloney (10-1) in the Class L state final last season.
“It’s great,” Frederick said. “Hand is the No. 1 team in the state. If you want to be the best, you’ve got to beat the best. We are going to go down to the Surf Club and be fearless.”