Saturday’s win was the fourth straight victory for the Warriors in the crosstown football rivalry.
By Ted Glanzer
A stout defense and an opportunistic offense led the Hall High football team to a 21-0 victory over Conard High in the annual West Hartford rivalry game at Chalmers Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
The Warriors stingy defense yielded just 151 total yards to the Chieftains, while the Hall offense scored on plays of 31 and 80 yards in the fourth quarter to salt the game away.
“The defense did a great job,” Hall High head coach Frank Robinson said. “[The Chieftains] have weapons and we were able to neutralize them somewhat. [Defensive end] Jason Gilbert might have played the best game he’s ever played. That was fantastic, his effort.”
Indeed, Gilbert dominated the line of scrimmage for the Warriors (8-2) and sacked Conard quarterbacks Declan Flaherty and Michael Mathews a combined four times.
Other Warriors defenders made huge contributions, including defensive back Hayden Souza, who intercepted a Mathews pass at the goal line which, at the time, preserved a 14-0 Hall lead with 4:11 left in the game.
“That was huge,” Conard head coach Matt Cersosimo said. “That was an unfortunate play for us. They stood where they needed to stand on the goal line and did a good job.”
“It was a great play to be back on the 20-yard line in our favor, especially since [it was third and goal on the] 1-yard line,” Robinson said. “Souza is a great player. We asked him to play as tight as he could and … he made the play.”
Running back Mark Kasumba (14 carries, 131 yards) then ended all hopes of a Conard comeback two plays later with an 80-yard touchdown run to make it 21-0.
Both Hall and Conard struggled to move the ball in the first half, with the Warriors taking a 7-0 lead into the interval courtesy of quarterback Ezequiel Alston’s 2-yard touchdown run with 9:06 left in the second quarter.
Other than that single sustained scoring drive from Hall (14 plays, 94 yards), both teams mostly traded three-and-outs for the majority of the first half.
Hall could at least attribute some of its difficulty on offense to a first-quarter shoulder injury to top receiver Rob Parra (2 catches, 29 yards), who did not return to the game. Robinson said that the injury was not as serious as initially suspected.
“I believe he’s going to be all right,” Robinson said. “From what I heard, it’s not broken … and it’s not an AC joint. So that’s really good.”
Hall also got a huge scare in the third quarter when Alston (14-25, 167 yards), who was promoted to starter after Sam Dobbins broke his ankle several weeks ago, went down for several minutes with a severe cramp after a punt.
“That might have been the biggest cramp that I’ve seen in my life,” Robinson said. “But Zeke played really well.”
Both offenses were able to move the ball a little better in the second half, particularly in the fourth quarter.
After Hall’s Ogadi Ikani recovered a Conard fumble at the Chieftains’ 31, Alston connected with wide receiver John Wells (5 catches, 58 yards) one play later in the end zone put Hall up 14-0.
“It really comes down to making plays,” Robinson said. “I don’t know if we made all of them, but we made some and that was enough.”
Conard (4-6) then put together its best drive of the afternoon, taking the ball all the way to the Hall 1 courtesy of a 32-yard run by Jordan Dorfman (16 carries, 74 yards) and a 26-yard reception by Karon Golding (2 catches, 31 yards). But the Chieftains could not punch the ball into the Hall end zone.
“This was a typical Hall/Conard game,” Cersosimo said. “It was back and forth, punch after punch, body blow after body blow. Unfortunately today, they landed more shots than we did. Our kids played hard, fought hard as we could. We just didn’t have enough at the end.”
Robinson, for his part, credited defensive coordinator Steve Markie for shutting down Conard’s offense.
“He just does an outstanding job,” Robinson said.
The victory meant more to Hall than just retaining the Mayor’s Cup for a school-record fourth consecutive year. The Warriors entered the game ranked fifth in the state’s Class LL and likely qualified for the postseason with the win.
Not that Robinson is watching.
“I literally don’t look,” Robinson said. “I know you guys think I’m lying, but I don’t. I think my assistant said we are in.”
It would be quite an achievement for Hall to qualify for the postseason, considering the injury to Dobbins, which led to a change in the Warriors’ approach on offense.
“It’s a team game and our guys definitely rallied around the different offense we had to install,” Robinson said. “It’s going to be interesting when we go into the playoffs, how everything continues, because now we have more weeks of being able to run this stuff.”
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