By GERRY deSIMAS, JR.
Copyright 2007, Canton Football Online
STAFFORD, Sept. 21 – For the last 40 years, Canton High students, parents and town residents have watching high school football from afar.
The closest that Canton students came to the gridiron was playing some occasional flag football on a wet, dew-covered field in the early morning hours of a physical education class unless they transferred to a nearby Catholic or private school to play.
However, on a warm, September evening, a group of Canton High boys carried their gear onto the field surrounded by tall, rusty looking light poles at Stafford High getting ready to live out the dream that so many other students never got a chance to – play football for the Warriors.
Bill Plourd carried a box of gear onto the field. Plourd, who has worked with Karl Grabowski and Friends of Canton Football for nearly two years raising the necessary money to establish and run the program, was virtually speechless before the game as he prepared to watch his two sons suit up for Canton.
Christian, a senior receiver, separated his shoulder twice a year ago as Canton fielded a club team that went 6-2 in eight games. He was here ready to start along with his younger brother, Tyler, a starting defensive back.
Bill had a grin of nervous anticipation that never wavered.
The long wait was just about over. The team, that won 82 games from 1934-59 and folded twice in 1960 and 1964 due to a lack of players, was on the field.
Playing before several hundred Canton students, parents and fans that took the long drive to northeastern Connecticut, the Warriors fell behind by 12 in the second quarter but rallied to tie the game only to be doomed by special teams mistakes in a 24-18 defeat to Stafford/East Windsor.
Tied at 18 with 22 seconds left on the Canton 45 yard-line, the Warriors were set to punt when the snap sailed through the punter’s hands and Stafford tackled the punter on the 11 for a 36-yard loss. A penalty moved the ball to the six and Stafford’s Sean Heald (29-145, 3 TDs) broke a tackle in the backfield to score with 16 seconds remaining for the win.
The late score took the air out of the excited Canton crowd, stunned by the quickness of the defeat but they still had a smile on their faces.
The mistakes of a first-year varsity team in their first game of the year annoyed Canton head coach Graham Martin, who coached at Bulkeley High in Hartford for 23 years taking Bulkeley to the 1991 Class LL championship game.
Canton committed 12 penalties for 70 yards, including one that negated a 38-yard pass completion and two crucial errors on special teams that led to 14 Stafford points.
But he is well aware that the program is just two years old and a majority of the players are sophomores and juniors.
“We have a competitive program here,” Martin said afterward. “We just need to turn a few corners. We’re disappointed but that is part of life.”
He turned to the crowd filing out of the stadium. “For Canton, this is great,” he said. “Look at all of the people in the stands.”
It won’t be easy to follow the Warriors this season. Because they have no home field, all 10 games will be on the road. But the support is evident. A group of parents with signs and banners cheering the player’s buses as they drove past a Stafford supermarket toward the school.
Stafford led 6-0 when sophomore Tyler Plourd made the first big defensive play of the season, intercepting a pass early in the second quarter. But the Canton drive stalled on their own 27 and when the Warriors went to punt, the snap sailed high over the head of the punter. Stafford recovered on the 1-yard line and scored seconds later for a 12-0 lead.
But Canton didn’t wilt. On its next possession, Delvecchio (10-23-2, 115 yards) hit Christian Plourd over the middle who eluded Stafford tacklers for a 48-yard gain to the Bulldog six. Two plays later, Justin Rice (11-30) scored from the one to get Canton on the board.
In the third quarter, Canton tied the game at 12-12 on its opening possession. Jake Burditt’s 19-yard kickoff return gave the Warriors the ball at the Stafford 49. On third down and eight, Delvecchio found Luke Mentzer running down the middle of the field. Mentzer broke through a group of three Stafford defenders for a 48-yard TD pass with 10:46 gone. Rice was stopped on the two-point run.
Stafford took an 18-12 lead on a 20-yard run by Heald with 53 seconds left in the third quarter. The conversion pass was incomplete.
Interceptions stopped Canton on its next two possessions but Stafford couldn’t extend its lead. On the second interception, Stafford began on the Canton 1-yard line and managed just three yards before punting.
Canton took over with 6:25 remaining on the Stafford 31 and drove downfield, led by Michael Fraser (10-85) with 18 yards on the drive. On third and 10 from the 15, Delvecchio rambled 13 yards on the two-yard line. He scored on a quick snap up the middle with 3:49 remaining to tie the game at 18-18. The conversion pass failed when Delvecchio was sacked.
Canton forced Stafford to punt again and drove to the Bulldog 42 with 44 seconds left but Delvecchio was sacked for an eight-yard loss by Nick Lerch. After two straight incompletions, Canton stood on its own 45 looking to punt with 22 seconds left.
“We just made too many opening game mistakes,” Martin said. “There are no excuses. We played with energy and our kids responded well. But you can’t make the mistakes we made and expect to win a game like this.”
The good thing is that it is only six days until the next game. The 43-year waits are over.
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Stafford/EW 24, Canton 18
Canton (0-1) 0 6 6 6 -- 18
Stafford/EW (1-1) 6 6 6 6 -- 24
S: Sean Heald 16 run (run fails), 2:38
S: Heald 1 run (pass fails), 8:36
C: Justin Rice 1 run (pass fails), 6:40
C: Luke Mentzer 48 pass from Nick Delvecchio (run fails), 10:46
S: Jake Rummel 20 run (pass fails), 0:53
C: Delvecchio 2 run (pass fails), 3:49
S: Heald 6 run (run fails), 0:16
RUSHING: Canton – Nick Delvecchio 8-10, Justin Rice 11-30, Michael Frazer 10-85, Justin Prosser 1-4; Stafford – Sean Heald 29-145, Matt Harrison 1-0, Jake Rummel 7-17, Ricky Buckland 3-9
PASSING: Canton – Nick Delvecchio 10-23-2, 115; Stafford 3-11-1, 92
RECEIVING: Canton – Luke Mentzer 3-53, Christian Plourde 3-76, Mike D’Apice 3-22, Justin Rice 1-32; Stafford – Jeremy Marshall 1-16, Rummel 2-60, Harrison 1-23
PUNT RETURNS: Canton – David White 1-20; KICKOFF RETURNS: Jake Burditt 2-33; Sean Mullins 1-0
PUNTING: Burditt 3-84
INTERCEPTIONS: T. Plourd, White
FUMBLE RECOVERY: Glassen
Rebirth of Canton Football
First run: Justin Rice, 2 yards vs. Stafford, Sept. 21, 2007
First pass: Nick Delvecchio, incomplete vs. Stafford
First reception: Luke Mentzer, 2 yards vs. Stafford
First score: Justin Rice, 1 yard run vs. Stafford
First TD run: Rice vs. Stafford, 1 yard run
First TD reception: Luke Mentzer 48 pass from Nick Delvecchio vs. Stafford
First punt return for TD: TBA
First kickoff return for TD: TBA
First field goal: TBA
First safety: TBA
First extra point: TBA
First 2-point conversion: TBA
First interception: Tyler Plourd vs. Stafford
First sack: TBA