NEW BRITAIN - Before the season even started, the Berlin football team had one thing on its mind - making it back to the playoffs after an early exit in 2016.
And although the Redcoats made it back to the postseason this year, reaching the Class M semifinals, their ending was less than an ideal one at the hands, or feet, of Killingly.
There had been plenty of questions surrounding the team as the summer turned into the fall. Berlin had lost some of its most important and best players at key positions and who would emerge and fill those roles, particularly at quarterback after the departures of Jack Hamel and Jack Lynch, were the cause of much speculation. Having to replace the senior leadership was another.
But the Redcoats seemed to do what they have always done, just plug and play and watch the wins, nine to be exact, roll in.
“This was a hell of a season, my senior year, I’m proud of all these guys,” senior lineman Greg Carson said. “I’m proud of the seniors, I’m proud of the juniors. I’m proud of the sophomores. I’m proud of the freshman. Coming into the season they said, ‘Berlin lost a whole bunch of their seniors, [they’re going] 5-5, 6-4. We proved everyone wrong, we made it to semis, didn’t get the ring, didn’t even make it to states but I still gotta say, this is my last note and I’m proud of it.”
Despite the critics, when Berlin stepped between the white lines, there was usually little doubt which was the better team and in the end, the Redcoats were often better coached, better prepared and simply more talented. Berlin showed a knack for most of the season for being able to win close games as well as come away with the lopsided victory.
The Redcoats, it turned out, were a better, more complete team than they were a year ago and as a result, nine players were rewarded with all-conference honors. Introducing a new offensive coordinator to the coaching staff this year in Mike Eagle, who had been the head coach at Guilford and the Morgan School in Clinton, helped.
“Bringing Mike Eagle on this year and adding him to our coaching staff, he’s just a great guy, very positive influence for the kids,” Berlin head coach Joe Aresimowicz said. “We’re not yellers, we’re not screamers, we genuinely care about these kids and we want the best for them. We work them hard, but we’re not the old school football coaches and I like that, hopefully they walk away from their three, four years as varsity football players and our happy.”
But in all came back to who would be the team’s primary signal caller and fill Hamel’s cleats. The answer would be Kevin Dunn and luckily for the junior, the transition for a first-year varsity quarterback wasn’t terribly difficult. Dunn put a lot of work into the off season, even working with a quarterback coach to make sure he was well equipped for this season.
There were some ups and downs along the way, but overall, it was a solid season for the quarterback as he threw for 1,824 yards and 19 touchdowns to 13 interceptions. With one full season already under his belt, Dunn could be in for a big senior year.
His favorite target, Giancarlo Tufano, ended up doing little bit of everything for the Redcoats from offense, to defense, to special teams and finished 2017 with 35 catches for 469 yards and six scores. Tufano is also the team’s leading kicker, making four field goals and converted on 32 of his 37 extra points.
Offensively, Berlin had multiple rushers who were able to carry the ball and score the points when need be. Junior Alex Halkias led the pack with 113 carries for 786 yards and eight touchdowns, averaging 7.0 yards per carry, while senior James Mazzarella finished out his career with 66 carries for 270 yards and three touchdowns. Larry St. Pierre added another 157 yards and three scores on 36 carries.
One of the Redcoats youngest starters, sophomore Zach Hrubiec, had 42 carries on 216 yards and three touchdowns. With plenty of room to grow, there will be no doubt that he will have a bigger role next season.
Hrubiec and Mazzarella also played on the defensive side of the ball and make plenty of impacts. The two combined for 199 total tackles. But, it was senior safety Matt Wojciechowski who might have had the most consistent impact week-in and week-out. Wojciechowski led the Redcoats in tackles this year, collecting a total of 130, averaging 10.8 tackles per game.
There were also plenty of playmakers at the other levels as well. Sophomore Tony Undercuffler led the team with five interceptions, while Hrubiec carried the team in sacks (7).
As a result, Berlin proved to be a tough defense when everything went has it should have. This season, the Redcoats allowed their opponents to score average of just 16.7 points per game and posted shutouts three times this season - never an easy feat - against Bulkeley/HMTC/Weaver, Northwest Catholic and Avon.
Berlin will be losing some key members of that defense, but will be bringing back plenty of talent.
“This past season was a tough one for us,” Halkias said. “We enjoyed the ride and we’ll miss our seniors but we’ll be back next year. Next year we’re trying to get back to this stage, we’ll be missing a couple key players but a couple young guys are going to be stepping up for us.”
Although 9-3 isn’t exactly how Berlin wanted to end things, there was still plenty to be proud of. And as one chapter on the football program has closed, another one is set to begin shortly, one the program is hoping will lead to bigger and better things.
Only time and another season will tell.
Shelby Iava can be reached at (860) 801-5096 or firstname.lastname@example.org
On Twitter: @shelbyiava