NEW BRITAIN - Being able to run the football proved to be crucial at a rain-soaked Veterans Stadium for the Class M state championship game and Weston’s Tyler Bower took that message and ran with it, literally.
Bower ran for 99 yards and three touchdowns to lead the way for fifth-seeded Weston to capture its first-ever state championship with a 27-6 win over third-seeded Killingly on Saturday.
“It’s surreal, I can’t explain it,” Bower said. “Our first year we were 4-6, we lost our coach at the end of the year, now we’re state champions three years later. I couldn’t have seen it coming, it’s incredible, we worked hard for it. I’m just so happy.”
The title has been a long-time coming for the Trojans (12-1). The championship comes 30 years after the program’s only other appearance in a final and the win on Saturday was the culmination of overcoming adversity. They lost quarterback James Goetz to an injury for four games in the regular season and the team did not let it derail its season.
“That made us tough as a team,” Weston receiver Jack Sawyer said. “We wouldn’t be able to run the ball like we have all throughout the tournament. It taught us how to be tough, taught us that everyone needs to play their hardest on every single play. James is the best quarterback in the state and if you have combined with everyone playing as hard as they can on every single rep you’re going to be unstoppable.”
The Trojans ended up reaching the state tournament this year for the first time since 2012 and for a group of senior that went 1-9 on their eight grade football team, they learned what hard work can materialize into.
“For four years we worked and it’s incredible to see that it has amounted to a state championship in a season where we only lost one game,” Gotez said. “It’s incredible to see how many people came out, it’s incredible to see how the community has supported us.”
Bower had touchdown runs of eight, three and two yards over the course of the second and third quarters to turn a close 7-6 game at the end of the first into a rout.
Overall, the Trojans outgained Killingly 318-166 in total yards with Weston dominating upfront on both sides of the ball.
“When it was in my hands I ran, that’s all I know how to do,” Bower said. “Our offensive line was incredible. There’s always a hole to run through within five yards. I think two of my touchdowns I went untouched. It all starts with them. I’m just kind of getting the ball and walking it in at a certain level, so without them, I’m not really doing anything today.”
It was Bower’s second game of the postseason with nearly 100 rushing yards and two touchdowns and his performance allowed him to flirt with a 1,000-yard season. Much of the team mentioned afterwards the tailback was deserving of All-State honors despite not being selected and he said he used that neglect as motivation.
Those performances leading to state championship were likely more than enough of a consolation.
“He gets overlooked for All-State, he gets overlooked for all-conference and people just don’t realize how much he means to us,” Weston head coach Dan Hassell said. “The jet reads and all the stuff on the edge doesn’t mean anything if you don’t have a hammer coming down the middle and that’s been Tyler all year. I’m so proud of him he played a fantastic game, he’s one of my favorites he’s an unbelievable kid.”
“I was telling him all week people don’t remember who made All-State or all-conference,” Sawyer said. “People remember who ball out in the championship game and won it for his team.”
But Weston was able to make big plays outside of Bower. Goetz finished with 81 yards rushing and Sawyer caught three passes for 61 yards.
John Cassol provided perhaps the biggest play of the game when he allowed the Trojans to jump out to a 7-0 lead just 17 seconds into the game. Goetz connected with a wide open receiver over the middle, who jogged into the end zone 50 yards for the opening score.
Weston then forced Killingly to go three-and-out on the following drive, but Killingly struck back by forcing Sawyer to fumble and recovered the ball. Killingly then embarked upon a 12-play drive that was capped off by a 2-yard quarterback sneak by Jacob Nurse for the team’s only touchdown.
The Trojans responded with a nine-play drive that ended with an 8-yard touchdown run from Bower,who gained 48 yards on the drive off of just six carries. Bower found the end zone again before halftime to cap off a short drive. A 35-yard pass from Goetz to Sawyer put Weston on Killingly’s 3-yard line and Bower crossed the plain on the next play to put the Trojans up two touchdowns at the midway point.
“We were surprised how effective we were in the running game,” Hassett said. “Once we got the running game going we figured we’d stick with it. I think stretching them on the first play [of the game] gave them something to think about.”
Bower completed his hat trick on Weston’s first possession of the second half. With the goal of eating up as much time on the clock as they could, the Trojans ran a 14-play drive and called 13 running plays, 10 of which went to Bower. Weston traveled 79 yards on the drive and let Bower punch it in from two yards out.
Killingly (11-2), meanwhile, wasn’t able to do much after its scoring drive and was stopped short on three crucial fourth-down plays. Two of those came in the second half
The Trojans also dominated on the other side of the ball, too. They stopped Killingly (11-2) on three crucial fourth-down plays, including two in the second half.
In the second quarter, Killingly had moved into Weston territory after Bower’s 8-yard run, but on a 4th-and-2, Alex Olsen stopped Killingly star tailback Jack Sharpe short of the first down. Sharpe finished with just 49 yards on 15 carries after averaging 156.5 yards per game this season.
In the second half, three plays after getting good field position on its second-half kickoff, Killingly quarterback Jackson Lopes was stopped inches short of a first down.
“I think a lot of people underestimated little old Weston and as a team we showed out against an incredible Killingly team,” Bower said.
No. 5 Weston 27, No. 3 Killingly
At Veterans Stadium, Class M Championship
Weston (12-1) 7 13 7 0 – 27
Killingly (11-2) 6 0 0 0 – 6
W–John Cassol 50 pass from James Goetz (Phoenix Parker kick), 11:43
K–Jacob Nurse 2 run (kick blocked), 2:10
W–Tyler Bower 8 run (kick blocked), 10:56
W–Bower 3 run (Parker kick), 1:55
W–Bower 2 run (Parker kick), 3:03
Rushing–Weston: Tyler Bower 21-99-3TD, James Goetz 15-81, Anderson Orr 4-8, Tyler DeLoe 2-10. Killingly:Jackson Lopes 15-67, Jack Sharpe 15-49, Jacob Nurse 8-5-TD, Kameron Crowe 1-8.
Passing–Weston: 5-7-75-TD. Killingly: Jacob Nurse 6-10-37.
Receiving–Weston: Jack Sawyer 3-61, John Cassol 2-59-TD. Killingly: Lopes 3-20, Josh Heaney 2-5, Sam DeRonsie 1-8, Nathan Keefe 1-4.