SHELTON - It was a short, brief moment that last just a couple of seconds. Berlin head football coach Joe Aresimowicz made it that way intentionally.
The Redcoats had just finished the ceremonial handshake line with St. Joseph Saturday evening and as the Cadets ran around the field to celebrate their Class M state championship - a 70-18 win - Berlin huddled up near its sideline where the coach spoke before the final team breakdown of the season.
The long conversation, the one to reflect upon the season, to tell the players what they had been able to accomplish despite a less than ideal outcome, that would wait until after the team made the made the 40 minute trip back to Berlin and was in its own locker room. The players deserved as much. It was too important to be said on a cold and windy field that night.
But in the moment, Aresimowicz wanted his players to know that while they suffered a tough loss, they had plenty to be proud of.
“I told them that this game doesn’t define us,” Aresimowicz said. “I told them that I loved them.”
And in that moment, the head coach wasn’t wrong.
Yes, it hurt the coaches and the players they weren’t bring home a trophy. It’s understandable. There’s hours upon hours, days, weeks and months that are put into three hours for 10 (or more) nights in the fall for them not to care. And in the Redcoats’ case, it was years in the making the reach this point.
There were the sanctions in 2015 that stripped the program of its wins heading into the season finale against New Britain that cost the program a shot at making it back to the state championship, which it had lost the season before. There were the tough postseason losses in 2016 and 2017, including a semifinal loss to Killingly.
But there was also the ability that the head coach made sure to point out - the one to come together when things began to get tough. That’s part of the reason that made this group of players, the one that will graduate with a 30-9 record over the last three seasons, so good.
There was not only that trust factor amongst the players and the coaches, there was the belief that they were going to come out with a win no matter the circumstances.
“These are my brothers,” senior receiver Giancarlo Tufano. “They fight, fight, fight and the coaches, they fight with us. They always have our backs. That’s just how it is. It’s that family mentality, win mentality, hard work. We didn’t give up and that’s what it’s all about. We never gave up and kept fighting and got to a state championship.”
And that’s why taking out the final result, it’s important to realize that for Berlin to get to where it did was no small accomplishment.
Entering the season, the Redcoats had a few key positions to replace such as all-purpose back James Mazzarella and safety Matt Wojciechowski and defensive lineman Kevin Stafstrom, who were the team’s top three tacklers with more than 100 each.
But as always, Berlin didn’t miss a beat. In fact, the Redcoats got even better. They went from averaging 25.8 points per game on offense in 2017 to 34.9 and from allowing 16.7 points per game to 14.6 on defense. (That number drops down to 10.0 if you take out the 70 St. Joseph scored Saturday).
Quarterback Kevin Dunn broke his own school single-season passing record this year after completing 60.3 percent of his passes for 2,204 yards and 28 touchdowns to just seven interceptions. And as it’s been state so many times before, he’s had plenty of playmakers to rely on.
Six different players have caught at least 10 passes and two touchdowns this season, with three of them totaling at least 23 catches, 500 yards and five touchdowns. Alex Halkias (27 catches, 564 yards, 6 scores), Tufano (34 catches, 524 yards, 7 touchdowns), Larry St. Pierre (24 catches, 503 yards, 7 touchdowns), Zach Hrubiec (23 catches, 289 yards, 4 touchdowns), Andrew Brochu (16 catches, 188 yards, 2 touchdowns) and Marco Scarano (12 catches, 157 yards, 2 scores) have all taken turns as players teams have to account for at different times in games.
They also happened to be multi-dimensional as well, meaning if opponents take away the pass, they can cause damage on the ground. Halkias (1,054 yards, 15 touchdowns), Scarano (390 yards, 6 touchdowns), Hrubiec (372 yards, 4 touchdowns) and St. Pierre (353 yards, 4 touchdowns) all proved they were capable of doing just that. Even Dunn, perhaps the most underrated of the group, was able to frustrate teams with his running ability. He’s rushed for 344 yards and four touchdowns on just 42 attempts (8.2 yards per carry).
Defensively, Domenic Scarano and Marco Scarano, a sophomore, emerged as some of the best playmakers on the unit. Marco finished with a team-leading 139 total tackles, including 22 for loss. Domenic had 102 with 15 for loss. Hrubiec (96 tackles, 25 tackles for loss, 7 sacks), Tyler Tralli (83 tackles), Tony Undercuffler (4 interceptions, 11 pass breakups) and Tyler Dinkins (7 pass breakups, 42 tackles) also played a big role.
And that only covers a handful of the players who had an impact this season. Much of the ability to have that level of cohesion, had to do with what Tufano had mentioned previously: the team chemistry.
“Making it to the state championship with the guys I’ve been playing with since the third great is something special,” Dunn said. “Even though it’s not the way we wanted it to end, it’s the best year of football I’ve been a part of.”
That, of course, is just the nature of the game sometimes: you win some, you lose some. And when that happens, it’s important to begin the shift to next season. But before that even began, taking another moment to remember this one is just fine.
“Magical kids,” Aresmiowicz said when asked about this team this season. “They played for each other. They trusted the coaches. They were great to have.”
And just like that, the Redcoats headed to their buses for the long bus ride home.
David Glovach can be reached at (860) 8801-5085 or firstname.lastname@example.org