Class M: Hillhouse gets its heart started, rallies past Berlin

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HILLHOUSE 34, BERLIN 12

Hillhouse's seniors pose with the Class M championship trophy following their 34-12 victory over Berlin Saturday at Rentschler Field.

EAST HARTFORD — Pushed around in the first half, its offense cold and its defense battered, Hillhouse coach Tom Dyer walked into the halftime locker room at Rentschler Field and didn’t say a word to his struggling football team.

“I just drew a heart on the board,” he said.

That was what it was going to take for the Academics to win the second half and their school’s fifth state championship.

Berlin might have handed it right to them.

Leading Hillhouse by six, the Redcoats went for it on fourth-and-inches deep in its own end in the third quarter. Hillhouse stopped the Redcoats cold.

The rest was history.

Harold Cooper scored three touchdowns and Andre Anderson scored on an electric, 20-yard run as the Academics rallied to defeat Berlin 34-12 in the Class M championship game at Rentschler Field.

“The first half we came out flat, no heart,” Anderson said. “The adjustment at the half was to come out with some heart. It wasn’t about Xs and Os, it was come out in the second half and play with some energy and play like it’s your last game. And that’s what we did.”

Hillhouse wanted to thank Berlin for giving them the spark they needed.

Minutes after Berlin’s defense stopped quarterback JeVaughn Moore inches from the goal line, Berlin faced fourth-and-inches at the 23. Berlin coach John Capodice elected to go for it, rather than punt.

“The fourth-down call? We felt disrespected as a team,” said Anderson, a senior. “We took it personal. We stepped it up.”

Cooper was credited with stuffing Berlin back Scott McLeod inches short of the first down.

“When you’re in this situation, and you’re a significant underdog, you got to try to pull out all the tricks,” Berlin coach John Capodice told Mike Pucci of the New Haven Register.

It took Hillhouse just five plays to score and take its first lead of the game. Cooper bulled in from 3-yards out and quarterback JeVaughn Moore added the extra point for 13-12 lead with 4:58 remaining in the third quarter.

“It was a great momentum-changer for us,” said Hillhouse coach Tom Dyer, who won his second title as coach. “Not a lot of teams in our league (the SCC) would have done that, knowing our offense. But at the same time our offense can score from 30 yards out or 90 yards out with the running backs we have. So it’s not a bad all by coach (John Capodice). I understand.”

Hillhouse held Berlin to just four yards on the Redcoats’ next possession and then rolled right back down the field as the fourth quarter began.

On fourth-and-18 from the Berlin 20, Moore looked down field, scrambled and then found Anderson in the left flat. Anderson scooted against the grain and scored to put the Academics up by 8.

Berlin couldn’t advance past its 36 on its next possession and Moore broke its hearts with a 62-yard touchdown run that iced the game and Hillhouse’s second title in three years.

Moore led all rushers with 106 yards and a touchdown on eight carries. Cooper had 88 yards and two touchdowns.

Sophomore Jalen Gardner celebrates a fourth-down stop late in Hillhouse's 34-12 victory over Berlin in the Class M title game.

McLeod ran for 71 yards on 19 carries for Berlin, which was playing without leading rusher Justin Gombotz for the second consecutive playoff game. Quarterback Mitch Williams was 8-of-16 for 77 yards and a touchdown.

After amassing 200 yards of total offense and holding a 3-1 edge in time of possession in the first half, Berlin could only muster 45 yards in the second half.

“Our defense needed to step up,” Anderson said. “We were just playing flat. We had to come out and make a change in the second half and that’s what we did.”

The title was a bit of sweet end to a tough season for Dyer, who was one of several New Haven Public School employees suspended from their jobs for their alleged roles in grade-tampering.

“I’m real proud of our coaching staff, our kids and our senior class for digging in and fighting against tough times,” Dyer said.

FULL STATISTICS

December 8, at Rentschler Field, East Hartford 1 2 3 4 Total
(4) Hillhouse (11-2) 6 0 7 21 34
(2) Berlin (11-2) 6 6 0 0 12

1st Quarter
07:30 BERL Kevin Main 18 yd pass from Mitch Williams (Pat Lomaglio kick failed)
06:33 HILL Harold Cooper 62 yd pass from Je’Vaughn Moore (Je’Vaughn Moore kick failed)
2nd Quarter
05:49 BERL Wojtus Zak 1 yd run (Kevin Main rush failed)
21 plays, 80 yards, TOP 9:51 6 – 12
3rd Quarter
02:43 HILL Harold Cooper 3 yd run (Je’Vaughn Moore kick)
4th Quarter
09:23 HILL Andre Anderson 20 yd run (Je’Vaughn Moore kick)
06:14 HILL Je’Vaughn Moore 62 yd run (Je’Vaughn Moore kick)
3 plays, 67 yards, TOP 0:58 27 – 12
00:31 HILL Harold Cooper 6 yd run (Je’Vaughn Moore kick)

Sean Patrick Bowley