The Tradition of Panther Football
From the very first season in 1958 when head coach Paul Crone and his assistants Henry Zaleski and John Klarman put together the first eleven captained by Ted Crusberg and Dave Roberts, the Panthers have been a competitive, spirited bunch. Since their very first touchdown, a 74 yard misdirection run by flea-like Phil L’Heureux against Southington, Platt has been known for its exciting, innovative offenses and bone-jarring, ball hawking defenses.
Following the 1959 season two-way UConn bound standout Dave Roberts, who rushed for over 1400 yards and nearly seven yards per carry, became Platt’s first all-state selection. The 1961, ’62 and ’63 teams combined to go 19-8 and featured future hall of famers Pete Torres, Ron Westfort, Don Devito, Platt’s only NFL draftee, Tom Reale, as well as Cliff Parker, Bob Turi and Bill Miller.
After nine years at the helm, Coach Crone stepped aside following the 1966 season. Long-time offensive coordinator Henry Zaleski took over in ’67 and directed a team captained by Dale Bennett to Platt’s first league title. Led by Florida A & M bound fullback Emmanuel Brown and versatile tail back Tim Kavanagh and buoyed by a secondary that yielded only one touchdown pass all year, the team overcame a two touchdown deficit at muddy Ceppa Field to defeat Maloney and clinch the CCIL title.
1971 saw one of the greatest teams in school history go 9-1 and capture the school’s second title. Led by two-time all-stater Keith Lombardo on defense and slippery Nick Mozzicato on offense the team outscored the opposition by a 3-1 margin while establishing single season records (that still stand) for yards rushing and for fewest rushing yards allowed.
The rest of the seventies were highlighted by some spectacular individual performances by lightning quick John Hardrick and Tom Miller. In 1975, Miller scored 5 touchdowns against Maloney winning the Stoddard bowl for the third straight year and evening the cross-town series to 9 games apiece. 1977 and 1978 also featured epic battles with rival Maloney.
After the 1979 season Coach Zaleski decided it was time to go sailing. His replacement was an ex-Springfield College running back who immediately reshaped the program in his image. Mandatory weight-training, two gap defensive responsibilities and option football arrived with Tom Ryan in 1980 and marked the beginning of a twenty-seven year run that produced one hundred forty-seven wins, four conference titles and three state play-off appearances. The 1986 team, captained by future Boston University captain Paul Gamber, was noted for its bruising defense (featuring all-state nose guard Anthony ‘Tank’ Sanders and all-state linebacker Chris Whiting) and a punishing offense led by future AIC fullback Todd McFadden. So dominating was the defense that they shut out four opponents, gave up one touchdown to five others and yielded fewer total yards that any team in school history. The 1988-92 teams combined for a 32-18-1 record and featured some incredible record breaking performances from UConn bound speedster Vic Taylor, University of New Haven All-American Jesse Showerda and future University of New Hampshire captains Chris Bourdon and Matt Crispino.
The incredibly athletic 1995-98 teams grabbed two league titles and a near state title in fashioning a 31-11-2 composite. The 1995 team, featuring rifle armed Blake Marcantonio, the running back tandem of Garrett Gaither and Sean Bell and two-way Stoddard Bowl MVP Bill Long, turned in an excellent 7-2-1 season losing only to “LL” powerhouses Southington and New Britain before knocking Maloney and Rashon Spikes out the playoffs in the stunning 12-12 tie. The ’96 team, led by Bell, future Wesleyan safety Louis Bronk-Zdunowski, and rookie QB Dave Jakiela, snuck up on a lot of people after three early non-league heartbreakers (by nine total points) to capture the school’s fourth title. Especially gratifying during the season were thrashings of perennial titans Southington, Newington and New Britain by a combined 91-28 count. The ’97 team, captained by Wil Mejias and Jeff Poach, scored more points than any other team in school history, as the trifecta of Alonzo (Jamaal) Riddle, Osric Bittle and Kemar Bailey racked up 382 points, eleven wins, Platt’s fifth conference title and a number eight ranking in the final state poll. The 1998 team, captained by Eddie Waters and the late Mike Giannetti, scored at an even more prolific pace averaging a school record 31.7 points per game as Doug Geoffrey took advantage of the mercurial, record setting Riddle to complete better than sixty percent of his passes for more than 1700 yards and twenty touchdowns as Platt sprinted to a 7-2-1 record. 1999-2002 saw John Wilson and Ben Schmitt complete more than 7300 yards of passes for 79 touchdowns! The 2002 season also saw an amazing performance by future Western Connecticut State
University All-American Adamis “Pito” Gonzalez as the 5’3″ dynamo snatched 74 passes for over 1,000 yards and fourteen touchdowns. The 2004 team, captained by Tyler Grant, Jim Kallinich and the incredible Michael Shorter, started the season off with a pulsating upset at powerful Southington and rode the offensive exploits of Shorter, wide-receiver/kicker Mark Steele and quarterback Matt Arthur to Platt’s sixth league title. Before he graduated, the Fordham bound Shorter led the team in rushing for four consecutive years and became the school’s all-time scoring leader, rushing leader, total offense leader and all-purpose yards leader.
2007 signaled the beginning of a new era at Platt. Veteran defensive coordinator Jason Bruenn (class of ’92) became only the fourth head football coach in school history. The 2007 Stoddard Bowl proved to be one of the most exciting contests in it’s history. The game also marked the fiftieth iteration of Meriden’s version of ‘THE GAME’ and was the last played on the grass (and mud) of Ceppa Field.
In 2008 the Panthers moved to the new synthetic surface of Falcon Field and utilized it to showcase a high speed brand of football which ultimately culminated in 2010 with the 8-3 team making the state playoffs. In 2012 the Panther again went 8-3 overall, won the CCC Division III East crown and qualified for the playoffs for the second time in three years.
They shucked off an under-achieving 2-2 start to win six straight, including a 34-14 win in Berlin that earned them the division title and a 44-0 rout of Maloney that earned them their fifth straight Thanksgiving victory.
The 2012 Panthers were powered by dynamo Justin Potts who posted numbers (1,891 yards, 35 touchdowns and 224 points) that eclipsed any single season performance by a running back from Platt or Maloney since the city split into two high schools in 1958. Potts finished with every Platt scoring record and was second only to Michael Shorter in career rushing.
The 2013 team picked up right where the 2012 team left off. This time lead by Tyzhan Leatherwood out of the backfield. Tyzhan fell just shy of Pott’s single season record (1,836 yards) but did set the single game records for rushing attempts and yards (47 attempts, 350 yards). The team boasted 9 all-conference players including all-state linebacker Jason Nelson and first team all-state lineman Erlin Colon. They finished the regular season undefeated and captured their second consecutive CCC Division III East title and a return trip (third in four years) to the state playoffs