MERIDEN - The final scoreboard, which read 35-7 in favor of Maloney during Wednesday nightâ€™s Class L quarterfinals, may have suggested a game that was far out of reach for the Berlin football team, but the Redcoats left Falcon Field mulling over a handful of broken plays that could have significantly altered the narrative of their season-ending loss.
â€śThe score was that big of a difference because of the little things,â€ť wide receiver Joe Caracoglia said after ending the night with a touchdown reception and an interception. â€śWe definitely had a lot of little mistakes and it would have been a lot different if we had just executed better.â€ť
The plays that Berlin (8-3) put under the microscope after the game began almost immediately.
On the opening kickoff, Maloney (10-1) drove a low line drive right off the leg of a Redcoats player up front, and the carom bounced right back to the Spartans. Berlin responded by forcing a 3rd down and 10 at its own 14-yard line, but Maloney quarterback Angel Arce saved the drive for the Spartans by dropping a touchdown pass into the lap of Kamron Moreno to avoid a likely field goal attempt. It was the first of four touchdown connections between Arce and Moreno on the night.
â€śItâ€™s a backbreaker for the kids that are out there competing,â€ť head coach Joe Aresimowicz said of the close calls that eventually doomed Berlin. â€śBut good teams with good athletes, if youâ€™re in the wrong spot, theyâ€™re going to make you pay, and they were able to do that.â€ť
The Redcoats came up one play short once again later in the first quarter.
After a well-executed punt by Justin Skates pinned Maloney back at its own 9-yard line, running back James Tarver broke off an 83-yard run to give the Spartans a first down at the Redcoatsâ€™ 11. But Berlinâ€™s defense held tough on two straight plays to force another 3rd-and-10, but Arce and Moreno linked up for another touchdown, leaving the Redcoats two defensive plays short of ending the first quarter with a 7-6 or 7-0 lead rather than a 14-7 deficit.
â€śItâ€™s a shot to the gut,â€ť senior defensive lineman Jake Holmes said. â€śYouâ€™re thinking youâ€™re going to get a stop and go back on offense, and they put together plays like that.â€ť
The defense wasnâ€™t the only unit that came up just a play or two short of making Wednesdayâ€™s final score look a lot different than the eventual outcome.
After the defense sacked Arce to force a Maloney punt midway through the second quarter, the Redcoats offense marched from their own 26 down to the Spartansâ€™ 3-yard line, setting up first down and goal to go. But a chop block penalty pushed Berlin back to the 15, leaving Aresimowicz no choice but to try and open up the playbook, and a double reverse from Elijah Crowley to Jamie Palmese was fumbled and recovered by Maloney, leaving the Redcoats off the scoreboard.
â€śWe were inside the 10 twice and came away with no points,â€ť Aresimowicz said. â€śThat just canâ€™t happen.â€ť
Berlin was considered an underdog heading into Wednesdayâ€™s contest. More injuries suffered in its season finale against New Britain left the Redcoats even more shorthanded, and the Spartans simply boasted more athleticism on both sides of the field. But Berlin reached the state tournament by masking its physical deficiencies for most of the season, only to have a handful of crucial plays expose those shortcomings. The final score suggested a blowout, but the game was one more stop or one less penalty away from looking a lot different.
â€śIt really came down to a few mistakes,â€ť Holmes said. â€śThe defense was out there for awhile on some of them, and they took advantage of it.â€ť
Ryan Chichester can be reached at (860) 801-5094 or firstname.lastname@example.org