Conard’s Nate Richam scored five touchdowns and broke a school record for rushing in a contest where the final score resembled a basketball, not football game.
By Ted Newton. Photos by Ronni Newton
The Conard vs. Hall football rivalry spans 59 years, and yet none of the 58 previous meetings between the crosstown rivals could match the offensive play that both teams put on display Saturday at Conard’s McKee stadium on a beautiful late fall day.
When the clock expired, with the scoreboard showing 113 points and the two teams accounting for 16 touchdowns, Conard celebrated a 66-47 win for its first victory over Hall since 2010.
“It’s like a basketball game, with two hoops on either end and three-point shots being made,” Conard head coach Matt Cersosimo said of the 113 point total. “It was unbelievable. There was craziness. It was like, what else can happen in this game?”
Conard senior running back Nate Richam ran for close to 500 yards and five touchdowns to lead the Chieftans to victory. His 468 yards (unofficial at press time) shattered the Conard school record of 381 yards established by Ken Phelan in 1997, and was the fifth-highest single game total ever in Connecticut.
Richam was one of 31 Conard seniors who, along with 12 Hall seniors, were honored at a ceremony prior to the game. For these players especially, there was a lot on the line: for Conard, a win would likely put them into the state playoffs for the first time in 5 years; for Hall, it was an opportunity to play “spoiler” and knock their rival out of playoff contention. For all players, most of who have played with and against each other for years, there’s a lot of pride at stake when Conard and Hall meet.
“I feel so great for the kids,” said Cersosimo. “I’m so happy for them. The seniors have bought in from day one. They’re great kids. And they’ve shown the way for the younger players.”
Seniors for both teams stepped up and had big games. After Conard won the toss and elected to kick off, senior Hall quarterback Matt Wilcox guided his team to an early lead on their first drive from mid-field with steady running by senior Tyler Strickling and a nice touchdown reception by senior John Wells over the Conard defensive back in the corner of the end zone.
Erin Bellucci, also a senior, kicked the first of her six extra points in the game to make the score 7-0.
Following Halls’ kickoff, Conard worked methodically up the field, with Richam running for several first downs and junior quarterback Declan Flaherty passing 15 yards to senior Jack Ryan for another.
However, Hall’s defense forced a fourth down. Flaherty lined up as if Conard were going for a first down, but when the ball was snapped he pooch-punted and Conard was able to pin Hall back at their 9 yard line.
Yet Wilcox found Wells for a 48-yard catch and run that might have been an 85-yard touchdown if Conard seniors Ryan and Carson Reale didn’t catch him. Unfortunately for Hall, a penalty negated most of the yards gained. Equally unfortunate, Wells was hurt on the play and did not return to the field until the second half.
After a few plays for little gain, Hall punted and Conard marched down field, with several long Richam runs and a leaping catch by junior Jon Lagoy. With Conard on the Hall 9 yard line, the first quarter ended with Hall holding its 7-0 lead.
Conard opened the second quarter with some razzle dazzle, with Flaherty throwing wide to senior Byron Jones who then threw to the wide open Ryan who made a diving catch just over the end zone line for Conard’s first score. Sophomore Finn Cahill’s extra point kick evened the score at 7-7.
Hall sophomore Jaden Shaw took the kickoff all the way to Conard’s 15 yard line. A Conard personal foul gave Hall first-down-and-goal-to-go on the 7 yard line. But the Conard defense – with senior Bobby Iwerson knocking down a fourth-down pass intended for Hall senior Jordan Weinstock – held, and Conard took over on downs at its own 7 yard line.
On second down, Richam exploded for an 85-yard run straight up the middle of the field. After a Cahill extra point, and with 10:38 left in the half, Conard led 14-7.
Hall started its next drive on its 32 yard line. However, Iwerson stepped in front of the intended receiver, and intercepted Wilcox’s pass, returning it to the Hall 21 yard line. After good defensive plays by Hall junior Christian Lund and Weinstock, Conard was forced to settle for a 27-yard Cahill field goal.
Hall, behind 17-7, marched down the field, thanks primarily to several big catches by junior Theo Blaschinski. From Conard’s 3 yard line, Strickling rumbled in for a touchdown, cutting Conard’s lead to three after Bellucci’s kick.
Conard answered almost immediately with a 43-yard pass from Flaherty to senior Devon Pencz, who was wide open down the left side. After Cahill’s kick, Conard regained its 10-point lead with 3:45 left in the first half.
Hall, with an opportunity to close the gap before halftime, instead went three-and-out and punted to Conard. After a quick pass to Ryan, Flaherty again found Jon Lagoy, who leaped over the defensive back and sprinted to the end zone for a 50-yard touchdown.
Cahill’s kickoff was picked up by 310-pound Hall junior Kyle Conlon who rumbled straight up the field for 13 yards. After Wilcox’s long pass to junior Mike Verrengia was broken up by Reale, Hall turned the ball over on downs with a minute to go in the half.
Flaherty, trying to get one more score before halftime, threw deep down field, but was intercepted. After a couple of incomplete passes, Wilcox was sacked by Conard senior Connor Swanton, and Hall headed into the locker room trailing by 17 points.
One would think that 45 points scored by both teams in the first half was indicative of quite a bit of offense. So what does 68 points indicate? That there was even more offensive in the second half than in the first. Richam in fact, had 310 yards rushing by himself in the last two quarters.
Whenever one team scored, the other seemed to answer. Because they were behind, Hall attempted several on-side kicks. But Conard recovered every one of them, including one high bounce that sophomore Aidan Stabnick caught and raced straight up the field for a 40-yard touchdown.
Richam was sensational with his running, waiting a second or two after taking handoffs from Flaherty for space to open up then running powerfully through them into open space.
“We’ve talked with Nate on being patient, waiting for it to develop,” said Cersosimo. “And the linemen were just awesome.”
In the second half, Hall’s Blaschinski had several impressive runs, and Verrengia and Weinstock made a number of terrific catches.
“I was just proud of how we fought, how both teams fought, to make it a great game,” said Hall head coach Frank Robinson. “And they did, and they honored the game for us.”
To complete the honor of the game, West Harford Mayor Scott Slifka presented the Mayor’s Cup to the Conard Chieftains after the game.
Conard gets to keep it for at least another year, until the 60th meeting between the two teams takes place.
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