Fasten your seatbelts.
This division is L-O-A-D-E-D.
Start off with the two-time defending state champs, the FCIAC champions, the SWC champions, the ECC Large champs, CCC Division I’s best team.
It’s a division so good, one unlucky 10-0 team must hit the road in the state quarterfinals: All the way from Norwich to Newtown.
Since losing 42-7 to Xavier in last year’s Class LL final, this has been a season of destiny for Staples. The Wreckers haven’t trailed all season and made mince meat of the FCIAC. They’re stacked with talent up and down the roster. Eight state voters have deemed them the No. 1-ranked team.
They’re aligned for a rematch with Xavier. But first things first: The Wreckers must find a way to halt top tailback Ervin Phillips and West Haven.
The Westies have only lost to two teams this year, 10-0 Hand and Class LL No. 3 seed Xavier.
What do you say about Xavier? They’ve looked vulnerable this year? Have you seen Xavier lately?
Since being down 49-21 to Hillhouse in the fourth quarter in Week 6, the Falcons have scored 170 points, averaging just under two touchdowns in 13 quarters. Worse for this field, they’re healthy. Their starting linebacker unit has returned. Their offense, led by Boston College recruit QB Tim Boyle, is on fire.
The Falcon start off with FCIAC runner-up Greenwich, which is itching to redeem itself after last week’s FCIAC title-game loss.
Let’s not discount QB Stephen Barmore and No. 2-seeded Southington, or their quarterfinal opponent, No. 7 Glastonbury. The Tomahawks were yards away from winning their CCC showdown with the Blue Knights in October only to see an interception eventually turn into the winning touchdown of a 28-21 Southington victory.
The winner of the rematch might get to test Xavier’s championship meddle. Or maybe get an LL heavyweight match with Greenwich.
Perhaps still overlooked despite going 10-0 for the first time in 16 years and winning its first SWC title in 15 years, Newtown is anxious to prove it’s among the elite. Their first game at Blue and Gold Stadium matches up with back Marcus Outlow and unbeaten Norwich Free Academy. Winner gets the Staples-est Haven winner.
We know Newtown would love another chance at Staples after letting slip a 14-0 least in last year’s semifinals.
Most observers like Staples-Xavier II. But anything can happen. This division just might prove it.
What do you think?
Class LL preview
Previews and predictions by the Hearst CT sports staff: Doug Bonjour: Staples-West Haven; David Fierro: Greenwich-Xavier; Sean Patrick Bowley: Glastonbury-Southington. Stats provided by teams via MaxPreps. Some statistics may not include Thanksgiving Week.
No. 8 West Haven at No. 1 Staples
WHERE – Staples High School, Westport
RECORDS — West Haven 8-2 (SCC Division I East second place); Staples 9-0 (FCIAC champions)
PLAYOFF RECORD — West Haven 6-6; Staples 11-8
LAST APPEARANCE — West Haven 2010 (Lost to Xavier 28-7 in LL quarterfinals); Staples 2011 (Lost to Xavier 42-7 in LL final).
PLAYERS TO WATCH — West Haven: Sr. FB Eddy Williams (855 rushing yards, 16 TD), Jr. RB Ervin Phillips (957 rushing yards, 22 TD), Jr. LB Jesse Ridgway (61 tackles). Staples: Sr. RB/DB Joey Zelkowitz (954 rushing yards, 14 TD), Sr. RB/S Nick Kelly (507 rushing yards, 10 TD), Sr. WR/DB James Frusciante (658 receiving yards, 11 TD), Jr. QB Jack Massie (1,189 passing yards, 12 TD, 549 rushing, 9 TD), Sr. DE Pieter Hoets (73 tackles, 7 sacks), Sr. LB Lance Lonergan (74 tackles, 4 INT, 1.5 sacks).
YOU SHOULD KNOW — The teams last met in 2006 in the semifinals of the Class L state playoffs, a game Staples won 24-7. … West Haven’s two losses this season came against teams with a combined 19-1 record, 21-20 against Daniel Hand and 42-7 against Xavier. … West Haven is averaging 41 points in its eight wins. … Staples leads the state with 52 points a game, and has scored no fewer than 48 points in its nine wins. … Staples is third in the state with 4,573 total yards of offense. … Running back Joey Zelkowitz rushed for a record 317 yards in a 48-20 win over Greenwich in the FCIAC championship game on Thanksgiving. … Staples is fifth in the state in rushing with 3,356 yards. … Offense has allowed just five sacks this season. … Senior linebacker Lance Lonergan has returned three of his four interceptions for touchdowns. … Staples has not trailed at any point this season.
DOUG’S PICK – Staples 31, West Haven 17
SPB’S PICK – Staples 35, West Haven 20
No. 5 Norwich Free Academy at No. 4 Newtown
POSTPONED TO WEDNESDAY, 6:30
WHERE – Blue and Gold Stadium, Newtown
RECORDS — Norwich Free Academy: 10-0 (ECC Large champions); Newtown: 10-0 (SWC Champions)
PLAYOFF RECORDS – Norwich Free Academy 2-3; Newtown 4-8.
LAST APPEARANCE — Norwich Free Academy: 2010 (lost to Trumbull 21-6 in LL semifinals; Newtown: 2011 (lost to Staples 44-20 in LL semifinals).
PLAYERS TO WATCH – Norwich Free Academy: Sr. QB Joey Paparelli (580 yards, 11 TDs passing; 702 rushing yards, 7 rushing TDs); Jr. RB Marcus Outlow (954 rushing yards, 15 rushing TDs, 2 TD catches); Soph. RB Khaleed Exum-Strong (592 yards, 8 TDs rushing); Sr. WR Ryer Caruso (6 TD catches); Sr. LB Anthony Gomes (6 sacks). Newtown: Jr. QB Andrew Tarantino (98-for-162, 1,675 passing yards, 23 passing TDs, 3 interceptions); Jr. RB Cooper Gold (815 yards, 16 TDs rushing); Soph. WR Julian Dunn (565 yards, 9 TDs receiving); Sr. WR/DB Justin DeVellis (5 TD catches, 4 INTs); Soph. LB Tim Krapf (70 tackles); Sr. OL/DL Pat Thornberg (3.5 sacks); Jr. OL/DL Josh Krapf (3.0 sacks).
YOU SHOULD KNOW – Sr. WR Dan Hebert has been out of action since breaking his arm against Bunnell on Nov. 9. …Newtown won its first SWC championship since 1997 with a 21-14 victory over Masuk. Gold was the MVP with 222 yards rushing and 2 TDs. … Paparelli threw two TD passes to Caruso and Outlow ran for two scores as NFA beat New London on Thanksgiving in the 151st meeting … Both Newtown (Masuk) and NFA (Fitch) have each played just one team that qualified for the state playoffs. … Newtown outscored its opponents 372-106, while NFA out-scored its opponents 393-91. … This is the first time in the brief history of the quarterfinal round that two undefeated teams are meeting … When Newtown won its last state title (1992, Class MM), it was playing in the now-defunct Western Connecticut Conference, its mascot was the Indians and Blue and Gold Stadium was still named after Olympic gold medalist Bruce Jenner.
RICH’S PICK — NFA 28, Newtown 21
SPB’S PICK – Newtown 21, NFA 14
No. 7 Glastonbury at No. 2 Southington
POSTPONED TO WEDNESDAY, 6:30 p.m.
WHERE — Fontana Field, Southington
RECORDS — Glastonbury 9-1 (CCC Division I East champion); Southington 10-0 (Division I West champion)
PLAYOFF RECORD — Glastonbury 5-4; Southington 5-6
LAST APPEARANCE — Glastonbury 2011 (lost to Xavier 34-6 in LL quarterfinals); Southington: 2007 (lost to Shelton in 21-19 in Class LL semifinals)
PLAYERS TO WATCH — Glastonbury: Sr. QB/WR Ben Berey; Jr. QB Jalen Ollie; Sr. DE/TE Joshua Hill; Sr. OL/DE Matthew Hill; Sr. RB/DB Charles Wooding; Sr. RB/DB Tyler Janssen; Southington: Jr. QB Stephen Barmore (1,819 yards, 18 TDs passing; 325 yards, 10 TDs rushing); Jr. RB Jarrid Grimmett (646 yards, 9 TDs rushing); Sr. Anthony Bonefant (40 catches, 610 yards, 5 TDs); Jr. WR Corbin Garry (33 catches, 598 yards, 6 TD); Jr. DE Zach Maxwell (8 sacks); Sr. LB Justin Rose (8.4 tackles/gm); Sr. LB Nick Spitz (8.7 tackles/gm)
YOU SHOULD KNOW – This is a rematch of an Oct. 20 game, won by Southington 28-21 on Grimmett’s TD run with 34 seconds remaining. … is Glastonbury’s fifth straight state play playoffs. …This is Southington’s first state playoff appearance since losing to Shelton in the 2007 LL semifinals. …This is the second time these programs have met in the state playoffs. Glastonbury defeated Southington to win the 1984 LL title. …Southington coach Mike Drury is a Bristol native and the son of former Pomperaug championship coach Chuck Drury, who is an assistant on the staff. …Ollie is the son of UConn men’s basketball coach Kevin Ollie. …Southington has allowed just 98 points, the sixth least in the state and second-least for an LL school (behind NFA’s 91). Both teams average approximately 35 points per game. ….This is Southington’s second game on its new turf field.
SPB’S PICK – Southington 34, Glastonbury 21
No. 6 Greenwich at No. 3 Xavier
POSTPONED TO WEDNESDAY, 6:30
WHERE — Palmer Field, Middletown
ON THE AIR — CPTV Sports (check local listings) | WGCH 1490-AM
RECORDS — Greenwich 8-1 (FCIAC runners-up); Xavier (SCC Division I West champions)
PLAYOFF RECORD — Xavier 8-4; Greenwich 16-5
LAST APPEARANCE — Xavier: 2011 (defeated Staples, 42-7, in LL finals); Greenwich: 2007 (beat Shelton, 28-14, in LL final)
PLAYERS TO WATCH — Greenwich: Sr. RB Alex McMurray (628 yards, 17 TDs rushing, 3 TDs receiving); Sr. QB Liam O’Neil (1,134 yards, 17 TDs); Sr. TE/DE Joe Kelly (24 receptions, 602 yards, 12 TDs); Sr. FS/WR Taylor Olmstead; Sr. DL Alex McGee (team-high 8 sacks); Sr. RB/LB Mark Bernstein (483 yards, 7 TDs); Sr. WR Vincent Ferraro (23 receptions, 492 yards, 5 TDs); Xavier: Sr. RB/DB DeAngelo Berry (1,275 yards, 27 TDs); Sr. QB Tim Boyle (1,612 yards, 15 TDs); Sr. WR/DB Kris Luster (47 receptions, 930 yards, 6 TDs); Jr. RB/DB Andrew Meoli (304 yards, 4 TDs); Sr. LB Max Tylki (6-1, 207); Sr. LB Charlton Ortega; Jr. DB/WR Nate Gonzalez (64 tackles, 6 INT); Sr. OL/LB Matt Manzione (62 tackles); Jr. ILB Derek Jones (5-10, 207)
YOU SHOULD KNOW — Greenwich and Xavier are facing each other in the postseason for the first time since the Cardinals beat the Falcons, 24-8, in the Class LL semifinals. … Two-time defending Class LL champion Xavier is 22-1 in its last 23 games, its only loss coming to Daniel Hand last month. … Boyle will play at Boston College next year. … Greenwich has won seven state championships, its most recent coming in 2007. … Xavier has captured five state titles. … The Cardinals are averaging 46 points per game, while the Falcons are scoring 44 points per contest. … Boyle and Berry are ranked among the top 20 in the state in passing and rushing, respectively. … Greenwich is 16-3 the last two seasons with two of the losses coming against Staples in the FCIAC championship game. … Berry has rushed for more than 200 yards in a game twice so far this season and has had three or more touchdowns in all but two games. … The teams representing the SCC have fared well in the state tournament recently. Xavier and Hand won their respective class titles a year ago, Xavier and Hillhouse won in 2010, while Cheshire and Notre Dame-West Haven claimed state titles in 2009.
SPB’S PICK — Xavier 48, Greenwich 28
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.