Ladies and Gentlemen, the final Elite 8 of 2010.
MASUK IS NO. 1
The Panthers were, hands-down the best high school football team in the region and, in our humble opinion, the best team in the state.
Without going through all their superlatives and accomplishments, simply it was a dream season for the school and coach John Murphy. It matched the 2003 team with 13 victories, but was the only team in school history to finish an unbeaten state champion.
Masuk was simply dominant in all phases, offense, defense, special teams. Masuk rolled FCIAC champion Darien 41-0 in the final and then swept past New Canaan 50-20 with a crushing effort in the second half.
Losing players like Jon Testani, Anthony Calabrese, Joe Diaz, Tim Allen, Tyler Perimenis, and Glen Taylor will hurt. But they’re poised to do it all over again in 2011. A bulk of the team’s best players return, including Casey Cochran, Colin Markus, Shawn Flynn, Thomas Milone, Matt Duigan, Andrew Sebben.
The SWC will throw a couple of strong teams at Masuk. Brookfield, loses just a few players — including Brian Kelly – but returns a strong junior class. Pomperaug should be better. Bunnell should be better.
But, no question, this the the team to beat in 2011 if everything stays status quo (no injuries or transfers or anything…)
They didn’t win in the New Haven Register’s poll — a poll that that has been criticized for having a New Haven-bent to it. (And, looking at it again, that poll does need to work better to encompass a better sampling of statewide observers.)
Masuk also didn’t earn the opinions of the state coaches. But they did win the CSWA Poll — which, frankly, also needs some serious work.
At least Masuk can hang their hat on something.
Oh, and their record-breaking, state championship season. Just an incredible year.
No. 2 NEW CANAAN — Looking back, the Rams were the best team in the FCIAC. Only a 1-point road loss to eventual Class S champion kept New Canaan from playing in the FCIAC championship game. They turned it on after that. Led by Kevin Macari the best receiver in our region and one of the top 2 receivers in the state, the Rams crushed Central, Greenwich, then FCIAC champion Darien and barreled into the post season with impressive victories over NVL champion Naugatuck and SCC power Hand, 39-21.
Matt Milano, Conor Hanratty, Jack Atchue, Ryan Shullman, Joe Costigan, helped make this a special team. Even though it didn’t win a fifth-straight state championship. The Rams were just as good — maybe better — than any of their predecessors. But in this new age of expanded playoffs, they just weren’t at Masuk’s level.
2011 will be an intriguing year for Lou Marinelli and staff. An awesome senior class walks out the door — Macari to wherever he’ll end up (and he’s bound to show up in a college boxscore somewhere), Hanratty is off to Notre Dame.
So there will be some building to do. But, doesn’t this happen every year? Expect to see another good team in 2011.
No. 3 TRUMBULL — The Eagles were kind of crazy, up-and-down team. By no means were they perfect, except when they really had to be. They lost tailback Frankie Gaines at the start of the year and took their time rounding into form with a big win over Central. They were shocked by Stamford at midseason, but rallied to beat Greenwich, Danbury, Ridgefield and Staples to reach the FCIAC title game. Trumbull lost that too, thanks to Darien’s defense and God knows how many turnovers.
But again, Ian Milne, Phil Terio, Matt Lena, Joe Riehl, Don Cherry, Tom Pauciello and the gang rallied again. They roared back to beat an awesome team and eventual Class S champion St. Joseph on Thanksgiving Eve. They bulled over Conard and NFA to reach their first state title game in 13 years.
Xavier’s defense proved to be too much for this swashbuckling club. Trumbull had chances, but turnovers and Xavier’s offensive line ran the Eagles over.
Still, a marvelous comeback season for Trumbull. They were one of the region’s best. Heavy graduation losses leave the immediate future in doubt and FCIAC teams will be gunning for them next season. Cherry returns, but who will fill the void left by all of the team’s other playmakers?
No. 4 ST. JOSEPH — What a season St. Joseph had. A recap: Practically all of the 2009 Class SS champion team returns, including Joe Della Vecchia and Tyler Matakevich. They were favorites to possibly win the FCIAC and roll to their second state championship.
Then, as we all know, after a showcase scrimmage vs. Pomperaug, Matakevich went down with a broken foot. Linemen and linebackers soon followed and the Hogs fell to 1-2 with losses to Wilton and Darien. Della Vecchia, Pat Mulligan, L.J. Hunt, Jerry Kramer and crew kept the team afloat, however with a pair of victories and Matakevich returned just in time for a big game vs. New Canaan. St. Joseph held off the Rams by a point and gradually regained the dominant form of the preseason. They won nine of their final 10 games, including wipeouts of Woodland and Valley Regional/Old Lyme.
And, of course, they had just too many weapons for Ansonia in the Class S championship game.
So, all’s well that ends well for St. Joseph. Despite all of that, St. Joseph and its strong senior class rode off into the sunset with back-to-back titles, the school’s 10th overall (second only to Ansonia).
Imagine if this group had been healthy all year.
No. 5 ANSONIA — What can you say about senior back Montrell Dobbs? He gave St. Joseph everything it could handle and then some in the Class S championship game: 52 carries, 303 yards, 3 touchdowns and was all over the place on defense. Dobbs finished his outstanding senior season with 406 carries and 3,443 yards — just 153 yards less than former teammate Alex Thomas’ state-record 3,596 yards in 2007.
For his career, Dobbs ran for 5,469 yards, the fifth-best total in state history behind Bloomfield star Andrew Pinnock‘s 6,012 from 1995-1998.
He carried an exceptionally young team on his back all season and will most likely be everybody’s MVP when it comes time to hand out awards.
He’s gone, but the future is bright for the Chargers who will bring back everybody else to do it again. Freshman Arkeel Newsome showed he’s going to be a tremendous back in the years to come if he can follow in the footsteps of Dobbs and Thomas. The Chargers look like a favorite next year.
And this wasn’t a vintage Ansonia team. Yet this program proved it can play with anybody, anytime, anywhere.
No. 6 DARIEN — This was an exceptionally good team all season. A strong defense, led by beasts Charlie Kunze and Jake Weil, and effective offense. They were 10-0 and the FCIAC champions after Week 9. We looked forward to what the Blue Wave would do in the real postseason.
But then came that ill-advised Thanksgiving vandalism brouhaha, five players (including two regulars) were dumped from the team. The weight of the world seemed to come crashing down on Rob Trifone’s strong team. Would they have beaten New Canaan? Eh, maybe not. Masuk? No. But the mess seemed to demoralize the Blue Wave and they won just one more game.
The Blue Wave didn’t finish strong, but there’s still lots to be proud of for those remaining, an 11-2 season and FCIAC title were won despite lots of nitpicking (particularly here) and criticism.
The Wave look to be rebuiling in 2011. A lot of seniors will be gone. The underclassmen will be served well by the lessons learned this year.
No. 7 WEST HAVEN — The Westies were a solid team in 2010, probably the third-best in the SCC. beginning with their (then) upset victory over Notre Dame-West Haven. Though they were shellshocked by Hand, the Westies rebounded behind speedy backs Kevin Phillips and freshman brother Ervin Phillips.
West Haven’s defense needed some work — as did a lot of teams in the SCC. But this group knew how to score.
Only Xavier — twice — prevented the Westies from realizing greater goals. West Haven hung tough in the first game but got ran over, 42-28. The second wasn’t as good 28-7.
But an 8-3 season and a playoff berth is nothing to hang their heads about and had its share of moments: The 1-point Notre Dame win, coach Ed McCarthy‘s 300th career victory.
With Ervin Phillips returning, the Westies figure to be a strong club in 2011.
No. 8 STAPLES — The Wreckers looked like one of the teams to beat in the FCIAC this season, especially after an impressive 34-14 victory over Ridgefield in Week 3.
Staples had a vintage Wreckers defense — led by Chris Coyne, Rob Gau and Pat Murray — and a strong offense with some up-and-coming stars led by senior Tyler Jacobs and sophomore Nick Kelly, who filled in admirably for injured senior Ryan Burke, and St. Joseph transfer Jason Mawicke
But the injuries continued to pile. QB Chet Pajolek was lost for the year. Kelly went down soon after. Freshman QB Jack Massie and the Wreckers were competitive the rest of the way, but just couldn’t score enough to make another run. Staples was 8-0, but finished the year 1-2, including a heartbreaking 7-6 loss to Glastonbury in the quarterfinals.
Many of those stars are gone, particularly on defense. The Wreckers, however, don’t take long to find new stars. The Wreckers have some rebuilding to do, but with Kelly returning and Massie with a varsity season under his belt, they’ll have a good outlook on 2011.
Overall, 2010 was a fine high school football season.
We had a dream season for Masuk, a dramatic, championship season for St. Joseph — our region’s two state champions. We had a wild, state finalist season for Trumbull, and exciting seasons for Ansonia and New Canaan.
Five regional teams reached one of the four state championship games. Four played each other in dream finals.
The final league count was SCC 2 titles, SWC 1 title, FCIAC 1 title — proving again that the best football comes out of southern Connecticut’s leagues.
Brookfield rolled to the state semifinals, and with a young team figures to be a contender again in 2011. Newtown and Pomperaug almost made it.
Staples and West Haven had outstanding seasons. Notre Dame-WH, which stumbled early, finished strong late. It’s senior class walks away with its heads high, not to mention a 2009 Class L title.
PLAYOFFS A ROARING SUCCESS — The new CIAC state playoff format, including the final games at Rentschler Field, was the best thing the CIAC football committee could have done.
Even some of the coaches, who were against playing at Rentschler at first, agreed that it surpassed their expectations.
Sure, the field was a tad beat up, but it didn’t seem to affect the teams that much. Overall, it was a championship venue for our championship teams.
Besides, this is about the kids and, to quote Ansonia coach Tom Brockett, “Just to see the kids’ eyes light up as we pulled into the stadium makes it worth it.”
We had perfect weather. It wasn’t too cold, or windy (at all). The snow falling at the end of the Class LL title game was a beautiful backdrop to Xavier’s state championship. The crowds were modest, with the exception of Xavier, which seemed to bring out its entire community. They gave the Class LL championship the best atmosphere of the four games. But it looks like a lot of Fairfield County fans and New London fans and New Haven stayed home. Was it the drive? Was it the price? Maybe a little bit of both.
And, again, the three-tier playoffs gave us a lot of great interleague match ups and a lot of intriguing results. We got to see all of the best teams in the state facing off against each other.
We had four legit champions, who overcame tough roads to get there.
This is how Connecticut’s playoffs are supposed to be run. This was, in my opinion, perfect.
So was the year.
Went by fast.
Thanks for joining us. We’ll be running all of the local league all-stars, the all-state team and, the day after Christmas, our All-Region Football team.
At the same time, we’ll have a highlight reel of all the best moments of the 2010 season.
Thanks for joining us.
See everybody soon.
CLASS LL CHAMPIONSHIP VIDEO:
CLASS L CHAMPIONSHIP VIDEO:
CLASS S CHAMPIONSHIP VIDEO: