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ALL-RJ FOOTBALL: Magic & karma & a state championship to boot

ALL-RJ FOOTBALL: Magic & karma & a state championship to boot

MERIDEN — It was the Year of the Titans. It was the Year of the Half Yard.

It was the Year of the Running Back and it was the Year of the Rookie QB.

It was also the Year of the … well, though much has been written about the 2019 football season, the story may not yet be complete.

Come Saturday morning, Jan. 18, at the annual Walter Camp Foundation “Breakfast of Champions,” Sheehan’s John Ferrazzi just might be named Connecticut Coach of the Year and Sheehan running back Terrence Bogan could come away as Connecticut Player of the Year.

Both are finalists for those awards. A postscript may be waiting down the page.

For now, here’s our All-Record-Journal football story and we’re sticking with it, because it’s a heck of a read as it stands.

The area’s six public school teams went a combined 50-20 in 2019.

Four — Sheehan, Southington, Maloney and Cheshire — reached the postseason.

Three — Sheehan, Southington and Maloney — reached the state semifinals.

One — Sheehan — went all the way, winning Class S by scoring 64 points on a Bloomfield team that had allowed just 29 all year.

It was Sheehan’s first state crown since 1985. A number of players from that team, now in their early 50s, were in the stands at Trumbull High School on that wet and warm Saturday, December 14, watching a new generation of champion Titans emerge.

Later that night, on that same Trumbull field, the Newtown Nighthawks gathered all the loose magic and karma in the universe, and even some that may have been nailed down, and scored on a 36-yard pass on the final play of the Class LL final to defeat Darien 13-7 on the seventh anniversary of the Sandy Hook school shooting.

Within 48 hours, members of the team, some of whom had been in Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14, 2012, appeared on NBC and ESPN. Cable news carried the story. In the midst of wall-to-wall impeachment coverage, a fractured nation had something to celebrate in unison.

Yes, football turned out to be only part of the Connecticut football story for 2019. It won’t be forgotten. Nor will the highlights from our corner of the sky, where a title was won and records were set and a Thanksgiving Day game came down to a half-yard at the goal line in double overtime.

That was in the Apple Classic. Cheshire went for two and the win. Southington held.

Had it gone the other way, the Class LL playoff field would have been aligned differently and maybe, in the end, that Newtown miracle would not have come to pass. Hard to say. Harder to argue, though, against such destiny.

Hail the Titans

Sheehan, too, was a team of destiny. Champions as youth players, members of the current senior class had long been regarded as contenders to win it all this season.

Then came the double-whammy: the bump up to SCC Tier 2 and the bump down to Class S, two much harder roads to ply.

And yet the Titans did, getting into the postseason at 8-2, routing Woodland Regional 51-0 in the quarterfinals, surviving perennial power Ansonia 30-22 on the road in the semis and then dethroning unbeaten Bloomfield 64-33 in the final.

Sheehan was led by five All-SCC Tier 2 seniors who have also been named All-Record-Journal: Terrence Bogan, Jordan Davis, Mickey Deming, Thomas DiPasquale and Braedon McCarthy.

Bogan, Davis and McCarthy also made All-State, both through the Connecticut High School Coaches Association and the Walter Camp Foundation. Bogan and Davis were among the coveted Top 26 in the coaches’ voting and on the Walter Camp All-Connecticut First Team. McCarthy was All-State Class S and All-Connecticut Second Team.

Bogan, the state’s rushing leader in 2018, defended his title with 2,201 yards. He gained 551 yards in the postseason and finished his career as Sheehan’s top rusher of all-time with 5,731 yards and 77 touchdowns on 602 carries.

Bogan was a SCC Tier Player of the Year as a junior (Tier 3) and again as a senior (Tier 2). He is also a Walter Camp Player of the Year finalist for a second straight year.

Davis, meanwhile, capped a remarkable comeback from a devastating leg injury suffered in a car accident in March of 2018. Heading into the 2019 football season, Sheehan coach John Ferrazzi predicted Davis would be in the conversation whenever talk turned to the top players in Connecticut and he was spot-on.

A threat as a receiver and running back, Davis had 944 receiving yards and 827 rushing yards. He scored 34 TDs, including four in the state final. He made the Walter Camp All-Connecticut First Team as a wide receiver.

McCarthy was also a multi-dimensional weapon. A starter since his sophomore year, McCarthy almost never came off the field. A tight end/H-back on offense, he made All-State as a defensive end.

Likewise, Deming and DiPasquale shone on both sides of the ball. As offensive linemen they blocked for an attack that averaged 42 points and 416 yards a game.

Defensively, Deming was at the opposite end from McCarthy and racked up 44 tackles, including 15 for lost yardage. DiPasquale, a linebacker, was among team leaders with 79 tackles, 12 for lost yardage.

Breaking new ground

In years past, when picking the All-RJ Football Team, we would pick strictly by position. With all our teams deploying primarily out of spread formations, that meant picking just one running back.

This year, that was impossible. While Bogan was the state’s rushing leader for a second straight season, he was one of two area backs to go over 2,000 yards. The other was Platt junior Roberto Salas, who piled up 2,062.

Across town, Maloney junior James Tarver came very close, gaining 1,955.

Those single-season numbers were the most prolific in Meriden history behind only the 2,134 Platt’s Tyzhan Leatherwood amassed in 2014. Tarver’s 1,955 broke the old Maloney mark of 1,868 Edwin Roman had held since 1998.

Salas did post single-game Platt records when he rang up six touchdowns and 36 points on Nov. 15 against Manchester. Salas had a season-high 320 yards in that game. He was ultimately named All-State Class M and Walter Camp All-Connecticut Second Team.

Tarver’s single-game high was also 320 in a pivotal Nov. 8 win over Wethersfield. With five touchdowns and 287 yards on Thanksgiving morning, he was MVP of the Stoddard Bowl. At season’s end, Tarver was All-State Class L and Walter Camp All-Connecticut Second Team.

How could Roberto Salas and James Tarver possibly be left off the All-RJ Team? Answer: They weren’t.

Nor were the area’s two 1,000-yard rushers, each of whom was the leading weapon in his team’s attack: Dillon Kohl of Southington and Jake McAlinden of Cheshire. The two seniors went head to head on Thanksgiving. Both rushed for over 100 yards in what was a defensive slugfest and both were named their team’s Offensive MVP.

Both were also All-Conference selections. McAlinden was voted All-State Class LL.

Behind center

At quarterback, we made two selections. In a year that saw a number of successful rookies at the position and only a few returning starters, we took one from each camp.

Each put his name in his school’s record book: Maloney sophomore Angel Arce and Lyman Hall senior Sean Patrick Pragano.

Arce, in his first year as Maloney’s starting QB, led the Spartans to a 10-2 season that saw them win the CCC Division II West crown, romp in the Stoddard Bowl and reach the Class L state semifinals.

Arce completed 145 of 255 passes for 2,003 yards and 26 TDs. He twice tied a school record with five TD passes in a single game and was named All-Conference.

Pragano, in his second year as starting QB at Lyman Hall, set single-game school marks for touchdown passes with five on opening night against Jonathan Law and then for passing yards with 382 in Week 2 against Bethel.

By season’s end, Pragano owned Lyman Hall’s single-season passing records with 21 touchdowns and 2,184 yards. His 29 career TD passes rank No. 1 on Lyman Hall’s all-time list; his 2,839 yards stand No. 2. Pragano was named All-SCC Tier 3.

The surest hands

The leading targets for Angel Arce and S.P. Pragano lead the All-RJ receiving corps, Maloney senior Kamron Moreno and LH senior Shakespeare Rodriguez.

Both were voted All-State by the coaches — Moreno in Class L, Rodriguez in Class M. Moreno also made the Walter Camp All-Connecticut Second Team as a defensive back.

Rodriguez, too, was a skilled DB. It was at wide receiver, though, that both of these guys stole the show.

Moreno twice tied the Maloney record for touchdown receptions in a game with four against Bristol Eastern and again against Berlin in the Class L quarterfinals. He finished with 65 receptions for 994 yards and 15 TDs.

Those 65 receptions made Moreno the area leader. Rodriguez led in receiving yardage with 1,054 on 58 catches.

Rodriguez truly was an open-field wonder. Just get the ball in his hands and he could do the rest.

Rodriguez finished his three-year varsity career with 89 receptions, 1,686 receiving yards and 19 receiving touchdowns. Each is a Lyman Hall record.

An equally opportunistic force on defense, Rodriguez had 52 tackles this year, including 11 for lost yardage. He picked off three passes, forced two fumbles and recovered two others.

Our other two All-RJ receivers are from Southington, seniors Carter Uhlman and Josh Vitti. Uhlman made All-State Class LL pulling down 57 passes for 640 yards and seven TDs. Vitti wound up as Southington’s top receiver with 61 receptions for 680 yards and eight touchdowns.

Vitti really came on strong at the end of the season. In the Apple Classic, he snared eight catches for 107 yards. A two-way player in the secondary just like Moreno and Rodriguez, Vitti was in on 42 tackles and nine pass breakups.

Boys up front

Virtually all of the teams in the RJ coverage area featured prolific offenses, and they all rested upon solid offensive lines. Even Platt, which had its struggles due to uncertainties at QB, had a very good line.

The Platt front featured a guy who made All-State, both with the CHSCA and the Walter Camp Foundation, for a second straight year. That was Jaylen John.

In the coaches’ voting, John was among the Top 26 vote-getters. He was Walter Camp All-Connecticut Second Team.

A guard on offensive, John turned around and played tackle on the D-line. He collected 60 tackles, a remarkably high total for an interior defensive lineman. Of those tackles, 17½ went for lost yardage, including a team-high four sacks.

John returns to the All-RJ team alongside his linemate, tackle Cristian Calero, who made both All-RJ and All-Conference for a second straight year.

Maloney also featured a standout line anchored by a repeat All-Stater: Trevor Santiago. The 6-foot-6, 300-pounder was also among the Top 26 vote-getters in the CHSCA All-State balloting.

Santiago, as left tackle, protected Angel Arce’s blind side. As a defensive lineman, Santiago was third on the team in tackles with 58, including a team-high 10 for lost yardage.

Our All-RJ line features several other players who played on both sides of the trenches. There’s All-SCC Tier 3 senior guard Mark Franco of Lyman Hall and the Cheshire triumvirate of seniors Will Bergin and Sean Cangiano and junior Chisom Okoro.

All three of those Rams were All-SCC Tier 2. Okoro also made All-State Class LL as a defensive end.

Rightly so. Okoro had a team-high 75 tackles, including 16 for a loss, going into Thanksgiving. Cangaino (54 tackles) and Bergin (51) were right up there, too, having combined on 19 tackles for lost yardage.

Also All-RJ at the defensive end position: Platt senior Jael Rivera. A two-year All-Conference force off the edge for the Panthers, the 6-foot-2, 215-pounder collected 48 tackles this season — 11 for lost yardage. He caused two fumbles and recovered three.

Backin’ the ‘backers

We were remiss earlier. This wasn’t just the Year of the Running Back. It was the Year of the Linebacker.

Each area team had a solid second-level corps on defense. In the mix were some All-State standouts, starting with Southington senior Billy Carr.

Carr was among the All-State Top 26 and he made the Walter Camp All-Connecticut Second Team. Simply put, he was at the heart of a stingy Southington defense that allowed just 719 rushing yards over the course of a 10-2 season.

Carr led the Blue Knights with 121 tackles, including 23 for lost yardage. His 11 sacks and five fumble recoveries also led the team.

His partner was fellow senior Max Casella. An All-Conference pick, Casella racked up 96 tackles, 7½ sacks and three fumble recoveries. All those numbers were second-best on the team to Carr.

The Maloney defense was also led by its man in the middle, Kody Talento. Coming off a 124-tackle season as a junior, Talento rang up 118 as a senior in 2019 and was named All-Conference.

Another player who wound up among state and area tackling leaders despite missing time to injury was Lyman Hall junior Lucas O’Reardon. In fact, O’Reardon was the area’s leading tackler until suffering a neck injury late in the season.

O’Reardon underwent surgery to address the issue and it’s not certain if he’ll be able to resume playing. That would be a shame. O’Reardon is a true gamer. He had 87 tackles this season and, as a tight end/slot, caught 46 passes for 631 yards.

If he returns, the 6-foot-2, 225-pound O’Reardon will easily be one of the area’s top players in 2020.

Prime secondary

Our defensive backfield features the aforementioned receiving stars — Moreno, Rodriguez and Vitti — as well as seniors Johnny Carreiro from Southington, Colby Griffin from Cheshire and Sergio Muniz from Maloney.

Carreiro was the emotional leader of the Southington D. He picked off two passes, broke up 10 others and was in on 47 tackles. He was named both All-State Class LL and Walter Camp All-Connecticut Second Team.

Griffin, as a strong safety, was second only to Okoro in tackles for Cheshire — 70 going into Thanksgiving, including 10 for lost yardage. He was also a key receiver for QB Jason Shumilla, catching 15 balls for 199 yards.

Muniz was an All-Conference ball-hawk who probably should have been on those All-State teams, too. Much like Vitti, Muniz gained velocity late in the season — probably too late to register with voters.

And that’s too bad. While Vitti was catching eight passes on Thanksgiving morning, Muniz was at Falcon Field picking off two passes. Muniz got another pick in the Class L quarterfinal victory over Berlin.

For the season, Muniz had an area-high seven interceptions. He returned one for a touchdown. Muniz also took a fumble recovery to the house and was in on 25 tackles.

Special guy

That brings us to the end of the All-RJ line — the point-after, as it were.

It was not easy settling on this year’s kicker. Five of our teams had a very good one: Trent D’Aniello at Platt, Jaden Myles at Maloney, Jotham Casey at Cheshire, Jack Barnum at Southington and Garrett Molampy at Sheehan.

They were all accurate. They all had range.

We go with Trent D’Aniello because, before all was said and done, he was more than just a kicker.

He hit 21 of 25 on extra points and drilled six of six field goal attempts, including a long of 34 yards. Then, with Platt in need of a quarterback, D’Aniello stepped into that role late in the season.

No matter how we pick the team whether by position or by school, we like versatility in a guy, a way to produce a little magic and tap into all that loose karma in more ways than one.

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