BERLIN - For the Berlin football defense, itâ€™s all about legs this week.
After spending 48 minutes on the field Tuesday, successfully stopping Watertownâ€™s attack, the Redcoats won their Class M playoff opener, 27-14.
No. 4-seed Berlin (9-2) will have its toughest test of the season today as it faces the undefeated No. 1 seed, Killingly (11-0).
Tuesday, the Redcoats finally managed to figure out how to stop their opponentâ€™s run game - perfect timing because one thing the Killingly Redmen like to do is run the ball.
Killingly has the stateâ€™s top running back in Spencer Lockwood. With a whopping 2,761 rushing yards this season on 276 carries, Lockwood averages about 10 yards per carry and 251 yards per game. The 5-foot-11 back has scored 38 rushing touchdowns this season along with two receiving touchdowns.
â€śHeâ€™s the leading state rusher right now, obviously a great athlete,â€ť Berlin quarterback Kevin Dunn said. â€śThey have a really good team, really good offense, so we have to practice a game plan for him, for the whole team, and hopefully execute at a high level.â€ť
Lineman Greg Carson added, â€ś[Lockwood is] a good player, and Killingly has a good line. If you watch the film their line creates big holes for the kid. You know heâ€™s a big player, heâ€™s got big arms. We just have to tackle him low and hit him hard.â€ť
Killingly also relies on Zach Caffrey to get the ball down the field. Caffrey has carried the ball 104 times this season for 862 yards and 11 touchdowns.
â€śTheir running backs are good, but weâ€™re ready to stop them,â€ť defensive back Matt Wojciechowski said. â€śWeâ€™re confident we can stop the run.â€ť
Berlin head coach Joe Aresimowicz said Killingly is not your typical perennial power. Although they are undefeated, they play in a smaller league. The Redmen play in the Eastern Connecticut Conference and have claimed the state title twice, once in 1981 and again in 1996. Since then, Killingly has been to the state semifinals in each of the past three years.
This season alone, Killingly has a total of 4,354 offensive yards and 499 points.
â€śTheyâ€™ve had success and theyâ€™re a really good team,â€ť Aresimowicz said. â€śIf you break down the film, itâ€™s tough to find flaws. Theyâ€™re tough to game plan against.
â€śComparable for me, I was watching a 1977 [film of] Berlin High School, their first playoff appearance that we had for the championship, and itâ€™s the same type of football.
â€śItâ€™s going back in time, theyâ€™re just going to try to run the ball on you and itâ€™s going to be aÂ test of our kids, how hard they want to get after it and fill these holes. If you give that Lockwood a little space, heâ€™s gone.â€ť
The coach said the teams are alike.
â€śSize-wise, I think theyâ€™re a little bigger, but skill-wise I think weâ€™re a little better,â€ť Aresimowicz said. â€śWe are what we call town programs. A lot of the kids played youth football coming up together, coaches at the high school are involved in the youth level, itâ€™s the same deal here. Itâ€™s going to be interesting.â€ť
If there were a time to execute at a high level it would be now. The Redcoats have had success this season, but not without a few bumps in the road.
All season long, the young team has seen how mistakes can affect the outcome of the game. Like Tuesday, Berlin will have to play another game of mistake-free football.
â€śIâ€™m over-critical of the mistakes the kids make. Itâ€™s high school football, thereâ€™s always going to be a penalty, thereâ€™s always going to be a missed assignment, thereâ€™s always going to be a turnover. We just had to limit those,â€ť Aresimowicz said.
â€śI over-preach about the mistakes in an effort to try to eliminate them. Itâ€™s going to be one of those games [where] weâ€™re going to have to play nearly mistake-free football, from assignments to turnovers, penalties, coaching decisions and execution.
â€śAnd we got to get a couple breaks, they have to make some mistakes.â€ť