BERLIN - The Berlin football team is confident has it gets ready for its Class M semifinal game Sunday afternoon. It just won’t be easy with the Redcoats up against the class’ No. 1 seed and undefeated Killingly (11-0).
This will be the first ever meeting between the two programs with plenty at stake. Berlin is looking to get into the championship game for the first time since 2014, while the Redmen are trying to take the next step after reaching the playoffs in each of the last three seasons.
Killingly is in the Eastern Connecticut Conference and have claimed the state title twice, once in 1981 and then again in 1996. Last season, Killingly made is as far as the semifinals when it fell to Hillhouse 49-28.
“They’re having a very good run,” Berlin head coach Joe Aresimowicz said. “They’re not a typical perennial power. They play in a smaller conference, but they’ve had success. They’re a really good team.”
Here are three things we know about the Redmen:
1. Killingly is much more effective at running the ball rather than throwing it
Much of Killingly’s offensive success this season is based upon its run game and running back/linebacker Spencer Lockwood, who leads the state of Connecticut in rushing.
He certainly has the numbers to back it up. Through 11 games this season, Lockwood has rushed a total of 2,761 yards and 38 touchdowns on 276 carries. The senior currently averages 10.0 yards per carry and 251.0 yards per game and much of the Redmen’s offense is to just hand the ball off to Lockwood and see what happens.
In Killingly’s most recent game, Lockwood led the Redmen to a 57-21 victory over Jonathan Law in the quarterfinals. Lockwood carried the ball 25 times for 388 yards and six touchdowns, averaging 15.5 yards per carry.
Alongside Connecticut’s leading rusher, Killingly also relies on fellow senior Zach Caffrey to get the ball down the field. Caffrey has carried the ball 104 times this season on 862 yards and 11 touchdowns.
And as a team, the Redmen have rushed for 4,354 yards and 47 touchdowns, along with averaging 9.0 yards per carry.
Killingly’s passing game, however, has not been as productive. Quarterback Luke Desaulnier has completed 62.5 percent of his passes and has 10 touchdowns to only one interception, but has just thrown for 399 yards.
2. The Redmen can play anywhere
Perfect, untouched, undefeated. However, one wants to phrase it, Killingly went into the postseason with an 10-0 record, including four shutouts against Stonington, Griswold, Bacon Academy and Plainfield.
The Redmen average 45.9 points per game, outscoring their opponents by 31 points or more and have yet to face much of a test from any opponent, including in the first round of the playoffs when as mentioned before, they beat Jonathan Law by 35 points (five touchdowns).
Killingly finished that game with seven rushing touchdowns - six by Lockwood, while Caffrey scored the other - and had another touchdown come via the passing attack. Desaulnier connected with senior receiver Zach Burgess for a 12-yard passing touchdown.
But as effective and dynamic as the Redmen’s offense has been, the defense has been playing at a similar level. The unit has only given up a combined 116 points all season. Caffrey and middle linebacker Matt Phelan lead the Redmen in total tackles. Caffrey has recorded 97 on the season while Phelan has 90. Quinn Gervasio has also had an impact, collecting six sacks thus far.
3. Killingly has become a good team in a short amount of time
The past three seasons have been good for the Redmen as they've enjoyed a rapid turnaround. Over the last few seasons, Killingly has collected a 29-2 record, which is just three wins less than its win total from 2005-14 (32-71). The team won only won two games in 2014, and now it’s lost just twice in three seasons.
This also the second year in a row the Redmen is the only ECC team to reach the semifinals
After Killingly moved into a new school in 2010, enrollment started to increase as well as the level of talent the Redmen were bringing in. With originally 700 students in 2007-08, to now 900, the school has done a lot for the football team’s success. The Redmen also will have the sixth largest enrollment (843) among all 19 ECC teams next year. It will have 388 boys, eighth overall.
The big Killingly team, with even bigger players, will be a tough challenge to take on for the young Berlin football team. Aside from senior running back James Mazzarella, the rest of the Redcoats on the field are underclassmen. Sunday’s game will be led by junior quarterback Kevin Dunn, junior running backs Alex Halkias and Larry St. Pierre and sophomore running back/linebacker Zach Hrubiec.