MERIDEN — Maloney football is back in the Class L state tournament and looking to defend its crown after a 9-1 regular season.
The No. 3 Spartans (9-1) will host No. 6 New Milford (7-3) on Tuesday night under the lights of Falcon Field. Kickoff is 6:30 p.m.
The winner will play No. 2 Newtown or No. 7 Shelton in the semifinals on Sunday.
It’s a quick turnaround for the Spartans after defeating Platt 44-21 in the Stoddard Bowl on Thanksgiving morning.
Maloney coach Kevin Frederick said his team has the normal bumps and bruises after a 10-game season, but he anticipates a full complement of players for Tuesday’s quarterfinal.
Everyone will be needed to face a New Milford squad that’s won five in a row after a 2-3 start. The SWC school knocked off rival New Fairfield 29-14 last Tuesday in the Candlewood Cup to earn the program’s first-ever postseason appearance on the gridiron.
The catalyst for the Green Wave has been sophomore quarterback Darnell Bronson, who has been a dual threat. He has thrown 13 touchdowns against four interceptions and 1,482 yards. He’s carried 140 times for 832 yards and 17 touchdowns, including three against New Fairfield.
Senior running back Jemail Elezi also rushed for a touchdown last week and has 117 carries for 431 yards and six touchdowns on the season.
Top receiving weapons for New Milford are Alfredo Nevarez Jr. (48 catches, 938 yards, 9 TDs) and John Balzi III (35-345, 3 TDs).
Leading tacklers for New Milford are the linebackers: senior Jayden Alfano with 84, sophomore Colby Shears with 58 and senior Angelo Fernandez with 46.
“New Milford is a stout group up front,” Frederick said. “They are tough kids who get after it. Their quarterback is only a sophomore and wasn’t the starter at the beginning of the season. He does a great job running that offense. They have three talented running backs and we will have our hands full. We have to be ready to play or they will take it to us.”
Maloney has seen dual-threat QBs this season in games against Newington, East Hartford and Platt.
But the Spartans are full of talent as well. They finished the regular season 9-1 after graduating 20 players from last year’s Class L state championship, the first football state crown in city history.
“We had a big win on Thanksgiving to get us jump-started into the playoffs,” Frederick said. “Before going for the state championships you have to be city champs.
“We’re not taking anything for granted; we are happy to keep playing,” Frederick added. “We’ve been playing a lot of football after Thanksgiving. We know these moments are going to run out, so we cherish every moment together.”
The Spartans got a big boost Thursday when they welcomed back two-way junior lineman Brendon Borak from injury.
Maloney inside linebackers junior Zakkai Moore (115 tackles, 10 for a loss) and sophomore Donald Highsmith (88 tackles, 9 for a loss) continue to lead the defense. Moore had 14 tackles on Thanksgiving. Highsmith had 15 and was the Stoddard Bowl Defensive MVP.
“Both have been awesome for us, with great speed and they read their keys well,” Frederick said. “They are hard workers and are terrific in the weight room and have great grades. These guys are young, too, and they have big responsibilities tomorrow night to take away New Milford’s running game.”
Juniors Armani Ortiz (65 tackles), Nicholas Arroyo (57) and Joshua Hawkins have also been play-making linebackers for Maloney.
The defensive line features Borak, senior Sean Finn (34 tackles) and junior Rafael Rodriguez (65 tackles, 15 for a loss, 6 sacks).
“Sean defines who we are as a football program,” Frederick said. “He does all of the grunt work — the dirty work — and we are going to really miss him next season.”
Senior Joziah Gonzalez (47 tackles) and junior Donte Kelly (31) have been shutdown corners for Maloney. Jaden Vasquez (3 INT) is a senior cornerback and sophomore Jesus Martell (38 tackles) is at safety. Vasquez had fumble recovery against Platt.
The Maloney offensive line features senior left tackle Howard Stedford, sophomore left guard Kaleb Marquez, junior center Rafael Figueroa Rosario and senior right tackle Jayden Guilavogui. Rodriguez is at right guard.
Kyle Valetine is a senior first-year quarterback and threw three TDs to three different receivers on Thursday.
“Kyle’s playing well right now and he learned a lot from the Glastonbury loss,” Frederick said. “He’s stepping up and making plays and he’s going to have to be good for us on Tuesday night for us to win. I can’t say enough about Kyle. It’s tremendous how he’s stepped up.”
Valentine has completed 133 of 217 passes for 1,874 yards and 23 TDs against five interceptions.
His wide receivers are Gonzalez (51-701, 10 TDs), junior Donte Kelly (34-524, 8) and seniors Amir Phillips (15-266, 3) and Ayden Vazquez (15-219, 1).
Stoddard Bowl MVP Josh Boganski is the running back. A second-year starter, Boganski has 996 yards and 18 touchdowns on the season on 225 carries.
Senior Joshua Scaramuzzo is the place-kicker. He is 2-for-2 on field goals this season and 36-for-45 on extra points.
Maloney has outscored opponents 336-149 this season and has been particularly dominant in the third quarter, outscoring its foes 132-20 coming out of the halftime locker room.
Gonzalez is a game-breaker with 1,267 total yards. The senior has 533 return yards and 23 rushing yards to go along with his 701 yards receiving.
This is Frederick’s eighth season as head coach. He has a 69-21 record and has Maloney in the playoffs for a fifth straight season. Frederick is the the reining Walter Camp Coach of the Year as well as the Connecticut High School Football Coach of the Year.
“Every year is so different and the dynamic is so different,” Frederick said. “We have a formula for success and guys buy in. Being in the playoffs feels normal to us and this is our expectation. We feel we should be here every year.
“We want the spotlight on us. When you play past Thanksgiving, there’s more eyes on you and for our players, more college coaches get to see you play, and that's great for our guys,” Frederick added. “No one should be surprised Maloney football is here. We are going to be here for years and years to come.”