NEW BRITAIN - The New Britain football teams knows whatâ€™s at stake.
The 16th-ranked Hurricanes (6-1) also embracing the challenge.
For the second time this season, New Britain will play in what amounts to a playoff-type game when it hosts No. 13 East Hartford (6-1) tonight with the chance to show the Hurricanes are as good as their record indicates.
â€śEverything is on the line right now,â€ť senior linebacker Robert Zapor said. â€śWeâ€™re the eighth seed [in the Class LL rankings] with one loss and theyâ€™re right below us. Whoever loses this game, the chance of making the playoffs goes down. We know that. We know every game on the rest of the schedule, teams are going to test us and take that away from us. We just need to go into every game with the mentality of every team is trying to end our season.â€ť
At the same time, the Hurricanes certainly have their work cut out for them.
The Hornets come in with an explosive offense thanks to a number of playmakers. East Hartford is averaging 38.9 points per game, which did drop a little after the Hornets suffered their first loss of the season last week to Southington - the team that also handed New Britain its only loss this year - 42-27.
Against the Blue Knights, East Hartford lost two 14-point leads in the first half and scored just a single touchdown after halftime, despite racking up 427 yards of total offense, meaning the Hurricanes are expecting a team just as motivated as they are.
Raquan Tompkins, the Hornetsâ€™ quarterback, was responsible for 352 of those yards and three touchdowns. The key cog that makes East Hartfordâ€™s offensive unit go, the senior completed 14-of-29 passes for 258 yards last week, while leading his team in rushing after collecting 92 yards on 24 attempts.
Then thereâ€™s Tompkinsâ€™ favorite target in Jaquan Allen. The two have put up some gaudy numbers this season and connected on 7 passes last week with Allen finishing with 157 yards (22.4 yards per catch) and a touchdown, which went for 62 yards. The week before against Enfield, the wideout hauled in 11 catches for 270 yards and four scores.
Perhaps a forgotten component of East Hartfordâ€™s offense at times is running back David Ortiz, although he was held to just 31 yards on 13 carries by Southington. Heâ€™s replaced Kevon Jones, who is now starting at linebacker for UConn and was responsible for doing the most damage against New Britain last season.
â€śTheir quarterback is good,â€ť Hurricanes head coach Tebucky Jones said. â€śHe has a strong arm and can run if he gets out of the pocket. Theyâ€™re receivers are fast. Theyâ€™re just a fast, athletic team. We have to make sure we play fundamental football. We canâ€™t go out there making mistakes. Defense has to swarm to the ball and do what weâ€™ve been doing all season.â€ť
New Britain, however, is coming off another strong performance on defense after holding Glastonbury to just 125 yards of total offense last week in a 44-10 rout. In the win, the Hurricanes came away with three sacks, forced three fumbles, recovering two, and a safety.
As good as New Britainâ€™s offense, particularly its running game, has been this season, its defense has also continued to play at a high level. The Hurricanes have only give up more than 14 points twice this season - against Manchester (26 points) and Southington (27). And overall, opponents are scoring an average of 12 points against New Britain this season.
Itâ€™s part of the reason the Hurricanes have outscored teams 118-46 in the first half of games this year and 120-27 in the second.
And East Hartford has shown it can be turnover prone. Thompkins tossed four interceptions last week with three coming after halftime.
â€śTheyâ€™re going to try and test us with the deep ball,â€ť Zapor said. â€śTeams have done that in the past and our [defensive backs] have answered the bell. Once they do that this week, theyâ€™re going to try to run the ball and our linebackers and D-line have to put a stop to that too. We need to keep our bend-donâ€™t-break mentality weâ€™ve been having throughout the whole season the whole game.â€ť
Of course, while the Hornetsâ€™ offense has had little trouble scoring points, their defense has had a tendency to give up a few. The fewest points East Hartford has given up this season was seven to a winless South Windsor in the season opener. Since then, opponents havenâ€™t scored less than 16 points, including at least 21 over the past five games.
New Britain would certainly like to continue to do whatâ€™s made it successful all season on offense and thatâ€™s run the football. The Hurricanes stand a good chance to do that again tonight.
East Hartford allowed Southington, a team that has struggled at times to get its run game going, to rush for 245 yards with 210 coming from Tanner LaRosa. New Britainâ€™s leading back, Shawn Robinson, has only been held to under 100 yards rushing in two games this season and thatâ€™s only because he was held out with some injuries.
Against Glastonbury, Robinson ran for 155 yards and two touchdowns, while quarterback Tahje Yopp ran for 104 and three scores.
â€śWe just have to do our job, simple as that,â€ť Robinson said of what the offense needs to do to be successful. â€śTheir linebackers flow and try to get the ball. Every time we play them itâ€™s athletes against athletes. Itâ€™s going to be one of those types of games. We have to make sure weâ€™re consistent and play how we play.â€ť
That of course, will be the key, especially in a matchup like tonight.
â€śItâ€™s all about doing what weâ€™ve done all season,â€ť Jones said. â€śRun the ball and play sound defense. If we do that, weâ€™ll be fine.â€ť
David Glovach can be reached at (860) 801-5085 or firstname.lastname@example.org