WEST HARTFORD – The traffic backed up on Beechwood Road prior to the game was nothing compared to what the skill-position players for and would encounter along the line of scrimmage.
Superior line play was one of the key components that enabled the arch-rivals to grind through the first nine games of the season with just one loss between them. Control of the trenches was what would separate them as they vied for city bragging rights, a CCC Division I West championship and the pecking order for the upcoming Class LL playoffs.
A clear edge at the point of attack led to two third-quarter touchdowns that enabled Hall to gain a 20-0 win over the previously undefeated Chieftains Saturday before a packed house at Robert J. McKee Stadium.
Hall and Conard, both 9-1 overall, have flipped positions in the battle for a ‘LL’ tournament berth.
Hall is now third and can do no worse no matter what transpires Thanksgiving week. That means a home game Nov. 29 at Chalmers Stadium under temporary lights at 6:30 p.m. with only the opponent in question.
The Chieftains, who had a spot clinched going into the game, currently sit in fifth place and will watch for the results of Newtown-Masuk (Wednesday) and Greenwich-Staples (Thursday). Should Newtown fall against undefeated Masuk or Staples lose at home against Greenwich, the door could open for Conard to get a home playoff game. A second game between Hall and Conard for the first time in the series’ 55-year history is a possibility.
The Warriors and Chieftains will share the division championship with 3-1 records. Conard won Division II West last year by virtue of its 41-0 win over Hall and also won in 2009. Hall last earned a share of a division crown in 2005.
Conard, which had beaten Hall the previous two years, now leads the Mayor’s Cup series, 32-20-3.
Hall controlled the line of scrimmage from the start but was unable to dent the scoreboard in the first half despite two penetrations inside the Conard 5. The Chieftains made one red-zone foray only to be turned back by Devin Ortiz’s interception early in the second quarter.
The half ended in a scoreless tie, but the Warriors had made a statement. They weren’t going to let Conard’s power running game overwhelm them.
Hall coach Frank Robinson III sensed the big boys up front would determine the outcome.
“We knew that’s where the game was going to be won defensively and typically it is offensively,” Robinson said. “But with our game plan, and credit our coaching staff, this was going to have to be the way we were going to approach it. There are a lot of people involved. Coach Dave Gadue is our offensive coordinator and he was right.
“Defensively, this is the best we’ve played them in a long time and that’s Steve Markie, the defensive coordinator. The kids believe, obviously, and it’s a very cool feeling.”
The Chieftains put up 141 rushing yards on 38 carries, a far cry from the 245 they averaged over the first nine games. Hall had 144 on 41 totes.
“We thought we were going to have to run the ball against them because they do such a great job defending the pass,” Robinson said. “Even though they were in [man-to-man pass coverage] and came out with no safety, we still thought we had to run the ball. A credit to our running backs running hard, our quarterback calling great stuff and our line doing the job up front. Without that, we wouldn’t have won this game.”
Conard went three-and-out on the first possession of the second half and Hall put the ball in play at its 42.
A wide pitch to Christian Bohn on fourth down and inches to go went for 13 yards and a first down. Two runs by Jesse Maltz and a seven-yard gallop by Ian Dugger, preserved by an Ortiz fumble recovery, produced another first down at the Conard 23.
When Dominic Spaulding stuck Ortiz for a five-yard loss, Hall faced second-and goal from the 15. Quarterback George Lund was dealt a bouncing snap from center but scooped up the ball and tossed it to the right sideline with the idea he was avoiding a sack.
But Dugger alertly worked back toward the quarterback, made the catch and eluded Anthony Lugo for a touchdown with 6:14 remaining in the third quarter.
“I just tried to make something happen,” Lund said. “I tried to throw it away. I got a bad grip on the ball. I threw it up and Ian made a great play.”
The defense again shut down the Conard attack on three plays and Dugger’s 34-yard punt return gave the Warriors a short field. On fourth-and-3, Maltz blasted through the first tier of the Conard defense and had clear sailing for 27 yards.
Lund’s second PAT gave Hall a 14-0 lead with 1:23 left in the quarter.
“Conard knows they can defend our guys outside so well that they decided sometimes to not put any safety back there,” Robinson said. “We just happened to get through, and when you get through, sometimes you have some green grass to run on.”
Conard finally made its initial first down of the second half on the second play of the fourth quarter, but Tobi Lichtenstein and Maltz combined to sack Conard quarterback Owen Snyder on second down. Two plays later, Spaulding was punting again.
An interception by Dugger squashed Conard’s next possession on the first play.
Hall, apparently satisfied to eat some clock, went three and out and Conard started to move.
Ricky Cotton ripped off an 18-yard run on first down. Snyder connected on a long pass to L.J. Colon that would have put the Chieftains inside the 10 but an illegal chop block negated the effort. Two plays later, Maltz sacked Snyder for a 13-yard loss. Dugger then snatched his second pick in four minutes to effectively end the game.
With time running out, cornerback Ernie Green made Hall’s fourth interception and ran it back for a touchdown as the clock expired, setting off a celebration draped in blue.
“I knew our kids could play well. I just didn’t know how well,” Robinson said. “Obviously they did what they needed to do.”
Hall 20, Conard 0
Hall (9-1) 0 0 14 6 – 20
Conard (9-1) 0 0 0 0 – 0
H – Ian Dugger 15 pass from George Lund (Lund kick), 6:14
H – Jesse Maltz 27 run (Lund kick), 1:23
H – Ernie Green 48 interception return (no PAT attempted), :00
RUSHING – Hall: Maltz 15-74, Christian Bohn 14-35, Dugger 5-18, Devin Ortiz 4-13, Sal Ghamo 2-3, Lund 1-1. Conard: Ricky Cotton 17-80, Dominic Spaulding 6-46, Owen Snyder 9-(-16), Anthony Lugo 4-27, B.J. Edwards 2-4.
PASSING – Hall: Lund 8-18-0, 114 yds. Conard: Snyder 4-11-4, 43 yds.; Cotton 0-1-0, 0 yds.
RECEIVING – Hall: Ortiz 4-60, Dugger 3-38, L.T. Nembhard 1-16. Conard: Cotton 2-25, L.J. Colon 1-18, Matt Douglin 1-0.
MISSED FIELD GOALS – Hall: Lund, 22 yds., WR (1st, 3:14)