NEWÂ BRITAINÂ - If there is anything to take away from the New Britain-Berlin football rivalry, itâ€™s team records hardly matter.
The way the last couple of Wishbone Bowl meetings have gone, the only thing that counts is what a team does toward the end of the game.
In 2015, the Redcoats won on a final-second field goal. Last season, Berlin once again came out on top after scoring a touchdown in overtime, clinching a Class M playoff spot in the process.
â€śThey donâ€™t call it a rivalry game for no reason,â€ť Hurricanes quarterback Jahfari Newman said. â€śThe New Britain-Berlin game has been around for a long time, before me, before a lot of us. You have to carry on that tradition. My dad played in this game, things like that. It just means a lot to the city and to the players.â€ť
Tonightâ€™s game, which returns to Veterans Stadium after a year at Sage Park, might not have the same stakes as last season, but remains important nonetheless, bragging rights aside.
For New Britain (4-5), a win would prevent its first losing season since 2013. A victory for the Redcoats (8-1), who are currently ranked third in the Class M playoff rankings, could go a long way in helping them secure a top-4 spot, meaning a postseason home game.
â€śLike we do every week, weâ€™re just going to go in with a positive mindset,â€ť Newman said. â€śWe want the seniors to go out strong, so thatâ€™s probably our main goal.â€ť
If those last two meetings are any indication, it certainly wonâ€™t be easy. The two teams have recently played one another every season since 2009, with Berlin having had slightly more success on the Hurricanesâ€™ home field than the actual home team.
Out of the seven times the two have met at Veterans Stadium since then, the Redcoats have won four, and five of the last eight matchups overall, although New Britain has outscored Berlin 174-166 during that same stretch.
The Hurricanes also havenâ€™t been able to win back-to-back games since the start of last year and are just 2-2 at home this season, averaging 31.3 points per game while giving up 28.5 points to opponents. The Redcoats, meanwhile, are 3-1 and average 29.5 points per game away from Sage Park.
â€ś[Berlin is] a pretty good team in general,â€ť New Britain offensive and defensive lineman Devon Bishop said. â€śThey have a lot of really good players. Itâ€™s going to be a dogfight on both sides of the ball.â€ť
That means it is going to be important for the Hurricanes to stick to the game plan they installed throughout the week. When New Britain finds itself in trouble in games, it is often a result of players deviating from the play design.
And for the most part this season, outside of last weekâ€™s loss to Rocky Hill, the Redcoats have been able to take advantage of other teamsâ€™ mistakes, having outscored opponents 270-86. As an offense, Berlin likes to try to remain as balanced as possible, averaging 157.1 passing yards per game and 154.0 rushing.
â€śIâ€™ve seen them more in a spread and (running three wide receivers, one running back) more than the previous years,â€ť Hurricanes head coach Tebucky Jones said. â€śA lot of booting, trap blocks by the fullback this year. A little bit different stuff than in previous years. So for us on defense, the biggest part is the [defensive backs] doing their jobs. When weâ€™re in man-to-man you have to cover your guy, and when weâ€™re in zone, we have to make sure we get in the right drops. Usually the front does pretty well, itâ€™s more on the back end.â€ť
But the Redcoats will most likely be without some of their biggest playmakers on offense. Running backs Alex Halkais (614 rushing yards, eight touchdowns; 264 receiving yards, four touchdowns) and Zach Hrubiec (216 rushing yards, three touchdowns) are doubtful for tonight with injuries. Receiver/running back Larry St. Pierre (137 rushing yards, three touchdowns; 349 receiving yards, three touchdowns) will also be out for disciplinary reasons, meaning Berlin could be without three of its top four rushers.
That leaves running back James Mazzarella and tight end Giancarlo Tufano as the primary targets for first-year starting quarterback Kevin Dunn. But Mazzarella has proven to be versatile as well this season. He is second on the team in rushing, with 226 yards, and also has 229 receiving yards. Tufano leads the Redcoats in catches (27), yards (382) and touchdowns (4).
Dunn has been able to manage the game well this season, completing 66.7 percent of his passes for 1,411 yards and 14 touchdowns to six interceptions.
â€śWe just have to play hard all the way through because we tend to let up in the second half,â€ť Hurricanes running back and safety Kaiyon Gunn said. â€śThatâ€™s when we start to lose our energy. I just think we need to go hard the whole half and weâ€™ll be fine.â€ť
Offensively, New Britain isnâ€™t expecting to see anything too different from Berlinâ€™s defense than it has seen in past seasons, with the Redcoats employing a 3-3, 3-4 look with quarter zone coverage.
Berlin has been apt at coming up with big plays, particularly in the secondary. Safety Matthew Wojciechowski leads the team in total tackles, with 95, while fellow defensive back Tony Undercuffler leads the Redcoats with three interceptions. On the season overall, Berlinâ€™s defensive unit has 17 sacks, nine interceptions and 11 fumble recoveries and has given up more than 14 points just once, which happened in their only loss this season.
But in their close games, against RHAM, Bloomfield and Rocky Hill, the Redcoats have had trouble stopping the run, which is an area New Britain has been able to excel at during what has been an up-and-down year. In order to be effective and score points, the Hurricanes will need to have running backs Gunn, Shawn Robinson and Muhammed Codjoe consistently gain positive yards. Robinson has six games of 100 rushing yards or more this season.
â€śItâ€™s no secret our run game is the best part of our team,â€ť Bishop said. â€śI feel like weâ€™re going to be able to run the ball and do what we do best.â€ť
New Britain is no doubt ready for the challenge tonight.
â€śWe just have to go out there and play football,â€ť Jones said. â€śClose game, blowout game, the goal is to win. It seems like a lot of our games we lose our intensity. We have to come out and execute.â€ť
David Glovach can be reached at (860) 801-5085 or email@example.com
On Twitter: @DavidGlovach