Maloney’s defensive backs cause disruption en route to Class L championship game

Maloney's Tylee Flowers makes an interception during a football game between Maloney and Xavier at Larry McHugh Field, Middletown on Friday, Oct. 22, 2021.

Maloney's Tylee Flowers makes an interception during a football game between Maloney and Xavier at Larry McHugh Field, Middletown on Friday, Oct. 22, 2021.

Pete Paguaga / Hearst Connecticut

In the Class L state tournament, an unlucky few have been feasted on by a group of defensive backs quietly known as the Ball Hawks.

This group has been a recurring nightmare for quarterbacks throughout the fall, and seemingly inflicts more havoc as the stage gets bigger.

“It has all been coming together offensively and defensively,” said Maloney coach Kevin Frederick, whose third-seeded Spartans play fifth-seeded Windsor at New Britain’s Veteran’s Stadium Saturday at 11 a.m. for the Class L title. “I have guys who are athletic in the secondary, I call them the Ball Hawks. The ball is up in the air and these guys don’t turn into defenders, they turn into receivers.”

Bristol Central endured it first, getting picked off four times in the quarterfinal round by the subsidiary of the Maloney Spartans defense.

Rashawn Shelton accounted for most of the quarterback terrorizing, with three interceptions of his own, returning one for a touchdown in the 49-14 win.

“That game was amazing, all props to that quarterback, that kid is good,” Shelton said. “To be able to pick him off three times and once for a touchdown was an amazing feeling.”

Masuk didn’t fare much better in the semifinal round, getting picked off three times. Shelton had two of them, including returning another for a touchdown, his eighth and school-record breaking ninth of the season as Maloney advanced 56-21.

Throughout the year Maloney has feasted on quarterbacks, posting 24 interceptions in 12 contests.

The defense has allowed 20 or more points just three times and is outscoring opponents 444-182.

“I feel like we are all in a friendly competition with each other,” Shelton said. “Let’s see who can get the most picks this game, or most tackles. We always are pushing each other to do better.”

Shelton’s nine lead the Ball Hawks, followed by Tylee Flowers with six. Kuron Wiggins and Johnny Rosado each have three while Daejon Nixon, Jack Fitzgerald, and Joziah Gonzalez each have one interception.

“We really take pride in catching interceptions and putting our offense back on the field,” Flowers said. “Me and Shawn, from the beginning of the year we knew the single season interception record was seven. Our DB coach was always telling us that was a milestone to get.”

Together, this group makes arguably the most dangerous defensive backfield in the state.

“They do a really great job in execution as far as coverage goes,” Frederick said. “Our guys are playmakers, and they execute. When you have a defense that creates that many turnovers you are going to win some games.”

The Ball Hawks have helped No. 3 Maloney (11-1) reach the Class L final for the second time under Frederick, and fourth time in school history.

When Frederick took over the program, he had the goal of turning Maloney into a perennial contender for a state title. In his seventh season, Frederick has led the team to the state tournament in four straight seasons since 2017.

In 2018 Maloney lost 54-14 to Hand in the Class L final, and again in the 2019 Class L semifinal 42-0.

“We had lost to Hand in that semifinal game, and I didn’t ever want to feel that feeling again,” Shelton said. “I didn’t play that much as a sophomore, but I got looks in practice so seeing them work so hard for it and not be able to complete it, it was hard. I feel like we need to win it for them mostly.”

Fredrick has successfully turned Maloney into a recurring postseason contender, and an elusive first program championship is once again within grasp. Just Windsor stands in the way.

“This Windsor team is a good team, if we want to get it done, we have to give it everything on every play,” Shelton said. “They just defeated St. Joseph, who beat us, on a big comeback, so no matter what the score is we have to play ball.”

Windsor’s upset victory over St. Joseph in the semifinal round shocked many, but not Frederick.

“I wasn’t surprised to be honest,” Frederick said. “When you look at both of those school’s players versus players, the first time around I just thought Windsor had better athletes. I wasn’t too surprised with the result that Windsor beat them.”

In the final game the Ball Hawks will play together, the group will look to continue its torrid interception pace.

“I could say I’m nervous, but I really feel ready for it,” Shelton said. “All my classmates and I since our freshman year have been saying ‘Senior year is the year.’ Now it is here, and we have to do it.”; @AldamWill