Yes! Finally, we have ourselves, in my humble estimation, a legit playoff season in Connecticut high school football. The pairings have been set, the hype is just starting to boil to the surface.
It’s time to see who the best teams in the state really are.
It’s time to start the new and improved CIAC Football State Playoffs. The playoffs we’ve been pining for in this space for the better part of three years. And now it’s here.
So we’ll kick off this brave new world with our first batch of preview and pick-the-winners segments. We’ve scoured the newspapers, stat machines and websites (and our own brains) and have given you what we believe are pretty comprehensive looks at each of the state playoff pairings. But, if anything’s amiss, I’m sure you’ll let us know.
We start with Class LL and L, the best two of the bunch. Quite a few intriguing matchups, too.
In Class LL we have an SCC rematch in the 1/8. We have the FCIAC-CCC Challenge in the 6/3 and 4/5 and then the ECC’s best vs the CCC Division II’s second-best in the 2/7.
In Class L, another clash of SCCs and old Hammonasset foes at the Surf Club, mighty Masuk vs. unheralded Eastern at Bunnell, limping Darien vs. first-timer Wethersfield, and FCIAC power vs. NVL champ (in perhaps, the most intriguing game of the night).
We throw our picks into the ring this time. But don’t let us sway you, vote for who you think will win.
All games start 6:30 p.m.
No. 8 West Haven at No. 1 Xavier
WHERE – Palmer Field, Middletown
ON THE AIR – WELI 960-AM, Hamden/New Haven; CNX Radio, 1710-AM, Middletown
RECORDS — West Haven 8-2 (SCC Division I East co-champion), Xavier 10-0 (SCC Division I West champion).
ALL-TIME PLAYOFF RECORD – Xavier 2-2; West Haven 6-5
LAST APPEARANCE – Xavier: 2009 (lost to Staples 31-28 in Class LL semifinals); West Haven: 2006 (lost to Staples 28-7 in Class L semifinals).
PLAYERS TO WATCH – West Haven: Sr. WR Tremayne Barnes, Sr. RB Kevin Philips; Fresh. RB Ervin Philips; Sr. QB Nick Nieves. Xavier: Sr. LB/TE Graham Stewart; Sr. DE Eric Mischke; Sr. FB/LB Mike Mastroianni; Sr. LB Austen Ahern.
YOU SHOULD KNOW– Xavier defeated West Haven 42-28 in Week 9, a game in-which West Haven led 28-27 late in the third quarter. …Xavier has allowed the 5th least points in the state (87). …Stewart is verbally committed to Boston College. …Behind the Philips brothers, West Haven averages 31 points scored. But they also allow an average of 20 points a game on defense. …WH coach Ed McCarthy has won 301 games, most active and No. 2 all-time in Connecticut. …Xavier has been ranked No. 1 in the NHR media poll for 10 consecutive weeks.
OUR PICK — Xavier 34, West Haven 20
No. 5 Staples at No. 4 Glastonbury
WHERE – Tomahawk Field, Glastonbury
ON THE AIR – WWPT 90.3, Westport (Wreckers Radio)
RECORDS — Staples 9-1, Glastonbury 9-1 (CCC Division I co-champion)
ALL-TIME PLAYOFF RECORD – Staples 9-6, Glastonbury 4-2
LAST APPEARANCE — Staples: 2009 (lost to Cheshire 28-21 OT in Class LL title game); Glastonbury: 2009 (lost to Cheshire 21-9 in Class LL semifinals).
PLAYERS TO WATCH — Staples: Jr. QB/RB/DB Tyler Jacobs (915 yards, 11 TD rushing, 7 interceptions); Sr. LB/FB Rob Gau (83 tackles, 3 interceptions); Sr. TE/DL Pat Murray (11 sacks, 4 TDs); Sr. LB/TE Chris Coyne. Glastonbury: Sr. QB/FS Corey Santor (1,245 yards 10 TDs passing; 608 yards rushing, 14 TDs.); Sr. RB/DB Malcom Crossen; Sr. LB Kadeem Ward.
YOU SHOULD KNOW– Both teams average approximately 31 points per game. …Staples allows 10 points per game, Glastonbury 14. …This is Glastonbury’s third straight trip to the playoffs under coach Peter Pfeffer. They won the 2008 Class LL title. …Glastonbury’s only loss was 33-14 to Southington in Week 2. …Staples was 8-0 before falling to Trumbull, 15-13. …Staples QB Chet Pajolek‘s season ended with an ACL injury in a Week 8 win over Ludlowe. Freshman Jack Massie (320 yds, 3 TD, 1 INT) has been the primary QB, though Jacobs runs the offense out of the wildcat. …Murray and Coyne are both committed to Yale.
OUR PICK — Staples 34-14
No. 6 Conard at No. 3 Trumbull
WHERE – McDougall Stadium, Trumbull
RECORDS – Trumbull 9-2 (FCIAC runners-up); Conard 8-2 (CCC Division II champion)
ALL-TIME PLAYOFF RECORD — Conard 0-3; Trumbull 5-5
LAST APPEARANCE — Conard 2009 (lost to Notre Dame-WH 42-14 in Class L semifinals); Trumbull 2005 (lost to Xavier 21-7 in Class LL semifinals).
PLAYERS TO WATCH – Conard: Sr. RB/LB Jon Esposito; Sr. QB Reid Gustafson; Sr. OL/DL Kevin Fisher. Trumbull: Sr. WR/DB/KR Phil Terio; Sr. QB/DB Ian Milne; Sr. FB/LB Don Cherry; Sr. OL/DL Bryan Barnash; Sr. WR/DB Tom Pauciello.
YOU SHOULD KNOW– Esposito is Conard’s all-time leading rusher with 4,381 yards. He has run for over 200 yards in Conard’s last three games, including a 258-yard performance in a 47-7 victory in the season finale. …Conard’s losses this season were 33-20 to fellow LL qualifier Glastonbury and 10-9 vs. Class L qualifier Wethersfield. …Trumbull lost the FCIAC Championship to Darien 17-7. It’s only regular-season loss was 27-19 to Stamford. …The Eagles tend to rotate between QBs Milne and Sr. Brian Gallo.
OUR PICK — Trumbull 34-7
No. 7 Hall at No. 2 Norwich Free Academy
WHERE – NFA Sports Complex & Artificial Turf Field, Norwich
RECORDS – Hall 8-2 (CCC Division II runner-up), NFA 10-0 (ECC Large champion)
ALL-TIME PLAYOFF RECORD — Hall 0-3; NFA 1-2
LAST APPEARANCE — Hall: 1986 (lost to West Haven 35-18 in Class L championship); NFA: 2002 (lost to West Haven 47-26 in Class LL semifinals).
PLAYERS TO WATCH – Hall: Sr. QB Riley Carroll (2,150 yards, 23 TDs, 6 INT passing); Sr. LB Justin Sundstrom (11 tackles/gm); Sr. LB Kevin Farrah (8 tackles/gm); NFA: Sr. RB/S Anthony Facchini (1,052 yards rushing); Sr. LB Nick Cipriano; Fresh. RB/DB Marcus Outlow.
YOU SHOULD KNOW – Behind Carroll, Hall has the fifth-best recorded passing offense in the state with 216 yards per game. . …Hall started the season 8-0, but has now lost two straight 27-24 to Windsor in OT, 41-0 vs. Conard in the season finale. …NFA is the 12th-best scoring offense in the state with 35.7 points per game. It has posted shutouts in three of its last four games. …Facchini, who has played the second half of the season with a broken hand, ran for a career-best 215 yards in a 20-14 regular-season finale victory over New London.
OUR PICK — NFA 34- 0
No. 8 Bristol Eastern at No. 1 Masuk
WHERE – Bulldog Field, Bunnell High School, Stratford
RECORDS — Bristol Eastern 9-1 (CCC Division III runners-up), Masuk 10-0 (SWC Champions)
ALL-TIME PLAYOFF RECORD – Bristol Eastern 1-1; Masuk 8-10
LAST APPEARANCE – Bristol Eastern: 2007 (lost to Berlin 36-28 in Class M semifinals). Masuk 2009 (defeated Newington 56-13 in Class L championship).
PLAYERS TO WATCH — Bristol Eastern: Sr. RB Dylon Ouellette (1,284 yds, 18 TDs rushing); Sr. QB Mat Yopp (800 yards, 9 TDs passing); Sr. OL/DL Steven Julius; Sr. RB/LB John Chiaradio. Masuk: Sr. WR/DB/K Jon Testani (5 TDs, 5 FG, 5 INT); Jr. QB Casey Cochran (2,474 yards, 35 TD, 7 INT passing); Jr. RB Colin Markus (999 yards rushing, 16 TDs; Sr. WR Tyler Perimenis (615 yards, 8 TDs receiving); Sr. WR/S/KR Joe Diaz; Jr. DB Shawn Flynn; Sr. LB Anthony Calabrese.
YOU SHOULD KNOW – Masuk is undefeated for the first time since 2003. It has defeated its 10 opponents by an average score of 50-6, best margin in the state. … Masuk has the fourth-best recorded offense in the state, with 393 yards per game. …Cochran is No. 2 on the state’s passing list. …Masuk has scored the most points 498 and allowed the second-least points in the state (63) and leads the state with 36 sacks. …Bristol Eastern averages 36 points per game and allows 17 points per game. …Eastern’s 355 points scores is the school’s most for a single season. Ouellette is No. 8 on the all time school rushing list. …Eastern’s only loss was 40-24 to Berlin.
OUR PICK — Masuk 49-7
No. 5 Darien at No. 4 Wethersfield
WHERE – Cottone Field, Wethersfield
RECORDS — Darien 10-1 (FCIAC champions); Wethersfield (CCC Division IV champions)
ALL-TIME PLAYOFF RECORD – Darien 9-6; Wethersfield: 0-0
LAST APPEARANCE – Darien: 2008 (lost to New Canaan 26-7 in Class MM championship); Wethersfield: First appearance
PLAYERS TO WATCH — Darien: Sr. LB/FB Jake Weil; Sr. OL/DL Charlie Kunze (8 sacks); Sr. DE Tucker Morehouse (13 sacks); Sr. RB/DB Graham Maybell (532 yards, 5 TD rushing); Sr. QB Chris Allam (1,268 yards passing, 15 TD, 8 INT). Wethersfield: Sr. LB/RB Chris Lesure (888 yards, 15 TDs, 8 sacks ); Sr. QB/DB Steve Vasquez (946 yards passing, 9 TD; 981 yards rushing, 14 TD); Sr. WR/DB Eric Melendy; Soph. LB Devon Henry.
YOU SHOULD KNOW – Darien won the FCIAC for the first time in 12 years. …5 players, including two starters were suspended for the remainder of the season after a vandalism incident at New Canaan’s field the day before Thanksgiving. …Darien was 10-0 before losing the Thanksgiving Day game to New Canaan 42-14. The Blue Wave had allowed just 80 points to that point. …Kunze, all-state as a junior, left the game with a high ankle sprain and is questionable, as is DB Will Weinstock. …Wethersfield’s Vaszquez is listed No. 17 in total offense in the state.
OUR PICK — Darien 24-7
No. 6 New Canaan at No. 3 Naugatuck
WHERE – Naugatuck High School
RECORDS – New Canaan 9-1, Naugatuck 9-1 (NVL Champions)
ALL-TIME PLAYOFF RECORD – New Canaan 16-4; Naugautck 2-2
LAST APPEARANCE – New Canaan: 2009 (defeated East Lyme 28-0 in Class MM championship); Naugatuck: 2001 (lost to Greenwich 33-7 in Class LL semifinals).
PLAYERS TO WATCH — New Canaan: Sr. WR/DB/KR Kevin Macari (36 catches, 768 yards, 15 TDs); Sr. QB Matt Milano (2,322 yards, 33 TD, 11 TD passing); Sr. OL/DL Conor Hanratty; Sr. RB/DB Joe Costigan; Sr. NG Ryan Schullman; Sr. OL/DL Jack Atchue. Naugatuck: Sr. QB Erich Broadrick (1,136 yards, 15 TD passing); Jr. RB/LB Jake Yourison (453 yards, 3TD rushing); Sr. WR/DB Tyler Conklin; Sr. OT/DT Aaron Echevarria (6-5, 270).
YOU SHOULD KNOW– Naugatuck is making its first state playoff appearance since 2001. This is its first time hosting a state final. …New Canaan has won four straight state championships (all in Class MM, all with a different quarterback) and making its sixth straight appearance in the state playoffs. New Canaan has won 8-straight state playoff games dating back to 2006. It’s last loss was to East Lyme, 20-14 in the 2005 Class MM semifinals. …Milano has thrown for over 200 yards seven times and over 300 twice. …Naugatuck upset Ansonia to win its first NVL title and return to the state playoffs for the first time in eight years. …Broadrick threw for 301 yards and 5 TDs. Echevarria had four sacks. …New Canaan’s only loss was a 28-27 loss to St. Joseph; Naugatuck fell to Woodland 25-6.
OUR PICK — New Canaan 42, Naugatuck 20
No. 7 North Haven at No. 3 Hand
WHERE – The Surf Club, Madison
RECORDS — North Haven 9-1 (SCC Division II East champions), Hand 9-1 (SCC Division I East co-champions)
ALL-TIME PLAYOFF RECORD — North Haven 0-1; Hand 14-6
LAST APPEARANCE – North Haven: 2007 (lost to Hand 35-7 in Class MM semifinals); Hand: 2007 (lost to New Canaan 34-30 in MM championship).
PLAYERS TO WATCH – North Haven: Sr. FB/LB Chris Matteis (856 yards, 12 TDs rushing, 77 tackles; Soph. RB/DB Jalon White (836 yards, 11 TD; Jr. QB Joe Schwab (554 yards, 6 TD passing; 500 yards, 6 TD rushing); Jr. TE/LB Mark Zurlis (10 tackles/gm); Sr. TE/LB Brandon McLane. Hand: Sr. QB Zach Miller (2,007 yards, 17 TD, 4 INT passing; 496 yards rushing); Sr. WR Alec Pacelli (44 catches, 852 yards receiving); Jr. RB Kevin Frey; Sr. RB/LB Michael Leone; Jr. NG Joe Demichele; Sr. LB A.J. Hill.
YOU SHOULD KNOW — North Haven has amassed 2,857 yards rushing and 35 TDs, the fourth-best rushing offense in the state. …Its 3,592 yards of total offense is 11th best in the state. …The Indians have won nine-straight games, including a 20-17 victory over Notre Dame-WH. …Former SCC Hammonasset rivals, North Haven hasn’t beaten Hand since 2001 (0-4). …Hand has the sixth-rated passing offense in the state. Millerhas thrown for over 200 yards in eight games. …Hand has never lost an early-round playoff game (5-0 in semifinals). …Its only loss was 38-14 to Notre Dame-WH.
OUR PICK — Hand 28, North Haven 21