In a game that saw most of the scoring action in the fourth quarter, Hall kept possession of West Hartford’s Mayor’s Cup trophy with a win over crosstown rival Conard.
By Paul Palmer. Photos by Paul Palmer and Ronni Newton
Colin McGann caught two fourth quarter TD passes from Bode Smith, and Chris Ortiz had a game ending interception as the Hall Titans rallied to beat Conard 21-14 on Saturday.
It was a picture-perfect late fall day for football with bright sun, temperatures in the low 40s with one set of bleachers filled with blue-clad Hall supporters and the other filled with Red Wolves home fans decked in red. They were separated by a field of green and two teams that were playing for pride as neither will play in the state tournament this year.
After a scoreless first half, Hall would get on the board thanks to the legs of running back Ryan Zydanowicz who gained the tough yards on the drive, including converting twice on third down before punching it in from a yard and a half out to give the Titans the early 7-0 lead 3:50 into the second quarter.
Conard countered with its own strong ground game featuring Santana Edwards (15 carries, 81 yards) and Jayviaun Dickens. The Red Wolves managed to push the ball to the Hall 26 before two incomplete passes and a pair of tackles for loss by Simon Levy and Dan Moleti gave Hall the ball back on downs.
Hall’s Smith connected with Angelo Culmo for a first down for Hall before Conard’s Ryan Bushnell had a solo sack and teamed up with Ian Black for another on back-to-back plays to help force a Hall punt. With just 1:19 to play in the half, Conard had the ball at its own 41 and after a pair of running plays went nowhere, decided to just let the clock run out on the half and go to the locker room trailing 7-0.
Hall started the second half receiving the kick and had a promising drive going before Ben McIlhoney forced a fumble with a hard hit on McGann that McIlhoney also recovered. Conard coach Matt Cersosimo opted to shake things up by using Dickens in the quarterback role having him take direct snaps out of the shotgun but the drive stalled after a tackle for loss by the Titans’ Hudson Hollander and Jack O’Neill.
The game then fell into a series of three and out’s and flags falling like leaves. At the end of the third, Hall still led 7-0, but Conard would start the fourth with the ball at midfield on second and 4.
On Conard’s first play of the fourth, quarterback Julian Schneider hit Edwards with a screen pass as the junior raced down the near sideline before Tyler Redden’s TD-saving tackle at the 6. After a pair of runs by Dickens moved the ball to the 3, Schneider tapped a touch pass to Edwards who was in motion and he went off the left side for the score. Edwards would catch four passes for 108 yards as part of his 189 yards in total offense.
Hall responded with what had worked for them earlier – getting the ball in the hands of Zydanowicz, who had 17 carries for 103 yard on Saturday. He would gain a pair of first downs running the ball on third downs. “My offensive line has worked so hard all year,” said the senior captain. “It was all them today and the best game they have played all year,” added the running back.
With 5:33 to play in the third, Smith and McGann would team up for the first of their two fourth quarter scores. It came off a play action pass, and Smith found the junior slotback in the front of the end zone to put the visitors up 14-7.
With the clock winding down, Conard was not going to be denied on its next possession. Schneider once again found Edwards for a huge gain bringing the ball to the Hall 12. After the Red Wolves moved the ball to the 1, Brendan Grady got a little help from his linemen who helped push him over the goal line to tie things up just 1:23 after Hall had taken the lead.
After a clock reset to 4:06, Conard’s kickoff went out of bounds and on the re-kick, Hall brought it back to its own 40. One second down, Smith and Culmo just missed hooking up on a post pass, but on third down, Smith kept the ball and rumbled for a first down. Zydanowicz would pick up a first down taking a pitch to the Conard 32 with 1:47 left. McGann would take jet sweep for another first down at the 22.
On first down a fumbled handoff was recovered by Hall for a loss of five. After an incomplete pass, Dom Gattinella and Jaylen Walker bottled up Smith in a sweep that resulted in a loss back to the 31. Hall took a timeout and when they broke the huddle, Smith scrambled in the pocket before launching a pass to the front of the end zone that McGann again managed to pull in and give Hall the improbable lead with 20 seconds to play … but Conard still had a little something up its sleeve.
Starting at its own 35 yard line, Schneider’s first down pass fell incomplete. One second down with 18 seconds to play, Conard connected on a short pass and proceeded to run, lateral, and backward pass the ball the width of the field before Hall made the tackle and the clock ran out. But … the officials called Hall for roughing the passer, moved the ball to the Hall 24 yard line, and gave Conard one play with no time on the clock.
The Red Wolves lined up three receivers on the right and one on the left, and Schneider threw it towards the end zone, but Hall’s Chris Ortiz intercepted the throw and Hall had secured the hard fought 21-14 win.
“I told them how proud I was of them, they had no quit today,” said Conard head coach Matt Cersosimo, who coached the game on crutches with a foot injury of his own. “There was no letdown and they battled till that last play of the game,” he said of his team, which went 3-7 on the year.
Smith would finish the day 12 of 22 for 136 yards with 94 of that coming in the second half. McGann had just four catches on the day for a total of 69 yards, but they included two critical touchdowns in the fourth quarter. “This is such a special game,” McGann said. “I have had family win and lose in this game. “
Hall finishes the season at 5-5 having played one of its toughest schedules. “It was a tough start on the schedule, then we started rolling,” said Hall coach Frank Robinson of his team’s 0-4 start. “Kudos to those kids for not quitting.”
As with many of the Hall-Conard games, many of the players have been either playing as teammates or against one another since youth. Zydanowicz said he has been playing with many of the Conard players since West Hartford Youth Football. “There is no rivalry like it. I didn’t want to be anywhere else today,” he said as his team carried the Mayor’s Cup Trophy off the field.
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