Several thousand fans packed the bleachers and lined the fences around Staples Field to see two of the best teams in Fairfield County duke it out on a glorious Thanksgiving morning in Westport.
Yes, Staples was already in the state playoffs.
Pressure’s all on Greenwich? A day at the park for Staples? Ehhh… not quite.
The Wreckers players and coaches were highly motivated, not only to win the FCIAC title and punt their rivals from here all the way into 2012, but they desperately wanted to win the newly-christened Jerry McDougall FCIAC Championship trophy for their coach, Marce Petroccio, who is one of McDougall’s finest proteges and one of the late coach’s best friends.
Petroccio played for McDougall. Won a state championship with McDougall. He coached with him at Trumbull. He was with McDougall all the way up until the week he died from acute Leukemia in October and served as a pallbearer at his funeral.
“To win the inaugural Jerry McDougall trophy would be very special to me,” he said in the days leading up to the game.
So, yes, there was tremendous urgency on the Staples sideline as Greenwich raced to a 10-point lead in the fourth-quarter thanks to the Play of the Year (Alex McMurray’s double-pass-68-yard-touchdown run) and Shane Nastahowski’s 18-yard touchdown.
Sensing the life was being drained from his team, Petroccio took a moment to remind them to keep playing.
“I said, ‘Listen. We’re not going to lose today with our heads hanging,'” Petroccio recalled telling his kids at some point. “If we lose today we’re going out with our heads held high and we’ve gotta go after it. Lo and behold, that’s what they did.
Staples scored, stopped Greenwich with four minutes left, then drove and scored again on unlikely senior hero Peter Bonenfant‘s 16-yard touchdown catch from sophomore Jack Massie with 1:21 remaining.
“I caught four passes all year and that was my first touchdown of the year — it felt amazing,” Bonenfant said.
Just a few plays later, Staples had a stacked Thanksgiving Day plate: A 31-27 victory over Greenwich, the FCIAC title, a No. 2 seed in the Class LL playoffs, McDougall Trophy.
“We showed tremendous heart,” Petroccio said to his kids, standing with the trophy and McDougall’s son, Jerry Jr. “We never give up and today it took a little something special. And I’d like to think that Jerry’s Dad had a little bit to do with what we accomplished today.
“So I want to tell you, I love you with all my heart, we’re certainly not done here, and today I want you to enjoy yourselves because you are the crown jewel of the town of Westport today. …Now let’s go eat turkey!”
As for Greenwich, an 8-2 season was an incredible improvement over last year’s 5-5 disappointment. But not winning this, not reaching the state playoffs with one of the state’s best players on its side (Nastahowski) was a devastating blow for a program that has seen more than its fare share of them.
“I haven’t felt this heartbroken for a group of kids in a long time,” Greenwich coach Rich Albonizio said amid his crestfallen players. They fought hard. You felt for them.
Alas, that mishmash we call the FCIAC schedule was Greenwich’s real culprit.
They had enough victories, but not nearly enough points thanks to three winless opponents, Westhill, Ludlowe and Bassick. With any other schedule, Greenwich would be making state playoff redemption plans. Greenwich was good, if not better, than almost the entire Class LL field.
“I’m sorry they’re not in it. I would have loved to see them in the state playoffs,” Petroccio said. “Because I think they could have done a lot of damage. They’re a heckuva football team and Coach Albonizio is a heckuva football coach.
Staples, the No. 2 seed, hosts FCIAC rival and seventh-seeded Ridgefield at Wilton in the first round of the state playoffs. The two teams didn’t meet in the regular season, but they did scrimmage each other on Sept. 5. Ridgefield’s players are already fired up. So should Staples’ players.
Oughta be a war.
Darien was cruising along, winning by comfortable margins in the FCIAC. Then, days before Thanksgiving, a couple players are allegedly involved in criminal conduct and get suspended. Darien subsequently gets buried in the Turkey Bowl by a New Canaan team desperate to get into the playoffs, 42-14.
That was last year.
This year, the only difference this time was the venue (Dunning Field in New Canaan) and the stakes for Darien (the loss ended the Blue Wave’s state playoff hopes) and the margin (42-21 rather than 42-14).
The Blue Wave had a great year, better than anyone expected. But, once again, it’s tainted by the selfish acts of a few players and a rout at the hands of arch-rival New Canaan. Gotta feel for coach Rob Trifone, who also lost his father the previous week.
“This doesn’t mar the reputation of the program, it mars the reputation of one individual. One bad apple doesn’t spoil the whole bunch,” Trifone said.
This is getting old.
As for New Canaan, their demise has been greatly exaggerated. A hiccup loss to Stamford derailed an FCIAC championship course. But QB Matt Milano, who’s been setting all kinds of school passing records, and the Rams are suddenly looking dangerous heading into the Class L playoffs.
The big difference this time was New Canaan’s much-maligned defense, which looked strong in this one. It picked off Darien QB Henry Baldwin five times. “I thought our defense played the best game of the year,” coach Lou Marinelli said.
While Darien starts thinking about a comeback year in 2012, the Rams head into the Class L playoffs. They’ll need that same defensive effort in their quarterfinal game at New London.
The Whalers, led by speedster Rob McKinnon and a massive line (who beat Greenwich 51-34 earlier this season), will bring it Tuesday night in what should be one of the playoffs best matchups.
“There was a little bit of pressure with what was on the line,” New Canaan LB Kevin McDonough said. “We embrace pressure. That’s when you see the best out of our team.”
We’ll certainly see Tuesday night.
The scenario was simple for Bethel: Beat Brookfield and hope one team ahead of them in the Class M playoff standings lost to clinch its second state playoff berth in three years. Brandon Schmidt, Brian Birdsell and the offensive line did their job. Schmidt and Birdsell combined to rush for 320 yards on 50 carries and Westerly (R.I.) did the rest, shutting out Stonington 15-0. The Wildcats are dancing again.
“It is our bread and butter,” Birdsell said of Bethel’s notorious rushing attack, which helped it to upset Bunnell a few weeks ago to qualify for the playoffs for the second time in coach Jay Gill‘s three-year tenure. “People know Bethel likes to pound the ball and our line played their hearts out. It hasn’t sunk in yet that there’s a game on Tuesday.”
Bethel needed some help to avoid sinking to the No. 8 and facing you-know-who in the first round at Jarvis Stadium. But Wolcott managed to outpoint Bethel to clinch the No. 7. So it’s off to Ansonia they go.
As for Brookfield, it was the end to a frustrating season. A year ago, the Bobcats were playoff bound and, while many of us figured they’d make a run at the SWC title and make a return trip, the upset loss to Weston in Week 2 and a close loss to Bunnell and now this dropped them to a 5-5 record. Leaon Gordon and LB Joey Acquanita are gone now. QB Boeing Brown will return. Still, looks like a long climb back.
Under Coach of the Year candidate Sean Ireland, Norwalk needed just one more victory to clinch a long-awaited state playoff berth. Unfortunately, the Bears needed to hurdle unpredictable rival McMahon, which had had playoff teams New Canaan, Ridgefield and FCIAC champion Staples all on the ropes in previous games.
But Norwalk, which (honestly) has been just a little more than a novelty in Fairfield County compared to many of the usual suspects, got behind potential regional MVP candidate and the inaugural Pete Tucci MVP Delshawn Wilson and big TE/DE Gil Arujo and shoved the Senators into the discard pile while catapulting themselves into the state tournament.
“When do you hear about Norwalk High?” Wilson asked, rhetorically. “Usually our scoreboard is on the other side for the entire year.”
The thing that stood out most: Norwalk’s defense. Check this stat line: Held explosive McMahon QB Damien Vega to just 58 yards passing, picked him off twice, and sacked him four times. Overall, Norwalk’s defense — underrated all season — held McMahon to just 72 total yards.
“Overall, that was our best effort defensively. We just had kids flying in,” Ireland said.
Eat your heart out Staples and New Canaan. An absolutely incredible year, which included an impressive 27-14 victory over No. 7 seeded Ridgefield. Norwalk, which has made no secret of its angst at being overlooked, now gets a chance at big things in the state playoffs. They get No. 4-seeded Conard in the first round at West Hartford. A victory there will (likely) give the Bears a shot at Xavier.
Cherish the thought.
It was in this spot last season that Naugatuck stunned annual favorite Ansonia to win the NVL championship and propel itself into the state playoffs for the first time 2001. Ansonia’s seniors remembered. It was all they could think about moments after winning the NVL championship last week.
The Chargers put the region’s longest rivalry back on its usual course, with a dominant victory over Naugatuck. Arkeel Newsome did his usual thing, breaking the game early with long touchdown runs. The Ansonia defense did it’s usual thing: Play bone crushing defense. Yada, yada, yada…and Ansonia marches into the Class M field as the No. 1 seed.
The Chargers (11-0) are an overwhelming favorite to win the Class M championship and become the state’s first 14-0 team. They start with Bethel Tuesday at Jarvis Stadium. The winner gets either Berlin (which had an interesting Thanksgiving eve, to say the least) or Cheney Tech. Then it’s off to Rentschler Field and the state championship.
Ansonia lost last year’s Class S state championship, 42-27 to St. Joseph.
Anyone wanna guess their motivation for this year’s title run?
Stamford was everybody’s dark horse candidate to contend for an FCIAC championship and reach the state playoffs. Looking back, the Black Knights didn’t really disappoint. They finished 7-2 and won five straight games — including a 36-29 upset of New Canaan in Week 8 — to finish the year.
After a loss to Norwalk in Week 3, coach Bryan Hocter lamented the team’s inability to win the big game. But after pasting winless Westhill to take the City Championship, he believed they had answered his call. “The kids finished the job,” he said.
Alas, Stamford loses a fine senior class, including Bryan Boderick, his twin brother Barry, Matt Corcoran, Chandler Foster, Tarek Bruce, Carlos Martinez and more. At least they walk away with the Frank Robotti Trophy for the City title.
“This trophy means so much,” Martinez said. “It slipped away last year. But we got it back in 2011 with a great season. It means the world to all our seniors to go out with a 7-2 record.”
As for Westhill, another tough season. A year after going 1-9, they finish 0-10. The Vikings seem to wade in the short end of the Stamford pool. Like all the teams who had tough seasons, we tip our caps to all the players who played as hard as they could until the final whistle despite the rough year.
What a year for Weston. Behind Tyler Hassett and sophomore Danny Rogers, the Trojans upset Brookfield 21-20 in Week 2 and then won four straight (including 30-7 over Class M qualifier Bethel) to finish with its best season since 2003.
They capped a banner year with the Patriot Division championship with Rogers running for 188 yards and three touchdowns in a victory over Barlow.
Alas, it was close, but that record wasn’t enough to get coach Joe Lato and Weston into the playoffs for the first time. They were outpointed by a Class S playoff spot by all the Pequot Conference teams who don’t have teams like Masuk, Newtown or Bunnell on their schedule.
Regardless, great season for Weston. They went 5-0 against Patriot competition and 2-3 against the Colonial. Their losses were to Newtown, Masuk and Bunnell. Not bad at all, guys. Rogers is a player to watch for the next two years. We’re anxiously awaiting the SWC’s realignment to see if it’ll help the Trojans get that eighth victory and a spot in the playoffs next year.
As for Barlow, a tough 3-7 season, but a competitive one. QBs Jack Shaban and Cooper Brown return and the team has a good allotment of linemen. We’ll see for next year.
(Aside: There was a rumor running rampant in the back woods of Fairfield County that Barlow had found a dead Falcon on the football field and serious speculation that Weston was the culprit.
Few things: Where would anybody get a falcon from outside of hunting one? And if it wasn’t hunted, who in their right minds would/could kill it? Do people regularly hunt falcons? And, as unlikely as the first two things happening together, what are the chances that an actual falcon just upped and died on the Barlow Falcons’ football field?
I’m guessing somebody has a dad who’s into game hunting and also has a (sick?) sense of humor.)
Last week was a tough one for Bunnell. Two weekends before, they lost a wile, 54-48 overtime game to Newtown. Coupled with Bethel’s upset a few week prior, it kept the highly-regarded Bulldogs out of the playoffs.
Once reality set in, however, the Dawgs went out like champs, crushing struggling town rival Stratford at Penders Field. “I’m really proud of the kids,” coach Craig Bruno said. “We had a great season.”
Junior quarterback Bryan Castelot threw four touchdown passes to departing seniors Jawad Chisholm and Jared Vasquez. Senior RB David Camille ran wild and J.J. Bivona was a brick wall.
“Everything was clicking — we got the job done,” Castelot said.
All eyes will be on this team next year with Castelot returning as the league’s top quarterback. Bunnell has plenty of offensive holes to replace, but they’ll be an early favorite next year.
As for Stratford, it was a tough season but marginally better than the previous one. There’s still a long way to go for coach John Svatik‘s crew. “Our kids played hard. I’m proud of our kids,” he said. “I wouldn’t trade ’em for the world. We’re going to work to get better.”
It was yet another year of crippling injuries for Foran. But the Lions, who lost QB Matt Aspinwall at midseason, got him back in time for the stretch run. Behind him and RB Dave Yerxa, the Lions averaged 45 points in its final two games and capped it all off with a turnover-filled 48-13 victory over Milford rival Law.
Seven turnovers doomed any chance Law had at picking up its first victory of the season.
“It wasn’t really that easy,” Yerxa said. “Law came to play. The turnovers, how the ball bounced, made the game (look easy).”
Foran finished 3-7, winning two of its final three games. It defeated Guilford 47-41 in overtime, lost to Stonington 41-40.
Here’s hoping both teams can improve from here.
Shelton’s playoff hopes were already slim as the Gaels lined up with Valley rival Derby at Lou DeFilippo Field. But as Thanksgiving morning wore on, it became very clear that Shelton had more pressing concerns.
For the first time since 2002, Derby’s last victory in the series, the Red Raiders were actually hanging around, refusing to get run off thier own field.
Down 26-6, Derby senior quarterback Ray Kreiger, who threw for 324 yards on 23 of 38 passing) rallied Derby to within 26-19 after three quarters.
“We went up to the locker room and a bunch of my seniors got together and said, ‘This isn’t happening to us — we’re not getting blown out on our own field in our last game,” Kreiger said.
Then they almost had a shot to win the game. With time running down and Derby facing fourth-and-11 inside the 30, Kreiger’s pass to Brian Dobek came just one yard short.
For his efforts, Kreiger earned the Silver Turkey MVP award, the first Derby player since 2002 to take the coveted trophy.
But Shelton, which got touchdowns from seniors Gary Thompson and Frank Camerino, finished 8-2, got the victory.
“It reminded me of old school Shelton-Derby game,” Shelton coach Jeff Roy said. “I enjoyed this one and 8-2, playing in our league, that’s a great record.”
Derby, which finished 4-6 is still looking for its first winning season since 1996. The Red Raiders were hindered all season long by the preseason loss of Jake Tomczak. Shelton finished 8-2 on the strength of its defense and an offense that finally figured itself out late in the year. The Gaels have a strong sophomore class that will be counted on to help the team get over the hump the next two seasons.
Did anyone get a load of the threads donned by Central coach Dave Cadelina and his coaching staff? Did we miss the memo on the dedication of the ‘Tweed Bowl?”
Blessed with a flair for theatrics, Cadelina the Central coaches looked quite dapper on the sidelines of the annual Central-Harding clash.
Central back Fred Tucker didn’t need a costume to put on a show. The senior and 2012 FCIAC-leading rusher capped a fine career with a 317 yards and three touchdowns to capture the John E. Johansen Memorial Trophy as Central won its 13th straight Thanksgiving Day game over Harding. “He was the heart of our game plan,” ‘Bear’ Cadelina said. “We just wanted to get our blockers into the right spots, give it to Fred and let him take over.”
But, for the second-straight year Harding was more than a match. Taquan Broadway scored on a pair of touchdown runs and Harding pulled within 26-20 late, but couldn’t stem Central’s series win streak.
Going forward, the Bridgeport schools all struggled on the field, thanks in part to the stringent “Core 4” academic policies enforced in the already struggling school district. Cadelina, for one, lost 20 players to the new standards before the season started. Whether these stringent policies (which require students to pass all four core subjects in addition to maintaining an acceptable GPA) will be effective in the long term remains to be seen. Right now, it sounds like it’s doing more harm than good by keeping kids involved in school and out of any trouble that might otherwise find them.
And then there’s the issue of the Harding coaching situation. Head coach James Morris has been suspended for the last month for ‘insubordination’ and a half and there’s been no indication (zero) from the Bridgeport athletic department that it’s even interested in bringing him back. And, judging by interim coach Aaron Stroud‘s comments after Thursday’s game, it sounds like he believes he’s in it for the long haul.
Morris is the second football coach this year to be slapped with an insubordination charge (Frank Marcucio was fired from Bassick last summer). Something seriously is fishy down there.
Bullard-Havens looked like it would be in the running for a CSC title and a Class M playoff spot. But the Tigers lost to Prince Tech, got hammered by Class S top seed Capital Prep/Classical Magnet and all but dropped out of the running. So the Tigers settled for a Thanksgiving Day victory over city rival Bassick. Angel Rosario scored two touchdowns and had an interception.
Bullard-Havens, which like many CSC teams didn’t think it would be allowed to play football this season due to state budget cuts, finished with its fourth winning season in five years and the third-straight under coach John Johnson. While there were some issues this season, overall Bullard-Havens is light years away from all those weekly beatings in the SWC.
As for Bassick, a sudden coaching change by the Bridgeport athletic department back in the summer brought some turmoil before former West Haven star Derrick Lewis stepped in. The Lions finished 0-10, including a close loss to rival Harding. Lewis is encouraged by the performance of his players, despite the record. Unlike Bullard-Havens, Bassick plays in the uber-tough FCIAC. So there’s that issue, too.
“We’re very proud of the way the kids responded to such a sudden change,” Lewis said. “It’s the reason I’m here. We’re about permanence, we have a great group of sophomores; we got kids that are interested in playing next year. We’ve just got to keep the ship rolling.”
2010 Class S state champion St. Joseph was everyone’s pick to take the biggest nose-dive in 2011.
And while the Cadets struggled to a 3-7 record this year, they could look across town and be thankful they were nowhere near that train wreck.
Trumbull was the FCIAC and Class LL runners-up in 2010.
Here’s how the 2011 season went: Trumbull’s first game, all the way up in Boston vs. Catholic Memorial (Mass.) ended in the second quarter when the lights malfunctioned. Trumbull lost QB Brendan Moore to injury in its second game. The Eagles were buried by Greenwich at home in Week 4. The week after, town patriarch Jerry McDougall died after a year-long illness. Just a week later, coach Bob Maffei‘s father died. Trumbull was hammered by Darien, Staples, Danbury and Central. Just before playing New Canaan standout RB/LB Don Cherry was suspended for the remainder of the season.
Then the Eagles lost to St. Joseph for just the sixth time in series history and watched the Cadets walk away with the inaugural Jerry McDougall Thanksgiving Day trophy.
While the game sounded entertaining for both teams and both sides, it’s back to the drawing board for both.
Thankfully, for both clubs, 2012 is just weeks away.
The craziest, if not the best, game of the day was played at Alumni Field in Fairfield. The Jesuits were 5-4 going into its annual clash vs. West Haven, having struggled significantly against the big boys of SCC Division I. But — surprise, surprise — the Jesuits showed up and played, perhaps, their best game of the season.
Unfortunately, it also ended with a loss.
Oh, but what a game. Prep actually had a 27-21 lead after three quarters. Tom Brewster threw a pair of long touchdowns to Michael Niche. Shane Dempsey and Dillon Ryan scored on a pair of TD runs.
But the Jesuits couldn’t stop the Mannings, Tahir and Jawaun. After Jawaun Manning blocked the extra point, Tahir Manning caught a 26-yard touchdown pass (his third of the day) from Nick Nieves to put the Westies up a point. Later, as Prep pulled within one again, their onside kick went right to James Moore, who took it all the way for the backbreaking score.
Now two years removed from 0-10, Fairfield Prep goes into the 2012 season encouraged by a 5-5 finish in coach Tom Shea‘s second season. West Haven finished 7-3 with some rebuilding to do. Sophomore Ervin Phillips, who spent the last few weeks on the sidelines due to injury returns for coach Ed McCarthy. Even McCarthy, who missed three games due to health reasons, indicated he’d be sticking around for a while.
Fairfield Warde probably deserved a better fate than a 5-5 season. The Mustangs were as competitive as they’ve ever been in recent years, but just couldn’t deliver in crunch time. They let leads slip away vs. Darien, New Canaan and Wilton.
So coach Duncan Della Volpe, who’s bent on building a great program on the east side of town, had to settle with the knowledge that good football can be played at the Fairfield public schools.
It’s just going to take a little more time. If that eventually happens, this year’s seniors, who ended the season on a good note with an overwhelming victory over Ludlowe to capture the Gallaher-Baynas Trophy, can at least know they were part of something.
“We’ve been in every game to the end and we definitely had some frustration,” DellaVolpe said. “We don’t have much in our trophy case, so it’s important that (the Gallagher-Banyas Trophy) stays in there.”
Senior Devon Lofton ran for 248 yards and three touchdowns to send the class out in style.
Ludlowe would love to have Warde’s problems. Ludlowe was 6-4 two years ago, but have struggled mightily for two straight years now. Can’t be fun. Hat tip to all of the players and coaches for hanging in there.
Think about this for a moment: Had North Haven’s Jalon White not pulled this rabbit out of his hat, the playoffs might have a significantly different look this year.
That play ultimately sent defending Class M champion Hillhouse home for the rest of 2011 and catapulted North Haven into its third state playoff berth in five years. Thankfully, the Indians will not be going to the Surf Club again.
They’ll go to Trumbull to face defending champion Masuk instead.
The Indians are a wacky team, using all kinds of misdirection and play action out of the single wing. It’s old school football, but real fun to watch when it’s humming. The Indians’ only loss was to Notre Dame-WH (and that was because of two fumble recovery TDs).
North Haven wasn’t as efficient as it normally is against SCC Division I opponent Amity, turning the ball over three times. But the Indians stuck with what brought them to a 9-1 record — their methodical run game — to qualify for the state playoffs.
Amity, meanwhile was competitive in its brutal SCC Division I schedule. The Spartans, who were led by QB Tyler Vallie, finished 4-6 but still managed to win a few big games along the way.
Also, since this is my alma mater, I’m pleased to see longtime announcer Stan Gedansky get recognition for his years of dedication. And I like that Amity name the football field in honor of coach Bill Johnson. The complex is still named after influential Superintendent William E. Sim. But in terms of football, Johnson was king: State Champs over Ansonia 1978.
Like North Haven, the Green Knights needed to bust up Hamden to qualify for the Class L playoff field. And though Hamden is much better than last season’s 0-10 team and showed as much by scoring first. But while Hamden committed to stopping ND’s notoriously brutish run game, the Green Knights took the opposite of North Haven’s tact and took to the air. QB Nate Schambach, who hasn’t been called on much this year like predecessor Sean Goldrich, threw 10 passes and completed six, three for touchdowns.
Notre Dame reached the Class L playoffs at 8-2 over 9-1 Farmington thanks to its schedule — which included wins over 8-2 Shelton, 7-3 West Haven, 9-1 North Haven and 5-5 Fairfield Prep. ND’s only losses were to 10-0 Xavier and 10-0 Hand. (Now juxtapose that with your schedule, Greenwich fans, and you see why the FCIAC’s gotta figure this scheduling thing out.)
“We feel we deserve it,” coach Tom Marcucci said. “And we’re looking forward to it.”
They do. And so are we.
Wilton had everything to make a run this season. It had good athletes, a strong offense with big-play potential. It’s only problem was defense. It struggled in a four-game losing streak against Ridgefield, New Canaan, Darien and McMahon at midseason. Wilton scored 104 points in those four games, but surrendered 132 and 240 for the year. Still, the Warriors did finish a respectable 6-4 with three straight wins to end the year. They put it all together vs. Trinity Catholic.
“We had a rocky middle of the season, but to finish 3-0 shows great resilience by our team to shake off that four-game losing streak,” quarterback Sean Carroll said.
As for Crusaders, losing RB Shaquan Howsie earlier in the year severely limited them in a frustrating 3-7 season.
Big congratulations to Rico Brogna whose team rolled up over 500 yards of total offense. But it wasn’t Nigel Beckford raking up the big numbers, it was senior Daquan Coleman who had the game of his career with seven runs for 193 yards and three touchdowns, a pair of interceptions and a touchdown from a lateral.
After a long 1-9 season, in which the Lancers played with just 15 guys, they could at least celebrate in a win. Brogna said he’s anxious to get his team back in the weight room and is encouraged by an incoming class. So there’s that. The Lancers also bring back Beckford for his senior year.
For Immaculate, a rough start for new coach Bryan Pinabell. The Mustangs can’t be happy about losing by 41 to another winless team. There’s some serious work to do for both these small Catholic schools.
Both northern Danbury teams struggled for consistently throughout the 2011 season. So what better way to wash it all away with victory in the Candlewood Cup?
It turned out to be a good one. Connor Shanahan completed 23 of 31 passes for 243 yards and three touchdowns to lead New Milford in a wild game off Route 7.
New Fairfield didn’t go quietly. It rallied from 28-7 down in the first half and tied the game in the third quarter behind Nick Guardi and Rob Fiamengo. But New Milford nipped the Rebels on Ben Bayer‘s 29-yard field goal.
“It’s just absolutely incredible,” Shanahan said. “Every single person out here has worked so hard. We gave everything we had for this game.”
The game also held statewide importance. Like last year, it wound up costing an SWC team a shot at the playoffs. Pomperaug needed this one to go New Fairfield’s way to qualify over Glastonbury.
We saved this one for last because, one of the best lines of the day came not from a reporters question, but from the Twitter account of New Milford WR Liam Lynch, who played for Class LL champion Xavier before transferring back home.
It was a tremendous sentiment, and at the crux of everything this week stands for.
We all get wrapped up in state playoffs, making it the end-all-be-all of the high school football season. While it’s great measuring stick of great teams and great programs, it’s family and relationships that truly count the most. Football is the ultimate team game. It’s an unforgiving sport that requires many intricate moving parts to run efficiently and successfully.
It takes talent, skill, brains, brawn, dedication and commitment.
Or, as the late great Coach Jerry McDougall said: Pride, Attitude, Desire, Sacrifice.
Eleven guys play on the field, but dozens more make a successful program. If one falters, the whole house of cards starts to crumble. Everyone must to work together and function as one unit.
With every kid in uniform, there are three and four times that many more involved. Whole families. Whole communities.
Only a select few can wear a championship ring, that’s what makes it special. But that’s only a small part of the whole experience. Lynch’s thought reminds everybody what high school football is really all about.
It’s not the destination, it’s the ride.
Now, a bit of thanks.
Thanks to all the players, coaches and administrators from all over our region (and beyond) who made this another great high school football season.
Especially the players. You guys do all the hard work, make all the sacrifices. We just watch.
Regardless of how you finished your season, what triumphs you may have had, what disappointment or even tragedy you may have endured, thanks for all of your dedication and hard work in giving us this amazing season. Everyone on my side of the aisle is truly blessed to cover such outstanding young men. To the seniors who just completed their season, we wish you well in the coming years. Make us proud again.
To all of the other journalists and citizen reporters who gave their time and got involved to help bring this football season to all of those who couldn’t see it live and in person. There are too many to list here for now, and maybe I will at the real end of the season, but for now I am indebted to all of you.
And to everyone else who comes here for high school football news, we thank you most of all. We had over 16,000 people visiting this spot this Thanksgiving Eve and Day. We had 1,881 people tuned into the Live Blog Wednesday night (up from 1,600 the year before) and another 3,223 people tuned in on Thanksgiving Day (up from 2,700 the year before).
Thanks for being interested and coming here to see what’s up around the region and the state. We’re thrilled you keep coming back and it makes us all work harder to give you the best coverage we can.
I’m taking a break for the next day. I’ll catch every one on the other side for the state semifinals.
Thanks and take care,