Can anyone beat No. 1?
Matt Walsh, Peter Gerson and the unbeaten defending Class L champion Hand Tigers are back for another run at a glorious 10th state championship. And as of now they’re the favorites to win it all again. After all, they come from the mighty Southern Connecticut Conference and toppled two-time defending Class LL champ Xavier back on Oct. 12.
So who’s going to do what Xavier couldn’t?
How about Windsor?
The talented, high-flying Warriors bring one of the state’s best quarterbacks in Robert Quinn Fleeting and twin monsters Lance and Cole Ormsby. Windsor, which knocked off Notre Dame-West Haven and had New Canaan down before the Rams rallied late and broke Windsor’s heart on a last-second field goal.
Coach Rob Fleeting, the QB’s father, said the team has taken that loss, rededicated themselves and learned from their mistakes. They’re a solid choice to reach the final and take a shot at the champs. (We interviewed Fleeting on the Laxworm High School Football show last Sunday. Listen below.)
Masuk, fresh off its first SWC regular season loss in four seasons, will have to regroup fast to take on talented Middletown and coach Sal Morello. The Panthers had their way with everyone in the league until Newtown. Were some cracks exposed?
And, returning to the state playoffs for the eighth consecutive year is New Canaan. The Rams, suffered their first Thanksgiving loss in nine years and haven’t been as dominant as season’s past. They get to play Avon, a relatively unknown Pequot squad up in Simsbury.
Mike Emery is back in the playoffs with Fitch for the first time since the state championship coach returned. Platt is armed with Justin Potts, but is burdened with a trip to the Surf Club in late November. Good luck.
In the end, Windsor and Hand seem headed for a collision course. But this field has just enough talented teams, don’t be surprised to see a surprise team emerge from the wreckage of a few upsets.
What do you think?
Class L previews
Previews and predictions by the Hearst Connecticut sports staff: Sean Patrick Bowley: Platt-Hand; Fitch-Windsor; Mike Cardillo: Masuk-Middletown; Dave Ruden: New Canaan-Avon.
All games at 6:30 p.m.
No. 8 Platt at No. 1 Hand
POSTPONED TO WEDNESDAY, 6:30 p.m.
WHERE — The Surf Club, Madison
RECORDS — Platt: 8-2 (CCC Division III East champions); Hand: 10-0 (SCC Division I East champions)
PLAYOFF RECORD — Platt: 1-4; Hand: 18-7
LAST APPEARANCE — Platt 2010 (lost to New London 53-14 in M quarterfinals); Hand 2012 (defeated New Canaan 34-10 in L championship)
PLAYERS TO WATCH — Platt: Sr. RB Justin Potts (1,466 yards, 22 TD rushing; 3 TDs receiving); Jr. QB Anton McBride (1,069 yards, 7 TDs, 6 INT); Jr. LB Jason Nelson (10 tackles/gm); Jr. TE/LB Scott Dargan; Hand: Sr. FB/LB Matt Walsh (10 TDs); Sr. DL Peter Gerson; Sr. WR Kyle Anderson (467 yards, 4 TD receiving; Sr. WR Caleb Ewald (519 yards, 5 TD receiving; Sr. QB Brendan Bilcheck (1,493 yards 13 TD, 10 INT; 488 yards, 8 TD rushing); Sr. SS Alex Tuccero.
YOU SHOULD KNOW — Hand has completed the eighth unbeaten regular season in school history with back-to-back 10-0 seasons. …It is riding a 23-game win streak, second only to Ansonia (25) in Connecticut. …Hand’s Walsh is a UConn recruit and has run for 10 TDs this year. …Gerson will play at Yale. …Platt’s Potts is among the top 10 rushers in the state …Including a 34-14 win over then-unbeaten Berlin, Platt has won six straight since a 48-8 loss to Rocky Hill. …It has outscored its opponents by an average of 36-17. …Hand has outscored its opponents by an average of 36-15. …Hand has been ranked the No. 1 team since defeating then-No. 1 Xavier 40-20 on Oct. 12.
SPB’S PICK — Hand 48, Platt 16
No. 5 Middletown vs. No. 4 Masuk
POSTPONED TO WEDNESDAY, 6:30 p.m.
WHERE — Bulldog Field (Bunnell), Stratford
RECORDS — Middletown 8-2; Masuk 9-1
PLAYOFF RECORD — Middletown: 3-3; Masuk: 13-11
LAST APPEARANCE — Middletown: 2009 (0-1, Lost in Class MM semifinals to New Canaan, 28-0); Masuk: 2011 (1-1, Lost in Class L semifinal to Hand, 35-14)
PLAYERS TO WATCH — Middletown: Soph. QB Dario Highsmith; Sr. WR/RB Jha’Kur West; Jr. K Van Uk; Sr. WR Otto Marcello; Masuk: Sr. WR/RB/DB Thomas Milone (2,200 total yards, 36 TDs); Sr. RB Frank Bacarella (13 TDs); Sr. QB Malik Cummings (19 TDs, 4 INTs); Sr. DE Brad Swain; Sr. DB Kyle Fontneau; Sr. DL Bryan Monaco.
YOU SHOULD KNOW — Both teams enter the playoffs off a defeat. … Middletown’s two losses are at the hands of Class L No. 2 seed Windsor and Class LL No. 3 seed Xavier, the latter on Thanksgiving. … Masuk’s lone defeat came on Thanksgiving Eve to undefeated Class LL No. 4 seed Newtown in the SWC championship game. … Middletown’s defense has allowed 124 points, but 81 of those came in the losses to Windsor and Xavier. … The Blue Dragons use a trio of running backs (Shaiquan Turner, Yaamal Jackson and Isaiah Thompkins) and their quarterback, Dario Highsmith, can run and throw. … Masuk’s offense has scored over 40 points in all its victories. … Milone has literally done it all for the Panthers — running, catching, returning, even throwing on occasion. He’ll need to be at his best for Masuk to make the semifinals for the third straight season. … Masuk is 1-0 at Bulldog Field this year, defeating Barlow 42-23 on Nov. 10. … Cummings picked up an ankle injury in the win over Barlow. He didn’t play the next week in a 49-0 win over Weston and returned against Newtown and threw a pair of interceptions.
MIKE’S PICK — Middletown 31, Masuk 21
SPB’S PICK — Masuk 35, Middletown 21
No. 6 New Canaan vs. No. 3 Avon
POSTPONED TO WEDNESDAY, 6:30
WHERE — Simsbury High School
RECORDS — New Canaan: 8-2 (FCIAC East second place); Avon: 10-0 (Pequot Uncas champions)
PLAYOFF RECORD — New Canaan: 20-6; Avon: 0-2
LAST APPEARANCE –New Canaan: 2011 (0-1, lost to Daniel Hand 34-10 in Class L final); Avon: 2009 (0-1, lost to Berlin 35-28 in Class L semifinals).
PLAYERS TO WATCH — New Canaan: Jr. QB/RB Nick Cacione (1,093 yards passing, 5 TDs; 711 yards rushing, 8 TDs); Teddy Bossidy Jr. QB/RB (619 yards passing, 7 TDs; 358 yards rushing, 3 TDs); Sr. WR Grady Lynch (29 catches, 299 yards, 5 TDs); Jr. DB Cole Harris (111 tackles, 2 interceptions); Jr. LB Michael Root (65 tackles); So. LB Zach Allen (55 tackles, 6 sacks); Avon: Sr. RB Colin Moore (2,003 yards, 29 TDs); Jr. QB Noah Hahn (652 yards, 6 TDs); Jr. LB Jimmy Murphy (123 tackles, 7 sacks); Sr. LB Joe Murphy (111 tackles).
YOU SHOULD KNOW — New Canaan has played in six straight state championship games, but has lost two in a row after winning four straight. … The Rams head into the state tournament off a regular-season loss for the first time in 11 years. … Root has been the impact player he was expected to be on defense since returning in midseason from an injury. … New Canaan has more yards on the ground (1,942) than through the air (1,720) for the first time since adopting the spread offense seven years ago. … Avon and New Canaan are meeting for the first time. Avon has not played an FCIAC school since 1962. …Avon averages 261 rushing yards and 66 passing per game. …Avon has allowed just 96 points, sixth least in the state. Its closest win was 14-7 over Class M playoff participant Ellington/Somers. …Moore is just one of a handful of 2,000-yard rushers.
DAVE’S PICK — New Canaan 28, Avon 14.
SPB’S PICK — New Canaan 35, Avon 14
No. 7 Fitch at No. 2 Windsor
POSTPONED TO WEDNESDAY, 6:30 p.m.
WHERE — Jack O’Brien Stadium, Windsor
RECORDS — Fitch 8-2 (ECC Large, second place); Windsor 9-0 (CCC Division II West champions)
PLAYOFF RECORD — Fitch: 7-4; Windsor: 2-4
LAST APPEARANCE — Fitch: 2005 (lost to Staples 27-21 in L semifinals); Windsor: 2011 (lost to New Canaan 27-24 in L semifinals)
PLAYERS TO WATCH — Fitch: Jr. QB Devante Anderson (6-5, 200); Sr. RB/DB Saffwan Davis; Jr. RB/DB Robert Johnson; Jr. OL/DL Lester Smith (5-10, 230); Windsor: Sr. QB Robert Quinn Fleeting (2,125 yards, 27 TDs, 3 INT passing; 545 yards, 7 TDs rushing); Sr. RB Devonte Dillon (579 yards, 3 TD rushing); Jr. RB Jalen Berry (496 yards, 7 TD rushing); Sr. WR Ryhieme Moore (771 yards, 8 TD receiving); Sr. LB Cole Ormsby (14 sacks; Sr. LB Lance Ormsby.
YOU SHOULD KNOW — This is Fitch’s first state playoff appearance since 2005, the first since coach Mike Emery’s return to coach the Falcons in 2008. …In his first stint, from 1992-2003, Emery won six playoff games, two state titles and the state’s No. 1 ranking in 2000. …The Falcons average 40 points per game, the ninth-best in the state. …Windsor allows just 8 points per game, the second-least in Connecticut. …Fleeting is the son of coach Rob Fleeting. …The Windsor averages 476 yards per game. This is its second-consecutive unbeaten regular season. Windsor has won 20 of its last 21 games.
SPB’S PICK — Windsor 37, Fitch 21
Finally, we talked state playoffs on the Laxworm High School Football show on Sunday. Hear Kyle Brennan of Re-Am, Ned Griffen of The Day and myself break it all down. Special guest was coach Rob Fleeting of Windsor.