The Berlin High football team, trailing by three with just under three minutes left at Wethersfield, was mounting its final, potentially game-winning drive on Friday after forcing the Eagles to punt.
That’s when Torronce Smith stepped up.
Wethersfield’s junior linebacker was in the right place, right time, to step in front of a Lorenzo Miele pass and intercept it with just under a minute left in the game. The Eagles (2-0) were able to kneel out a 21-18 win.
“Our backs were against the ball a little bit late in the game,” Wethersfield coach Matt McKinnon said. “But we just kept making the plays.”
Berlin’s offense was largely dormant and inefficient on Wethersfield’s side of the field but had finally made it a game after trailing by two scores at halftime. With 7:52 left in the fourth quarter junior quarterback Lorenzo Miele connected with senior Jake Smalley for a 12-yard touchdown. The two-point conversation was broken up by Wethersfield’s Holden Speed, but nevertheless, the Redcoats (1-1) were in it, down by two, 14-12.
Then came Mathyas Nieves.
On the ensuing kickoff, the Wethersfield junior returned the kick 72 yards for a touchdown to pad the Eagles’ lead. Berlin responded with a 3-yard touchdown run from Miele with 3:27 left in the game to cut the lead to three, then forced the Eagles to punt on the following possession. But crucial late plays — like Smith’s interception on the following Berlin drive and Nieves’ kickoff return — were enough to make a difference and create some separation between the two.
“[Smith] and Mathyas, it started in January in the weight room,” McKinnon said. “Playing other sports and coming in at night. Those guys want to win. I just told them know, our backs were against the wall late in the game. And we just kept making those plays when we had to.”
Wethersfield held a 14-0 lead at halftime thanks to a 21-yard touchdown pass from Wil Bankowski to Ethan Lemos in the first quarter, and a slant pass from Bankowski to Luis Montalvo in the second. Nickolas Nasse converted both extra points. The Redcoats had a chance to cut into the Wethersfield lead before halftime, but Tanner Healy tackled Toby Lavender with a big hit at the 2-yard line as time expired in the second quarter.
“It starts with practice,” McKinnon said. “We put ourselves in those positions, two-minute drill, red zone on defense. We had a lot of big fourth-down stops. And all those fourth-down stops early, I knew we were going to buckle in and deliver it. And our guys did it, I’m so proud of them.”
Berlin clawed onto the scoreboard with 8:07 left in the third quarter on a 6-yard run from senior Jamie Palmese. Until that point, the Redcoats had failed to score on any of their four trips into opponent territory. Berlin’s Mason Memery intercepted Bankowski on the ensuing Wethersfield possession. The Redcoats were forced to punt, but Wethersfield muffed it, allowing Berlin to recover and set up Smalley’s touchdown grab.
Shawn McFarland can be reached at email@example.com.