PLAINVILLE â€“ Two consecutive plays by the Berlin football team at the end of Friday nightâ€™s thriller against Plainville was the perfect way to sum up the banged-up groupâ€™s season so far.
After Blue Devils cornerback Felix La Oz picked off a Justin Skates pass and returned it 71 yards for a game-tying touchdown midway through the fourth quarter, the Redcoats answered with a 4-yard touchdown run with 35 seconds left by Johnny McGeever, who entered the season absent from the depth chart before injuries bumped him to a starting role.
When it was time for the PAT try, freshman Josh Grimm, who joined the team midseason, ran out for the first field goal attempt of his very brief high school career. With starting kicker Aaron Senz sidelined with a shoulder injury after making a tackle on the kickoff to open the second half, Grimm split the uprights to seal a dramatic 20-13 win for the Redcoats, who seem to keep winning despite an ever-increasing body count on the injury report.
â€śI donâ€™t even know what the answers are,â€ť Berlin head coach Joe Aresimowicz said of his teamâ€™s ability to keep winning amid a season of deflating injuries, which have now claimed 14 players after Friday night. â€śBut I know the kids we put on the field are hard-nosed football players. They put themselves on the line, and itâ€™s amazing to watch. This was all the kids. They played with pure heart and dedication.â€ť
It took plenty of heart to bounce back from an improbable Blue Devils rally in the second half. Berlin had missed a number of opportunities to pull away, and with a 13-0 lead in the fourth quarter after an Elijah Crowley touchdown run, Plainville quarterback Christian Collin kept his footing after absorbing a hit in the backfield and scrambled 48 yards for a touchdown, pulling the Blue Devils within seven. Plainvilleâ€™s defense kept the game close after holding its ground at the one-yard line on two straight plays to force a turnover on downs, then tied the score with La Ozâ€™s interception.
Berlin drove into Blue Devils territory and threatened to finally put the game out of reach, but La Oz cut in front of a short out route to send the home crowd into a frenzy.
â€śThe kid read it like he was in our huddle,â€ť Aresimowicz said. â€śThat was a great play.â€ť
Skates redeemed himself with a 30-yard pass to Mark Addamo late in the fourth to set up McGeeverâ€™s heroics, as the junior found the end zone twice for the second week in a row.
â€śI donâ€™t have any words,â€ť said McGeever, who finished with 62 yards and two scores. â€śThat was all just pure emotion and energy that whole drive. Getting up and seeing the scoreboard was an amazing feeling and such a relief.â€ť
Plainville, after putting itself in position to end decades of heartbreak against Berlin, instead was forced to absorb a painful loss after winning in thrilling fashion on a last-minute score by Collin the week before against Tolland.
â€śWe got off to a very slow start and it was hard to dig ourselves out,â€ť Collin said. â€śAs soon as we did, they made some big plays and that solidified the game.â€ť
Plainvilleâ€™s slow start could have been worse had it not been for missed chances by Berlin. Two dropped passes in the end zone spoiled the Redcoats opening drive of the night, but they finished the job on their next possession, using an eight play, 51-yard drive to take a 7-0 lead with just over three minutes remaining in the opening quarter, thanks to McGeeverâ€™s rushing touchdown.
The Redcoats had a chance to extend the lead before halftime and were set up after a 47-yard strike from Skates to Joe Caracoglia. But later in the drive, on fourth and long, Aresimowicz dug deep into his playbook as Skates threw a screen pass to Addamo, who then fired a 26-yard touchdown pass to Jamie Palmese in the end zone, sparking a boisterous celebration from Berlinâ€™s bench. The celebration quickly turned to a heated protest when the officials gathered and determined that Skatesâ€™ screen to Addamo was a forward pass, nixing the touchdown and keeping the score 7-0 at the half.
â€śIt was so close,â€ť Aresimowicz said after rewatching the play on film. â€śI can see why they wondered it. But I think it was still goodâ€¦but my opinion doesnâ€™t matter on that one.â€ť
The play also didnâ€™t matter much thanks to Berlinâ€™s final offensive drive, which helped alleviate the frustration of all of its missed opportunities through the first three quarters of play.
â€śBerlin just made a few more plays than we did down the stretch,â€ť Plainville head coach Tim Shea said. â€śIt was a great game.â€ť
Berlin 20, Plainville 13
Berlin (4-1) 7 0 6 7 - 20
Plainville (4-2) 0 0 0 13 â€“ 13
Berlin: Johnny McGeever 1 run (Senz kick) 3:03
Berlin: Elijah Crowley 8 run (conversion failed) 7:51
Plainville: Christian Collin 48 run (PAT blocked) 9:44
Plainville: Felix La Oz 71 interception (Dylan Brewer kick) 6:27
Berlin: McGeever 4 run (Josh Grimm kick) 0:35
Rushing â€“ Berlin: McGeever 14-63-2TD, Crowley 16-96-TD, Jamie Palmese 7-70; Plainville: Collin 15-113-TD, Beau Lasher 9-44.
Passing â€“ Berlin: Justin Skates 13-24-255-INT; Plainville: Collin 2-15-29.
Receiving â€“ Berlin: Mark Addamo 3-128, McGeever 1-13, Joe Caracoglia 4-83; Plainville: Dylan Hall 2-25.