New Haven Register (New Haven, CT)
Week 1 saw nearly every game played
After his Thursday night game kicked off the 2021 CIAC football season, Ansonia coach Tom Brockett spoke for coaches across the state when he hoped aloud that the 2021 season would be completed as scheduled amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which forced the cancelation of the 2020 season.
“I hope, I just hope we can play every game this year. The kids deserve it,” Brockett said. “It’s hard but inside I think everybody’s apprehensive. …Throughout the whole state I just want to see the kids have a great year.”
Though nearly all of the games were played, the first week of the Connecticut High School football season wasn’t without incident.
Three games were postponed due to COVIDrelated precautions, CIAC executive director Glenn Lungarini said Monday without going into further detail. “A couple of schools we do know had kids in quarantine and rescheduled,” he said. “Some others postponed so they could wait for test results, out of caution.”
Two games — Rockville at Windsor Locks Co-Op and Hall at East Hartford — were rescheduled to be played Monday night.
The only game that wasn’t played was Avon at Tolland, which was postponed indefinitely Friday afternoon. No makeup date has been set.
Overall, 64 of 65 scheduled CIAC football were set to be completed for Week 1 and Lungarini praised players, coaches, athletic trainers and support staffs making sure the rest the games kicked off.
“It just goes to show you that everybody involved in CIAC athletics continues to do the right thing,” Lungarini said.
“If a game or two are being postponed for precautionary measure, it’s because coaches, trainers and administrators took the right steps and making sure our kids can continue to play sports in a safe environment.”
CIAC policy allows vaccinated athletes found to be within close contact of a COVID-19 case to practice and play, provided that they do not exhibit symptoms or test negative within 3-to-5 days of contact. Unvaccinated students must quarantine for 10 days, or as few as seven with a negative test.
Schools are left to enforce those policies and, if necessary, take their own preventative measures like as postponing games. “There are opportunities out there to makeup games, if necessary,” Lungarini said.
However, with 12 regular-season weeks to play a 10-game schedule before Thanksgiving and not all opponents’ schedules lining up, the more postponements, the tougher it will become for schools to find rescheduling time.
The CIAC has not released a contingency plan to deal with such an issue. Lungarini said he’s had “some conversations” with the football committee about what they might do should trouble arise, but “Hopefully things continue to improve and we don’t face that,” he said.
“We had contingency plans for spring and we played all of our state championships without one quarantine,” Lungarini said. “We have contingency plans for the fall and if we have to cross that bridge, we’ll move forward with those.”
Lungarini declined to share what those plans might be. “We want the kids to focus on the positive things,” he said. “We want them to enjoy each game out there right now without having to stress or worry about it right now.”
NOT READY FOR PRIME TIME PLAYERS
The biggest question going into Week 1 was just how well the players — many of whom hadn’t played a varsity snap in their lives — would perform under the klieg lights of Friday night.
The answers were varied, but coaches agreed there was plenty of tentativeness and uncertainty, particularly with rules and procedures.
“Just every day, the continuity of doing the little things right, it’s hard,” Brockett said.
“There’s a lot of things, like, all of a sudden we scratched our heads and said ‘oh my God, we didn’t go over that.’ You can’t take anything for granted. And I’m talking for everyone in the state. I’ve got a lot of buddies who coach. It’s not easy on anybody.”
A number touchdowns were called back due to illegal blocking penalties. Rocky Hill’s Frankie Guerrera had his early punt return score nullified and, just up the road, both Northwest Catholic and Hartford Public had touchdowns called back in the first half of their game.
After a long scoring run by that would have put Hartford Public up four touchdowns at halftime got wiped out for an illegal block, an exasperated coach Harry Bellucci turned to his team and yelled, “If we break another one, nobody block anybody! They are not going to catch us!”
Simsbury coach Dave Masters said he’d get previously unheard of questions from his varsity players. “One asked me, ‘Coach, what’s intentional grounding?’ and I was like, oh boy. We have a long way to go.”
Fairfield Prep coach Keith Hellstern watched his team get burned by Hand on a trick play for points in the first half of the Jesuits’ eventual 29-16 victory, “which I wasn’t too thrilled about,” he said.
“I think you saw in the paper a lot of people saying, ‘What didn’t we go over?’ We didn’t go over ‘Jailhouse’ or ‘Swing-Gate.’ Shame on us. We’ll be in a better spot next time.”
Regardless of all the mistakes, tentativeness and general confusion that plagued most of Connecticut’s programs, coaches and players alike described overwhelming feelings of euphoria on their return to the playing field.
“It was honestly such a thrill just touching a ball for the first time in a real game in over — what? — 600 hundred days? It was surreal,” said Xavier senior captain D.J. Wright, who scored three touchdowns in the No. 8-ranked Falcons victory over Norwich Free Academy.
And it wasn’t just the players.
“It is just great to be back on the football field and seeing the Friday night lights,” New Fairfield coach Anthony Fata said. “My stomach was in knots before the game and I wasn’t even playing.”
“I just like being a football coach.”
— Jennifer Stango Garzone, who made state history for becoming the first female to win as a head coach in a 26-14 victory over Platt Tech.