Well before kick-off last Friday at Alumni Field, Cheshire High School football players could feel energy building for their game against Masuk. After going on a three-game road trip and then having a bye week, the Rams were excited to finally play on their home field.
Before a packed crowd, Cheshire entertained their fans in earning their third straight win. CHS (4-1) raced out to a 31-0 halftime lead and then held off a rally to win 52-22 over Masuk.
“It felt amazing playing in front of this crowd. They pumped us up so much,” said Will Bergin, a senior co-captain with quarterback Jason Shumilla.
Behind the offensive line of Bergin, senior Sean Cangiano, and juniors Dan Bourdeau, Colin Crowe, and Chisom Okoro, CHS ran for 272 yards and scored on their first five possessions. Senior Jake McAlinden had 182 rushing yards and four touchdowns, while sophomore Christian Russo posted 66 rushing yards and contributed to three touchdowns.
“I’m really proud of those guys up front, as well as guys like (senior) Kenny Glover and (juniors) John Casner and Nick DiDomizio,” said Head Coach Don Drust.
CHS set the tone by forcing a turnover on the game’s opening drive. Masuk earned a first down at the 26-yard line, but Cheshire pushed them into a fourth down and junior Ryan Mancl came up with an interception.
Starting at their 43-yard line, CHS went 57 yards to get their first touchdown. Shumilla completed 15-yard passes to DiDomizio and senior Colby Griffin, while McAlinden reeled off a 14-yard run to the Masuk 2-yard line. To cap the drive, Russo ran for a 2-yard touchdown with 4:48 remaining in the first quarter.
After Masuk punted on their second drive, McAlinden weaved through defenders to score on a 45-yard touchdown run (14-0) with 2:15 left in the first quarter.
“Jake is a very good player,” said Drust. “It (his success) all starts with how hard he works in practice.”
McAlinden credited the linemen for blocking against Masuk.
“Christian (Russo) and I weren’t getting touched until we were six yards down the field,” said McAlinden.
In the second quarter, Masuk threatened after senior Christopher Tillotson broke free on a 33-yard run, but the drive stalled and CHS took possession when sophomore Ben Wable sacked Masuk sophomore quarterback Nicholas Saccu on fourth down.
On the ensuing drive, Russo picked up 32 yards on four carries. Masuk forced a fourth down, but the Rams extended the lead to 17-0 on a 36-yard field goal by junior Jotham Casey with 7:45 left in the second.
From there, Cheshire capitalized on a pair of punt miscues. First, a low snap led to a fumble and the Rams took possession at the Masuk 7-yard line. After an incomplete pass, Russo ran for a touchdown (24-0) with 5:23 left in the second.
On the following drive, Masuk tried to execute a pooch punt, but Saccu kicked the ball into the back of a teammate and CHS took possession. Shumilla threw a 35-yard pass to senior Alec Frione and then McAlinden leapt into the end zone for a 2-yard touchdown that put the Rams ahead 31-0 with 3:33 left in the first half.
While facing a deep deficit, Masuk rallied to score all of their 22 points in the third quarter. The comeback was fueled by two turnovers, the first of which came on the opening drive of the third.
CHS moved the ball to the 50-yard line, but Masuk junior Deric De Angelis made an interception and ran 53 yards for a touchdown with 10:03 left in the third.
CHS regained the 31-point lead (38-7) when McAlinden ran for an 18-yard touchdown with 6:21 remaining in the third, but Masuk responded with a 1-yard touchdown run by Saccu with 3:05 left in the frame.
The Masuk defense followed up by recovering a fumble and sophomore Lukas Shamas ran for a 6-yard touchdown with 36 seconds left in the third. Masuk faked the extra-point attempt and Saccu threw to De Angelis for the two-point conversion (38-22).
With momentum going against them, CHS made two defensive stands to halt the rally in the fourth. First, Griffin recorded a sack to force a turnover on downs with 8:58 remaining.
“That is an example of a senior coming up with a big play,” said Drust. “You have a lot of seniors on this team who know what it takes to win on Friday nights.”
After Griffin’s sack, CHS capitalized with McAlinden’s fourth touchdown, an 8-yard run with 6:55 left. On the following drive, junior lineman Cole Feinauer made his first interception on a screen pass and ran to the Masuk 6-yard line.
“(Sean) Cangiano tipped the ball and it just fell to me,” reflected Feinauer. “I ran as fast as I could but unfortunately, I got caught before the end zone.”
CHS capped the scoring with 5:47 remaining. After taking a hand-off, Russo threw his first touchdown pass, a 1-yard toss to junior Jack Lovelace.
“It was amazing to score my first touchdown. I’ve been waiting for one,” added Lovelace.
Russo came back to make a one-handed interception with 1:28 remaining.
“It felt great. I saw the ball and just went up and got it,” stated Russo.
Griffin led Cheshire with 16 tackles. Senior Jacob Dubois tallied 14 tackles and Okoro supplied 10. Bergin, Cangiano, and Mancl all had eight tackles.
Tonight, the Rams return to visit New Haven to face host Wilbur Cross (0-5) at Bowen Field. Start time is 7 p.m.
Cheshire’s John Acquavita coaches the Governors.