Simply put, it was an amazing day of Thanksgiving Day football all across Connecticut — in terms of intrigue, excitement and late-game heroics and late-game collapses. We had some crazy, crazy games and some wild results this year, not to mention a heart-pounding playoff race that went down to the wire.
Notre Dame-WH, Bethel, Staples, Ansonia, New Canaan, Bullard-Havens and St. Joseph all clinched berths yesterday. They’ll join Pomperaug as our regional representation in the playoffs. See the final standings on the CIAC Playoff Page here.
As for the games, let’s break down all the action for you on this lazy Friday afternoon.
SYNOPSIS — An incredibly tough, tough way to end your Thanksgiving Day football game. Chris Elsberry painted a somber picture of coach Dave Cadelina getting the grim news from Westport. If the Staples-Greenwich game on MSG had you on the edge of your seat, think of how Cadelina and the Hilltoppers felt as Staples hit the field goal and then blocked Greenwich’s attempt. Still, an amazing season for the Hilltoppers. Just picked the wrong year to put an awesome team together. It’s onto basketball season for Christon Gill. We’ll see how the football team fares without him.
SYNOPSIS — Let the hype begin about the postgrad prospects of one Tyler Matakevich. Trumbull’s defense simply couldn’t stop him. And, from what we were hearing, the game got quite chippy late (as it usually can between these foes). Will Melvin from Trumbull was ejected (the first of a few ejections from this afternoon). Tough finish for Trumbull after starting 4-0.
That wasn’t the story of this game, however. The story began in the fourth quarter, as the Cadets’ state playoff hopes rapidly started to dwindle. It took about 40 minutes after kickoff for coach Joe Della Vecchia (pacing like an expecting father) and the team to find out they’d reached the state playoffs. Here’s how it went down: Assistant coach Jim Chaves, who figured his team was out, realized they could still squeak in if Crosby and Torrington won. He texted me at the Green Bowl looking for scores. The CIAC posted Crosby’s victory over Kennedy at 1:28. That left one more: Torrington vs. Watertown. If Torrington won, St. Joseph was in. If Torrington lost, they were out.
We got the score, of all places, from Ansonia’s Tom Brockett, who heard from Torrington’s Dan Dunaj. Torrington 30, Watertown 7. We posted that on the live blog at 1:31.
St. Joseph was in. Cue absolute bedlam in the St. Joseph offices. …of course, it took another 3 or 4 minutes for the CIAC to officially post the result. “I kept watching the computer to see if it was wrong, that something would change,” Della Vecchia said. “My son kept telling me. Dad, it’s not going to change. We’re in.”
Just one of the many great Thanksgiving Day stories.
SYNOPSIS — Though Ansonia hasn’t lost this game since 2001, Ansonia coach Tom Brockett thought his team would have its hands full from Naugy this time — especially after Naugatuck upset Holy Cross two weeks before. In the end, it was the same ol’ same ol’ in this rivalry. Montrell Dobbs, Nick O’Connor and the Chargers are just too much in posting Ansonia’s highest point total of the series. Hey, at least Naugatuck scored some touchdowns in this game. It had gone three years without even scoring a point.
Ansonia is off to the playoffs at 8-2. Not a vintage edition, but it’s still Ansonia. We’ll see with that semifinal trip to Northwest Catholic.
SYNOPSIS — Strike another victory for Shelton over Derby in this rivalry. Though the Red Raiders haven’t won since 2002, Carmen DiCenso said it was their best effort since then. This was a good Derby team, they finish 4-6 in their first NVL season. There’s at least hope they’re on the right track. As for Shelton, Ray Pendagast put it best: “It stinks we didn’t make it to the playoffs.” Alas, Shelton’s three losses came against two Class LL playoff teams and another that finished just a few spots out of contention. Gotta toughen up that defense in 2010. As for the game, the seniors pretty much went out in style. There was, however, the matter of a late early scuffle between the two teams — one of a few fights on this afternoon. Shelton’s Mike Georgalas and Derby’s Rich Gonzales were both tossed.
SYNOPSIS — I have yet to see the replays on MSG, but by all accounts this was one mother of a Thanksgiving Day football game. Probably the best, most exciting one of the day. Staples was up 21-7, Greenwich came roaring back to take a 22-21 lead late. Staples scored, Greenwich scored. Staples got their kicker Santiago Cuartas (whose previous field goal attempt had hit the upright) in position for the go-ahead points, he drills it this time. With the City of Bridgeport behind them, Greenwich roars back, gets into position and… has their field goal blocked to end the game.
“There were so many emotions going on I felt like I was on a ride at Coney Island,” said Staples coach Marce Petroccio, showing his age. (Coney Island? I’ve seen pictures once).
Staples wins an absolute classic and, for the second straight week, drive a dagger deep into the hearts of Central fans everywhere. They go to the Class LL playoffs as the No. 1 seed. Central gets to watch.
As for Greenwich, they just didn’t have the composure to make their usual run. Two losses by one point, another by two. They were flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct late in the game again drawing more ire over the referees. But there’s nobody to blame but themselves on this. As we saw from Bassick the night before, you’ve gotta keep your composure. Still, a nice effort from the Cardinals to make this one of the day’s best.
SYNOPSIS — Stratford QB Jeff Miller was on the sidelines with a broken ankle, but the Red Devils still managed to stay competitive despite rotating three different passers throughout. Bunnell QB Zach Thomas, though, put a stamp on his senior year with five touchdowns — lots of guys scored 5 TDs today, huh? Other than 2006, Stratford just can’t seem to get a bead on its crosstown rivals. Lots of talk about Bunnell freshman Bryan Castelot, who threw the first TD in this game. A rare down-year for the Bulldogs. It says here they’ll be back.
SYNOPSIS – At the beginning of the season, Warde created all the buzz with its 14-0 victory over Darien (one that ultimately kept the Blue Wave out of the playoffs). But Ludlowe created all the late-season buzz with a few solid wins and then this defensive victory that gave them the schools’ first winning season since the 2004 split. Though Warde was on the short end of this one, there’s plenty to be proud about for Duncan Della Volpe and his team. 5-5 is a great effort for the new regime. Of all the multiple-school towns in the FCIAC, Fairfield is far, far ahead of most everyone else… Norwalk, Stamford, Danbury (if you want to count Immaculate).
SYNOPSIS – Probably the best game of the entire SCC slate. The people of Milford got their money’s worth as Law roared back on some crazy plays (a blocked field goal touchdown return? Wow). Best Thanksgiving Day football line from a writer goes to Mike Cardillo: When the dust had finally settled, perhaps all that was missing from the annual Foran-Law Thanksgiving football game might have been the kitchen sink. By the way, have a day Ricky Festa. He was the difference. Foran finishes a solid season 5-5 6-4. Law falls to 3-7, but with one of its best efforts of the year.
SYNOPSIS – For weeks, this was the biggest game on the 2009 calendar until Hamden was upended by Wilbur Cross in Week 9. Until Wednesday, it didn’t even look as though Notre Dame would clinch a playoff spot with a victory. Then Masuk lost, and the Green Knights’ mission was clear. Win and get in.
Great crowd of over 4,500 people packed the Hamden stands. But this game wasn’t the heavyweight-caliber fight everyone expected. Nice defensive effort, particularly from Connor Keniry, put this game away in the second half and the Green Knights are playoff bound for the first time since 2001 (when they upset Fitch to win it all). All of the life seemed to just drop out of Hamden after that overtime loss to Xavier in Week 6. The Green Dragons’ defense was great, but its offense never quite became the juggernaut we all thought it would be.
There were some fisticuffs late in this game, based mostly on Hamden’s frustration (and perhaps goaded on by Notre Dame). Of the three altercations I heard about, this one looked the worst. But coaches and administrators on both sidelines did a great (albeit aggressive) job pulling the teams off each other and back to the sidelines. No ejections were issued head referee Bill Riccio, which was good for Notre Dame since they have another game remaining.
SYNOPSIS — No matter what happens during the season, that Stamford city title is a thrill to win for these teams. Westhill played its best game of the season and was within 2 points late, but Stamford was just a little bit better. Renard Desir caught three passes for 111 yards and a touchdown, he also grabbed the onside kick that sealed the game and Stamford’s 5-5 record. Khairi Fortt rides west, into the sunset, to Penn State.
The Black Knights can hang their hat on this win, and that big Trumbull upset in Week 6. As good as Fortt and LB Pat Atkinson were, Stamford’s offense just couldn’t get itself into a groove until very late in the year. Still, plenty of talent as always here. Trumbull was nice, but Stamford just has to find a way to beat the Greenwichs and the Centrals of the world. Westhill’s young class has some building to do.
SYNOPSIS — Sounded like a pretty exciting edition of the Turkey Bowl. Darien, its playoff fate at stake, scored early and holding that once-vaunted New Canaan offense to 0 points in the first half and had so many chances to pull off the upset. But John Gardner missed a field goal, had another blocked and the team failed to convert on a fake field goal.
Instead, the story of the Turkeky Bowl became the seven-catch, 79-yard performance from heir-apparent-quarterback-turned-receiver Willie Ouellette. On a fourth-down, still trailing 7-0 in the third, Ouellette caught a 32-yard touchdown pass to tie the game. A muffed punt snap led to New Canaan’s go-ahead score. Darien has two more chance, but fumbles on the New Canaan 6 and can’t convert a fourth down late.
New Canaan limps into the playoffs with two consecutive rough games. They got away with this one, but the once-dominant Rams aren’t going to win any titles with a performances like these. As for Darien, they’d love to get their hands on the Wayback Machine and take a trip to Week 1, wouldn’t they?
SYNOPSIS — Trinity Catholic destroyed what little intrigue this game had with a dominant performance. Writer Tim Parry was right, the game’s highlight was Vince Carter‘s tremendous feat — two consecutive pickoffs for touchdowns.
SYNOPSIS — This game was the talk of the post-Thanksgiving Connecticut Post offices and St. Joseph high school.
Norwalk is winning by 7 late, tries to run the clock out with … four straight kneel-downs. On fourth down and under 30 seconds left, they don’t punt but run around and take a knee at their own 31 with 14 seconds left. McMahon’s Damien Vega throws a perfect touchdown pass to Chris Daniel. McMahon goes for the 2-point conversion and the win, and gets it in spite of itself. They put the wrong personnel in the game but, luckily, Chris Jerome makes the right adjustment and puts himself at halfback to the 2-point option throw.
We’re not making this up.
At the time, St. Joseph needed a Norwalk win to clinch over Wolcott. You could almost hear the outrage coming from Trumbull when the coaching staff heard that result, which forced them to rely on two NVL games to clinch (and they did… barely).
It has not been a good year for football in the City of Norwalk.
SYNOPSIS — Nice job by Amity in making this a game late. I’m told Amity sophomore QB Tyler Vallie should be pretty good in a year or two. Amity’s going to miss Tom Scanlon and Kyle Kalanta, but we knew this was a rebuilding season.
SYNOPSIS — You had to feel for Ridgefield after this one. They did practically everything asked of them, yet they finish far, far, far out of the playoff picture. We can blame their FCIAC schedule. I mean, of their required FCIAC Central games, only Ludlowe offered them any points and they lost to Staples. Norwalk, McMahon and Harding didn’t help them at all. It’s just not a good division. And, somehow, Ridgefield didn’t get to play New Canaan or Greenwich or Central or Darien or St. Joseph… it didn’t help that Trumbull didn’t help, either. In the end Ridgefield was plain unlucky and we’ll never know what kind of team it really was late in the season.
Not that this is any help to the seniors, but help is on the way. The Tigers would have qualified for the Class LL playoffs if the new system was in place for this year. So even though they’ll get the same schedule next season, we’re not having this discussion if they go 9-1 in 2010.
As for Danbury, Dan Donovan has a project on his hands. Danbury is a long way from 2003.
SYNOPSIS — That Fairfield Prep had a 14-6 lead is something to build on for the young Jesuits. They’ll take any positives they can get at this point. Sources say the entire staff has practically been cleaned out — with head coach Bill Pinto, Tom Shea and Rich Lee remaining. Prep knew it was in for a tough season, but nobody thought they’d ever finish 0-10. Ed McCarthy, the West Haven coach, seems to think Fairfield Prep won’t be long for this drought. A lot Jesuit fans are praying he’s right. For now, at least hockey season is right around the corner.
SYNOPSIS — Looked like a good one over in Weston. Barlow’s seniors have have scripted some pretty memorable games this year to finish 5-5. One or two things go their way and it’s a winning season. Barlow’s Tyler Colby caps a nice, three-year career. Patrick Eaker has a tremendous defensive game. Weston’s Rob Cordisco keeps the Trojans in it until the final whistle. All-and-all, a solid Thanksgiving game.
SYNOPSIS — What can you say about Bethel (besides the fact their fans are big, big fans of this space). There’s a coaching change just weeks before the season. Jason Gill, the new coach, makes a few changes and the Wildcats ride their big offensive line and back Peter Gallagher to the school’s first state playoff game in 21 years. Welcome to the show, Bethel. We never knew you had it in you.
But remember, if you want to be a player just getting here isn’t enough. They have their work cut out with an enormously tough matchup with defending state champion New London (10-0) on the road. As awesome as their 8-2 record is, Bethel really doesn’t have a signature win on their resume. They were hammered by Pomperaug and, despite giving Masuk all it could handle, they lost 42-34.
Though it no longer features and Casey Cochran and some of the other key players from last year’s title run, New London is legit. They’re the favorites to win a second consecutive title, albeit in another division.
By the way, big thanks to David Lowenadler (aka @gdstellabluecom) on Twitter for giving us Bethel updates all season long. This was the only upper-Fairfield County game we had on the live blog thanks to him. I personally know lots of Branford fans were watching those updates. Gotta get your upper-SWC brethren a crash course in Twitter for next year.
SYNOPSIS — An absolutely crazy game in the outer rim, and a great career-capper for QB Bobby Wood, who had quite a season for the 6-4 Rebels. Down 20-6 in the third quarter, Wood and Ben Read script a memorable ending by rallying to tie the score. New Fairfield actually had a chance to win it late with a field goal, but New Milford blocked it to send the game to OT. New Fairfield’s defense picked off New Milford QB John Krafick — who otherwise had a great day with over 200 yards passing and two touchdowns — and the Rebels won it on Read’s 10-yard run.
Great game. Great ending for New Fairfield. Tough for New Milford, which started the season with an upset (at the time) of Brookfield.
…The one thing that bugs me about this game. A Patriot Division title? Are you absolutely kidding me?
Let’s get something straight: There are no divisions in the SWC. I don’t care what the league says. You can’t have a division if the teams don’t play all the other teams in division. New Fairfield, for example, went 2-2 against “Patriot Division” schools. Barlow and Stratford, meanwhile, played five division games and went 3-2. Oxford and Weston played just three division games and went 2-1. How is New Fairfield the division champ? Because they finished 6-4? Besides, the divisions aren’t even used as criteria for the league title game. …so what’s the point?
If New Fairfield wants to hang a banner, then fine. I get to hang a banner in my office that says 2009 SWC Revolutionary Division champions. Yeah, I’m 0-0, but that gives me a tie for first place.
Now a bit of thanks:
Thanks to everybody who helped make the live scoring blog possible this week. We had tons of help from staff and correspondents, Lou Pintek, Mike Cardillo, Henry Chisholm, Chris Elsberry, Mike Fornabaio, Pat Pickens, Jesse Quinlan, Rich DePreta, Dave Ruden, Chris McNamee, Pat McNamee, Tim Parry, Matt Ehalt. We had help, all season long from our friends in the Twitterverse: @NVLFootball, the @ValleyIndy, @ChickenShackct, @itsmekgill, @548mjs, @gdstellabluecom, @currenscc, @davechoate, @theman150, @DerbyCT, @BigTMiles, @therave1, @rakroger, @ct_fox, Darien News, New Canaan News, @kmpataky, @rmz87, @BlackKnight76, @RAOfftheRecord (for those clutch Wolcott-Holy Cross updates), @metalned (Ned Griffen of The Day of New London, who also helped me all week with the playoff points) and @scccommissioner Al Carbone for his help at the Green Bowl when I was about to have a breakdown.
Tremendous job this week to everyone. If I forgot anybody up there, I apologize in advance. We had over 2,400 people watch the blog live or after the games Thursday, and the service certainly helped a few meals go down easy Thursday afternoon.
We’ll do it again on Thursday for the state semifinals. We’re hoping to get all 12 games accounted for somehow.
I’ll tell you in advance, we’ll need help from Conard-Pomperaug; Ansonia-Northwest Catholic and maybe even Notre Dame-WH/Simsbury.
I’m taking a break for the weekend. See you all on the other side.