When you go to the Berlin-Hillhouse Class M state championship game Saturday, scheduled to start at 2:05 p.m. at Rentschler Field, there may be one simple factor in the Redcoats' chances.
Look to see if the Berlin defense can stop or at least limit the big plays by the explosive Hillhouse offense. This will be especially important early in the game because Berlin does not want to play from behind.
Both of Hillhouse' opponents, St. Joseph in the first round and Montville in the semifinals, had success on long drives. But turnovers hurt both teams, as the Academics are physical and opportunistic. Senior Darryn Horner returned an interception for a touchdown in each game.
St. Joseph head coach Joe Della Vecchia said after his team lost to Hillhouse that the Academics "did a great job of mugging our receivers. We couldn't get off the ball. They were just pulling jerseys and everything like that and getting away with it. It was tough." Berlin will have to match the physical play of Hillhouse.
The Redcoats will look to control the ball with their ground game and make the game shorter and offer fewer possessions to the Academics. But Berlin will also need solid play from quarterback Mitch Williams, who has played well in the post-season. Williams, a junior, can loosen up the stingy Hillhouse defense with a few big pass plays. He is more than capable of burning the Hillhouse defense with a long touchdown pass.
The entire defense will have to play well to keep the Hillhouse offense in check. Extra pressure will be on the defensive ends, seniors Tyler Bouchard and Paul Mariano. They can't allow any of the Hillhouse backs to get outside of them or there will be big plays. Also important will be the linebackers filling the possible holes inside of the defense. Berlin will have a size advantage up front and the Redcoats will need to be stout.
The Hillhouse quarterback and running backs are not big but have exceptional speed.
Key Hillhouse players:
- 10 Je’Vaughn Moore QB/DB/K 12 5-9 165
- 51 Terrell Fairweather OL/LB 12 5-10 185
- 9 Teno Simpson TE/DL 12 6-0 200
- 47 Facinete Haidara RB/LB 12 5-7 180
- 28 Andre Anderson RB/DB 12 5-7 160
- 1 Harold Cooper RB/LB 11 5-8 180
- 12 Darryn Horner QB/DB 12 5-9 170
While the rushing attack is Hillhouse's strength, quarterback Moore can throw it as well. When he does throw it, he likes to throw deep. He has thrown for and rushed for more than 800 yards with eight TDs in the air and eight rushing himself on the ground.
Cooper, a junior, who wreaked havoc on Berlin as a freshman in their state playoff win, has run for more than 1,500 yards and 24 TDs. He needs just 140 yards rushing against Berlin to go over 5,000 in his three years at Hillhouse.
Their second option, Anderson, is no slouch. The senior has racked up almost 1,300 yards and 17 touchdowns.