REDDING -- The state football playoffs do not begin until Tuesday. However, for Weston and Joel Barlow, the second season really began five days earlier.
In what essentially was an elimination game, the Trojans won the Thanksgiving Day battle 21-14 and earned their first state playoff berth in 23 years. The Trojans, led by senior quarterback Tyler Hassett, entered the game ranked 10th in Class M but climbed up to No. 6 with the win.
"We're in" Weston head coach Joe Lato said excitedly after the win. "It feels great. Everyone stepped up. We all wanted to keep this going and we did."
The Trojans (8-2) will travel to face No. 3 Ellington/Somers (9-1) in the quarterfinals on Tuesday.
The loss eliminated the Falcons (8-2), who fell two playoff points short of the No. 8 seed. Montville out-pointed the Falcons, 109.00-107.00.
Hassett threw for 126 yards and two touchdowns to lead Weston. His 13-yard strike to Zach Cannon in the first quarter got the ball rolling and a 12-yard scoring pass to Justin Schaffer in the third quarter gave the Trojans a 21-7 lead. That deficit proved to be too much for the Falcons, who were playing without starting quarterback Jack Shaban.
"(Shaban) ran for 1,100 yards and scored 14 touchdowns for us this season," Barlow head coach Ron Tynan said. "That's huge. You don't replace that. Yeah, it hurt us."
Cooper Brown filled in admirably for Shaban and had 60 yards rushing, all in the second half. But the Falcons passing game suffered (3 for 10 for 12 yards), and when they fell behind by two scores, it seemed like a much greater deficit.
"We caught some breaks," Lato said. "Anybody is going to feel (the loss of a top quarterback). But Brown runs the option well and he was a real threat."
After Weston took the early lead on the Hassett-to-Cannon connection, Barlow bounced back. The Falcons had minus-7 yards on their first two possessions (six plays), but then Tynan turned to Billy Wilson, who had 73 of his 78 yards rushing in the first half. Wilson carried 10 consecutive times for 53 yards before John O'Connell caught a 9-yard touchdown pass from Alex Lockwood.
Weston regained the lead 13-7 when Schaffer scooted in from three yards out with eight minutes remaining in the first half.
Barlow made it interesting when Brown hit Ian Carmen, who made an acrobatic catch, on a 5-yard scoring play with 8:28 remaining in the game. But the Weston defense, led by Peter Lummis and Jack Hamilton, shut the Falcons down on their final two possessions.
Emery Filmer is a freelance writer
Weston 21, Barlow 14
WESTON 7 6 8 0--21
BARLOW 00 7 0 7--14
W--Zach Cannon 13 pass from Tyler Hassett (Cannon kick)
W--Justin Schaffer 3 run (kick failed)
W--Schaffer 12 pass from Hassett (Cannon pass from Hassett)
B--Ian Carman 5 pass from Cooper Brown (Colby kick)
Records: Weston 8-2, Barlow 8-2.