Jack Cochran missed Saturday’s game at Fairfield Ludlowe as head coach for his Harding Presidents football team. Eddie Santiago, the defensive coordinator filling in for Cochran, was asked why. He said to speak to the city-wide director of athletics, Neil Kavey. An assistant coach said to seek out Kavey for the answer as well. Kavey said it was a “minor” health issue and he was hopeful the legendary coach, known for turning teams around, would be back at it early next week.
Others, not connected with the team, said it was something else. It would be inappropriate to speculate that illness was not the reason for Cochran’s absence. But just as sure as Cochran will get results with his new teams – that’s what he did with a flourish by securing state titles at Bloomfield, New Britain and New London high schools – it is just as certain that controversy will follow him. That’s been his history. Yet it is unfair to believe this one missed game is more controversy unraveling.
The Presidents entered Fairfield at 2-1 and although they left with a 35-31 loss, they showed they have made enough improvements under Cochran and his staff – they were 0-9 in 2012 – to be difficult opponents the rest of the way. They nearly overcame a 29-13 deficit in the fourth quarter. Their 31-29 lead evaporated on a play for Ludlowe that most would agree was executed more from luck than design. A pass bounced off three players before the receiver, Michael Arman, who had the first touch, got the hot potato and raced in for the winning touchdown. Luck certainly is part of sports, too.
Ludlowe won because, as Santiago said, Harding made too many mistakes. There were five offsides penalties on the Presidents and four others as well. Three of their fumbles were recovered by the Falcons, and one of the Falcons’ three fumbles was pounced upon by a Ludlowe player. Though Ludlowe was clinging at the end, it failed to make nearly as many key mistakes as Harding. Sometimes how good you are is how bad you’re not.
Harding showed it can capitalize on its big-play potential, though game plans are designed for sustained drives eating up the clock. Antoine Sistrunk, a running back held in check for most of his rushes, had a 64-yard reception before scoring himself on the next play. That wiped out a two-touchdown lead for the Falcons. The Presidents were within a point after Christian Hopkins, their quarterback, showed his speed, balance and moves for a 17-yard scoring run. Trailing by 29-13 in the fourth quarter, Reggie David ran for an 89-yard touchdown and a 29-19 deficit. A 33-yard fumble recovery for a TD is always considered a big play, and that’s what Jeffery Rogers did for Harding a little more than a minute after David’s run.
The go-ahead touchdown was Jahzaari Mullins blocking a punt and returning it for a touchdown – another big play, though not designed but executed from power and athleticism. So it was 35-31 Presidents before the triple-deflection for Ludlowe’s game-winner.
Ludlowe earned the win. Quarterback Matt White was 6 of 11 passing for 130 yards with 15 rushes for 33 yards, though three carries were taking a knee at game’s end. Most of the Falcons’ offense is ground-and-pound oriented. Warren Davis, who had a three-yard touchdown, gained 27 yards on 18 carries, with two 8-yarders and nine rushes for 2 yards or fewer (or for loss) due to Harding’s focus on him. Jimmy Gasper had eight rushes for 107 yards and two TDs for the Falcons.
At 3-1, the beginning of the Vince Camera era as Ludlowe coach is off to a fine start. Next week might determine how fine when the Falcons travel to Westport where the 3-1 Wreckers have won three in a row and appear to be doing a strong job of reloading.