In the annual West Hartford crosstown football battle, Hall defeated Conard 40-0 and will keep the trophy for the third year in a row.
By Paul Palmer
The day started with the Hall Titans football team honoring its large senior class. It ended with the same team giving one senior a very special honor.
On a brisk but sunny fall afternoon, the bleachers at Hall were filled on both sides, and emotions ran high on the field as well. The annual Mayor’s Cup game – the last of the regular season for each side – is about more than bragging rights. It is the kind of game where no matter how bad a season either team might have had, a win against the crosstown rival changes it all.
This season it was Hall coming in with the better record at 6-3 compared to Conard’s 1-9. The Red Wolves have dealt with injuries all season, but the most critical loss may have been quarterback Julien Schneider getting knocked out of the season early on. The rich history of the two programs was also on display on Saturday. Hall coach Frank Robinson is the son of the man who coached Hall football for 30 years (1957-1987), and across the field Matt Cersosimo’s family has spent generations on the Conard sidelines and now the fourth generation – his son Brady Cersosimo, just a sophomore – is now the starting quarterback.
Conard’s offense could not get much going on its first two possessions and set Hall up with a first-and-10 at Conard’s 40 on the Titans’ second possession. Senior quarterback Bode Smith found Jordan Brice for a long pass to the 10 and the drive was capped off when Jackson Bracken scampered into the endzone with 4:33 to play in the first. On their next possession, the Titans relied on Smith who ran to the Conard 11 and then took it into the end zone later in the drive. With a missed extra point – one of two on the day for Hall – it was 13-0 as the first quarter ended.
As the second quarter opened, Conard put together a drive that saw Cersosimo keep the ball and race to the left. As the Hall defense responded, they lost track of the Red Wolves’ J.J. Richardson and Cersosimo tossed a short pass to him for a first down. Then on fourth down, it was Hall’s Quinn O’Neill making the stop to give the Titans the ball at their own 35. Smith engineered another scoring drive from there as Hall settled into a game of taking the ball wide and making Conard chase ball carriers from sideline to sideline.
Smith opened with a pair of runs for first downs, and a Brice run ended on a penalty against Conard at the 2. Brice took the pitch from Smith and dashed into the end zone, but the PAT was blocked, making it 19-0 Hall. On its next possession Conard would fumble the ball and Hall’s Michael Griffin-Prado recovered, setting up the Titans at the Conard 28.
On a fourth down, Smith found Colin McGann down the middle and the 15-yard throw and run to the endzone made it 26-0 with 2:33 to play in the first half.
The game and the half took an unfortunate turn on Conard’s next possession. On a short fourth-and-2 run deep in its own territory, a fight broke out along the Conard sidelines 30 yards away. Both coaching staffs and the officials raced to break it up and get players from both teams off the field before it expanded. The fracas saw the ejection of Conard’s Richardson and Shane Morris as well as Hall’s Jordan.
Smith, who played a solid game managing both the running and passing aspects of the Hall offense, put an exclamation point on things just 1:22 into the third quarter. Hall had received the kickoff and on third down, Smith kept the ball, raced to the left sideline, and outran the Conard defense to make it 33-0 Titans. Hall would get its final score of the day later in the third on a drive that was almost entirely run on the blocking of the Hall line and the legs of Bracken. The junior capped it off with a 20-yard run for a score and it was 40-0 Hall.
At this point the game was being played with a running clock – no stops for incomplete passes or plays out of bounds – and Smith got a chance to watch the final moments of his senior season from the sidelines.
“These are amazing kids, especially our senior leaders,” Robinson said of his Titans team. “They put in the work to make sure we do everything right.”
With less than 90 seconds to play and Hall possessing the ball on fourth down, Titans head coach Robinson called a time out, called for the victory formation, and then spoke with Cersosimo. The reason to was reward senior captain Jack O’Neill for his spirit and resilience. The defensive lineman was injured in the second quarter of Hall’s first game of the year and spent the season on crutches, working to rehab his injury, but also working to keep his teammates on track at practice and at games.
Set up in the victory formation and in shotgun, the ball was snapped to O’Neill, the Conard defense did not rush, and O’Neill was able to take a knee before being mobbed by his teammates as he came off the field. Just how much the moment meant to O’Neill was obvious after the game as he carried the ball from that play with him, stopping only to put it into his helmet for pictures.
“After spending so much time with this great group of guys, this meant the world to me,” O’Neill said. What he probably didn’t know is that Robinson and the coaching staff had been hoping and planning all week that there would be a moment when they could give O’Neill his special play.
“We talked about it all week,” the coach said. “He’s such a great leader and even after his injury. That’s just the kind of kid he is.”
There was one more special moment for Hall and it came when West Hartford Mayor Shari Cantor came to the center of the field to present the Mayor’s Cup trophy to Hall for the third straight season. But before she could get a word out to congratulate the winners, Halls players swarmed her, holding the trophy high in the air in celebration.
Across the field, many of the Conard players had made their way to the fence and were embracing friends and family members after their final game in a disappointing season. “All year they were resilient and didn’t use injuries as an excuse,” said Cersosimo of his players. “There are so manty life lessons that they learned. Life can sometimes kick you in the teeth and they learned how to embrace it and grow.”
Both coaches agreed that the game itself is something special and unique. When kids who have in some cases known each other their entire lives, played on the same league teams, end up at rival high schools and meet once each year.
“‘How we play the game is more important than the result,” Matt Cersosimo said of his team. For Robinson it is the deep roots of the two families and programs and also one more factor. “We [Hall and Conard] respect each other.
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