Tolland Has Ugly Loss To Rocky Hill

TOLLAND-The Tolland High football team entered Friday night’s game against Rocky Hill with a record of 3-1 and 2-0 in the Central Connecticut Conference. The Eagles had played very well on both ends in their four contests, and had the opportunity to impress even more by beating the undefeated Terriers. Instead, Tolland harshly failed the challenged, taking a big step back at Rocky Hill’s hands.

Tolland (3-2) fell behind early to Rocky Hill (5-0) and the game kept going worse from there, eventually ending in a 45-0 loss. The defense failed to stop big plays and both tackle and cover efficiently, while the offense was sloppy and unable to sustain drives, only once entering Rocky Hill’s red zone. The Terriers were led by running back Joe Catania, who scored three touchdowns, and quarterback Danny Cavallaro and wide receiver Matt Osgood, who teamed up for three TDs.

“Rocky Hill is just a great program. Talking to the team, we were seeing Rocky Hill is the type of program we strive to be,” Tolland head coach Alex Backus said. “They’re fast and aggressive. We knew what was coming and we couldn’t stop it. That’s just great execution on their part.”

Rocky Hill took control over Tolland early by scoring two touchdowns in the first quarter. After the Eagles opening drive of the game went nowhere, the Terriers took over and showcased their excellent running game. Catania and Joseph Ferreira pounded and weaved their way through Tolland’s defensive front and to a touchdown, with Catania scoring from just over the goal line.

Following another brief Eagles possession, the Terriers again went on a scoring                                                                                       drive ending on a rushing touchdown. Catania obtained the most important play, bouncing the ball out to the sideline corner and escaping from multiple defenders, eventually taking it all the way down to the goal line. Two plays later, Catania pounded the ball in to give the Terriers a 14-0 lead.

On both offensive possessions in the first, Tolland did a poor job of executing plays and blocking Rocky Hill defenders, most noticeably on third-down plays. Its ball handlers had little time to be creative with the ball and find holes, and this flaw would stay with the Eagles all 60 minutes. On defense, they were unable to execute on consecutive downs and play efficiently at tackling, spacing and reading plays. As Backus acknowledged, when you fail in these areas against the Terriers smart and skilled offensive standouts, you will pay.

Rocky Hill secured the win in the second by scoring 17 points, taking a 31-0 lead into halftime. Tolland’s offense appeared more efficient on its opening drive, but then fumbled the ball on a run following a powerful hit, with the ball recovered by a Terrier tackle in the Eagles territory. The THS defense stepped up in the red zone, stopping Rocky Hill on multiple runs near the goal line with powerful tackles. A short field goal gave the Terriers a 17-0 lead with 5:30 remaining in the half.

Down by 17, Tolland needed a big play on the drive to get back into the game before the half, and began shifting to more passing plays. This move was unfortunately unsuccessful, as summed up by the deep second down pass quarterback Ryan Carlson and Jonny Lindquist failed to connect upon. Lindquist beat the coverage and appeared to be able to score or at least reach the red zone if he caught Carlson’s attractive throw, but the ball bounced off his fingertips. Carlson’s third down pass was also incomplete.

Rocky Hill overwhelmed Tolland in the final 4:30 of the first half, scoring two touchdowns to bring its lead to 31-0. First, Catania scored his final touchdown from roughly 20 yards out with a burst down the sideline that left defenders out of position. The Terriers defense than caused and recovered a second fumble, with it again coming off a pinpoint hit. Finally, Osgood caught his first touchdown on a deep floating pass from Cavallaro in the corner of the end zone, with the ball going straight into his hands.

Backus provided clear examples of how his team made mistakes on both sides of the ball, allowing Rocky Hill to take full advantage of their skills.

“I don’t question our effort on defense, but I question our execution and discipline in terms of making correct reads and not just jumping around allowing opponents to run wild. And we must display better fundamentals in terms of making tackles and shedding blocks,” Backus said.

“On offense, it was pretty similar. We had situations with receivers open, and I told them after the game that it comes down to one missed block, someone not being surehanded, passes being slightly off. You can find one mistake in every play for why it didn’t work.”

Tolland’s defense played better in the second half, but the offense continued to be stymied. The passing game was inefficient for a variety of reasons in the third, including Carlson being pressured consistently and having little time to set his feet and pass (he was tackled for a loss or sacked multiple times), poor accuracy, and receivers failing to get in good position or break free of coverages. The fourth followed the same script, with the Eagles final offensive play being a short pass on 4th down and 12.

Cavallaro and Osgood connected for one touchdown in each quarter. First, they put Rocky Hill up 38-0 late in the third. Osgood gained a step on his cornerback and caught a midfield pass in Tolland territory, before proceeding to glide past him and other defenders on a smooth touchdown route. Early in the fourth, Cavallaro fired a score to Osgood right inside the goal line, despite it being well-defended.

The loss was Tolland’s second, with the first coming two weeks ago to Bloomfield 27-15. The Eagles remain 2-0 in the Central Connecticut East Division III.

Backus was proud of players’ effort despite the disappointing results, and believes Tolland has much to learn from the loss.

“I think none of these kids quit at all during the game,” he said. “For 48 minutes, they worked hard and tried their best to stay disciplined. It just comes down to getting more repetitions and becoming more well-developed players.”

The Eagles entered Friday night with strong wins against RHAM, Avon and East Catholic. Backus attributed the success to playing aggressively and fundamentally well. After an off week, they will try to rebound from the loss to Rocky Hill against Northwest Catholic.

“I told them after the game we just need to get up and not let this loss define us the rest of the year,” Backus said. I believe wholeheartedly this group can improve if they execute and be a great team at the end of the year.”

 

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