The first half of the Class M state championship couldn't have gone much better for the Berlin Redcoats except for one thing. While Berlin dominated the game and ran an amazing 45 plays to Hillhouse' 13, Berlin led by just a 12-6 score. The Redcoats missed an extra point and a two-point conversion as well a 21-yard field goal as time expired in the first half.
The lack of getting out to a bigger first half lead while dominating Hillhouse would come back to hurt the Redcoats. Hillhouse scored 28 unanswered points in the second half to come away with a 34-12 win and its second state championship in three years at Rentschler Field Saturday.
Halftime could not have come at a better time for Hillhouse as they were playing undisciplined football and Berlin was knocking at the door for their third score of the game. When time ran out, however, a field goal attempt by Pat Lomaglio fell short and Berlin led by just that slim 12-6 lead.
"They were pushing us around and dominating the line of scrimmage and we weren't playing Hillhouse football," Hillhouse coach Tom Dyer said. "We needed halftime at that point. We had a personal foul and they might have scored which would have made it tougher. We stiffened up and made them go for a field goal and luckily they missed. We didn't make a lot of big adjustments at halftime. We told them they just needed to play harder. Berlin was playing harder and with a lot more heart than we were."
Berlin coach John Capodice was happy with the first half, calling it almost perfect.
"When you're a significant underdog you have to pull out all the tricks and we threw a lot at them," Capodice said. "I couldn’t be prouder of how the kids played and competed."
Berlin took the opening kick-off and operating mostly out of the wildcat formation, marched down the field and faced a third-and-eight at the Hillhouse 18 yard line. Quarterback Mitch Williams hit Kevin Main the corner of the end zone on a wheel route and Main made a spectacular catch to pull it in. The extra point kick was no good.
Hillhouse and its big play offense took just two plays to even the score. Quarterback Je'Vaughn Moore hit junior running back Harold Cooper in full stride over the middle and he beat the Berlin defense to the end zone.
After a pair of punts, Berlin took over at its 20-yard line and went on an amazing 21-play, 9:51 march capped off by a one-yard plunge by Wojtus Zak to take a 12-6 lead. The conversion run failed.
Berlin's defense was very stout in the first half. Up front Mitch Blanchette, Hector Rodriquez and Tyler Bouchard held strong. The ends Dan McLeod and Mike Tirinzoni and linebackers Dante Vasi and Zak as well as backs Scott McLeod, Main and Kyle Young were hard-hitting all half. A hard hit caused Cooper to fumble and Dan McLeod recovered with 3:22 left in the half.
Again, Berlin went on the march and Hillhouse was coming unglued. Two personal fouls aided the Berlin drive as the Redcoats advanced the ball to the 24-yard line on passes to Bouchard and McLeod. But a last-second field goal was short and Berlin led 12-6.
The Berlin defense held Hillhouse on its first possession on four plays inside the 10-yard line. The Redcoats got the ball out of the shadow of their goal line and faced a fourth-and-one at the 24-yard line. Capodice decided to go for it. But McLeod was stopped short and Hillhouse too over at the Berlin 24.
Five plays later Cooper scored and Moore kicked the extra point to give Hillhouse its first lead 13-12 with 2:43 left in the third quarter.
Hillhouse, still leading by a single point, faced a fourth-and-18 from the 20-yard line and Moore hit Andre Anderson for a short screen pass to the left. Anderson cut it all the way across the grain and scored in the right corner for a touchdown and a 20-12 Hillhouse lead.
The clinched came after Berlin punted with 7:12 left. Moore ran around the left side and outraced the Berlin defense to the end zone to push the lead to 27-12. Another late score provided the final margin.
"People will see the score tomorrow and think we won easily but this was a brutal test," Dyer said. "They completely outplayed us but in the second half we played harder and with a lot more heart. We are lucky to have a few kids who are playmakers and they made plays in the second half. Credit to Berlin. They are a really good team. Their kids up front are nails."
"That fourth and 20 play was a big play for them," Capodice said. "We couldn't get him but up until that point we were right there. It's a special group of seniors and they played a near perfect half. We made them defend the whole field and we ground it out. Once they got the lead, they were able to loosen it up a bit.
"But we'll be back. We have great tradition in this program. We're a football community and we have a great youth football program. We're not going anywhere."
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