NEW BRITAIN - As the New Britain football team lined up for its warmup, a familiar phrase broke out amongst the players, “all gas, no breaks.”
And the Hurricanes (7-1) have no intention of taking their foot off the gas anytime soon, especially tonight with New Britain still fighting for a Class LL playoff spot and it possibly being the senior class’ final home game of the season at Veterans Stadium.
“We have to keep our eyes on the prize,” senior receiver Chris Maldonado said. “We know Enfield is going to give us their best and we’re taking it one game at a time. This Enfield game is the most important game of the season. It also means a lot to our seniors. This could be our last game playing on the field. We’ve got to come out with a lot of intensity and have as much fun as we can and have a night to remember.”
The Eagles, however, are not the same caliber team as East Hartford - the team the Hurricanes cruised to a 63-26 win over last week.
Enfield (3-5) comes into the game on a four-game losing streak and hasn’t been able to score more than 27 points in any matchup since the season opener. On the season, the Eagles are averaging just 20.9 points per game. That number drops even lower to 16.6 if their 51-point outburst in Week 1 is taken out.
But New Britain also knows it can hardly afford to underestimate any opponent, even if it’s outscoring the competition by a combined 346-110 this season and averaging 43.3 points per game. There’s too much at stake.
“They’re a real scrappy team, real scrappy,” Hurricanes head coach Tebucky Jones said. “Their receiver [Joel Stewart] is dangerous. I’ve seen him return a lot of kickoffs back. Their quarterback [Cody Stager] can move around well and throw the ball. They have good players.”
Enfield is improved from when the two teams met last year. The Eagles have already tripled their win total after going 1-9 in 2017 and still have a few playmakers that have been able to hurt opponents on occasion, most notably Stager and Stewart.
Through seven games this season, Stager has completed 51.8 percent of his passes for 1,259 yards and 15 touchdowns to just four interceptions. He’s also the team’s leading rusher with 211 yards and two scores on 87 carries.
Stewart is often the quarterback’s go-to target. Through seven games, the wideout has 600 yards and seven touchdowns on just 28 catches (21.4 yards per catch). After Stewart, Stager will normally look toward Wyatt Raymond, who has 25 catches for 441 yards (17.6 average) and six scores this season. After those two, the production drops off.
“We like the challenge,” Maldonado said. “We want to show people we can guard anyone in the state. As long as everyone does their job, we play lights out. Like as week against East Hartford, they scored 20 points in the first half, we made some adjustments and they didn’t score much after that.”
Against the Hornets, another team that relied on the pass, New Britain surrendered just 177 passing yards and came away with two interceptions.
The Hurricanes’ offense, meanwhile, is looking to continue to execute their run game at a high level.
Last week, New Britain ran for ran for 468 yards and seven scores to boost their season totals to 2,555 rushing yards and 39 touchdowns on the ground.
Shawn Robinson ran for 271 yards and three touchdowns on 27 carries, while Tahje Yopp ran for 183 yards and four scores of his own, thanks to some of the holes tackles Devon Bishop and Oran Burnett, guards Juliano Morales and Yasser Vasquez and center Brandon Rivera were able to open up.
The team could also get back running back Kaiyon Gunn, who’s been out with a collarbone injury. He practiced this week, but Jones said the senior will be a game-time decision.
“If we get the offensive line going, it’s going to be a tough night for anybody, especially Enfield.” Morales said. “From day one, we knew what we had [as an offensive line] coming in. We’ve been coming in with that mentality, that edge that we’re the best offensive line in the state.”
The group will more than likely get another good opportunity to showcase the line’s ability, with Enfield liking to be aggressive on defense as well as liking to employ multiple looks up front. Jones expects the Eagles to showcase different fronts, similar to what they did last season.
“I’ve seen their linebackers play a lot like East Hartford and Southington played,” Morales said. “They’re not that far back. They want to be right up in your face. That’s going to be a little bit of a challenge because they are right there, so as soon as you snap the ball, you have to be on your man. But it’s nothing we haven’t seen this season.”
As always, the level which New Britain performs at tonight will be determined by how much attention it pays to the little details.
“We have to dominate the defensive side of the ball,” Jones said. “We have to run the ball and play great on special teams. As simple as that.”
David Glovach can be reached at (860) 801-5085 or firstname.lastname@example.org