By Rick Volk
Behind a balanced running and passing attack and a ferocious defensive effort, the Berlin Redcoats advanced to the Class M championship game, defeating Weston High, 21-7, in semifinal action Sunday evening at Bunnell High School in Stratford.
The Weston offense, which has produced many second-half, come-from-behind victories this year, was unable to score in the fourth quarter as the Berlin defense asserted itself.
Employing an unusual defensive formation of only one down lineman – Hector Rodriguez or Mitch Blanchette – the Redcoats deployed six linebackers against the talented Weston quarterback Tyler Hassett’s runs, option plays and passes.
Linebackers Tyler Bouchard, Mike Tirinzoni, Wotjus Zak, Dante Vasi, Paul Mariano and Dan McLeod (making his first varsity start) led the defensive charge, limiting Weston to one third quarter touchdown on a Hassett run.
Berlin jumped off to early lead on its opening driving. Following a long run by Scott McLeod into Weston territory, quarterback Mitch Williams hit Tyler Undercuffler with 39-yard scoring strike. Pat Lomaglio added the first three PAT kicks, aided by three good snaps from center Tony Gilani to holder McLeod.
Berlin drove again in the first quarter. A Williams pass to Kyle Young took the ball to the Weston 30-yardline. Then the powerful Berlin running game took over with a wall of blockers leading Scott McLeod to the Weston four-yard line on several runs. Kevin Main blasted over the left side to increase the Berlin lead to 14-0 early in second quarter.
Weston took the second half kick-off and marched down the field to close the margin to 14-7 in the third quarter. On its next possession, Weston was halted in its tracks by a sack of Hassett by Tirinzoni and a Main tackle after a completed pass.
Following a short Weston punt, the Redcoats faced a third and seven. Coach John Capodice used a timeout in anticipation of a potentially game-changing possession. The resulting call stunned the Weston defense, with Williams threading the needle to Scott McLeod on a screen pass. Blocks by Bouchard, Chris Meucci and Anthony Duong created enough daylight for McLeod to streak downfield for a 52-yard touchdown.
Berlin returned to the ground game in the fourth quarter, retaining the ball for extended periods behind power runs by fullback Zak, Main and Tirinzoni, which featured the blocking of Bouchard, Rodriquez, Meucci, Vasi, Duong and Blanchette.
Weston provided a late-game scare by when Eric Dammen-Brower intercepted a Williams pass deep in Weston territory and raced down the sidelines. But after a 60-yard return he was caught by Zak, who first stripped the ball and then recovered the fumble, allowing the Redcoats to retain possession with a two-score lead.
The Redcoats advanced to the championship game to be held at Rentschler Field despite the absence due to injury of their leading rusher, Justin Gombotz.
Berlin’s 2012 record is now 11-1. Weston of the South West Conference finished the season 9-3. Berlin last met a team from the SWC in its 2009 Class M championship game victory over Bethel.
The Redcoats will face a strong Hillhouse team in the championship game. The fourth-seeded New Haven school advanced to finals by defeating fifth seed St. Joseph of Trumbull and eighth seed Montville.
Berlin last met Hillhouse in the playoffs in 2010 when the eighth seeded Academics upset the top seeded Redcoats in the opening round playoff game in Max Delorenzo's last high school game.
Hillhouse went on to win the Class M championship that year.