BERLIN - Berlin football head coach Joe Aresimowicz is looking to claim his first high school playoff win.
Last season, the Redcoats watched a possible victory slip away when starting quarterback Jack Hamel was taken out in the first drive. Berlin was unable to adapt to adversity in its 30-12 loss to Valley Regional.
“Hopefully it’ll be different this year and we don't see the same type of adversity,” Aresimowicz said. “And if we do, we’ll be able to overcome it.”
Berlin will find out as it faces off against fifth-seeded Watertown (8-2) at home (Sage Park) tonight at 6:30 p.m. in the CIAC Class M quarterfinals.
The Indians will be making their first playoff appearance since 1986, the same year they won their last state title, beating Platt 31-0 for the Class S-I state championship.
This year, Watertown only has two blemishes on its season record, St. Paul (46-32) and Naugatuck (27-13). The Indians average 39.1 points per game, and have one recorded one shtout, against Sacred Heart/Kaynor RVT.
Most of Watertown’s success has been a result of establishing a run game. The Indians rely on receiver John Deptula and running back Adam Alenckis to get the points up on the scoreboard.
“They have a really good running back and great receivers,” quarterback Kevin Dunn said. “They’re all around good playoff team. Their quarterback is really good, really elusive great athlete.”
Berlin’s defense will have its work cut out for them. In Watertown’s latest game against Torrington, Alenckis carried the ball 13 times for 251 yards and four touchdowns, while Deptula rushed it three times for 69 yards with two touchdowns.
The Redcoats also have to watch out for, as Dunn notes, dual-threat quarterback Nick D’Elia. Last week, D’Elia completed 10 of his 15 attempts for 202 yards with four touchdowns, while rushing 84 yards on four carries, including a 56-yard touchdown.
“They’re a great team,” running back Alex Halkias said. “They balance the attack, good quarterback, good running back, running backs actually and they have a good defense. They’re aggressive, so it’s going to be a challenge. The biggest thing for us is to tackle better. As we saw in the New Britain game, we weren’t tackling very well so we if we clean that up I think we’ll be fine.”
Tackling isn’t the only thing the Redcoats need to do well. They also have to increase their focus. One issue they have been struggling with is playing mistake free football.
“We need to execute at a high level,” Aresimowicz said. “We need to limit the mistakes. Mistakes have been our achilles heel the entire year, we can't make mistakes. We have to take advantage of any mistakes they make, and really play with a confidence.”
It should help that Berlin is back to its full, healthy roster. Against New Britain two weeks ago, Aresimowicz held out running backs Halkias and Zach Hrubiec due to medical reasons, while Larry St. Pierre sat because of disciplinary reasons.
“All the boys are back and ready to go,” Aresimowicz said. “What we did is we really rested a lot of kids against New Britain. People look at the score - New Britain played a great game I’m not going to take that away from them - but we were missing five key starters, but it was the right move.
“It wasn't going to change our seating at all and we knew we had Watertown unless some crazy things happened, so we really started preparing and doing what we needed to do, resting guys and getting the bumps and bruises taken care of so we can get ready for a playoff run, and that's the position we’re in now.”
And as the Redcoats get ready for what they hope will be a sustained playoff push this year, the players believe they are in the right situation going forward.
“The past two weeks have been very helpful,” running back James Mazzarella said. “We got a few of our guys to regenerate and get ready for this game. It also gave us a lot of time to come together as a team. We practiced the little stuff, your steps, your blocks, all the catches and routes, the plays, to refresh our memories and just get us ready.”
It’ll be interesting to see what Dunn does on the field tonight. Last year during playoffs, he saw his first extended varsity actions as Hamel was helped off the field.
Dunn, alongside with St. Pierre, was used in trying to replace Hamel. The two players combined completed three of eight pass attempts for 60 yards, a touchdown and three interceptions (all by St. Pierre).
Dunn started all 10 regular season games, completing 66.4 percent of his passes for 1,512 yards with 15 touchdowns and eight interceptions. He’s also run for 119 yards and three touchdowns on 42 carries. And Berlin knows the offense only plays as well as the quarterback leading it.
“It’s very clear, when Kevin Dunn has a good day, we’re a darn good team,” Aresimowicz said.
Shelby Iava can be reached at (860) 801-5096 or firstname.lastname@example.org
On Twitter: @shelbyiava