State Quarterfinal Tuesday: Staples, Hillhouse win big in snow bowls

CLASS LL —Staples 42, West Haven 0

CLASS M — Hillhouse 34, St. Joseph 14 | Berlin 41, Bullard-Havens 14

CLASS S — Hyde 15, Rocky Hill 14

Darryn Horner snags an interception in front of St. Joseph's Jake Pelletier at the goal line in Hillhouse's 34-14 victory over the Hogs at East Haven. Horner took the pick 98 yards the other way for a touchdown just before halftime.

A year ago, torrential rain played havoc with the CIAC state quarterfinals.

On Tuesday night, Mother Nature decided to test the playoff field again, this time with a significant (but not crippling) snowstorm.

Twelve of the 16 state quarterfinal hosts either couldn’t play or just flat-out decided not to play.

The other four hosts decided to give it a go. To the chagrin of of a few, CIAC made no attempt to intervene. “We’re playing … Not sure if we should be playing,” said one football committee member, whose complaint wasn’t the snow, but the advantage the mass postponements give the Tuesday crowd, “but we’re playing.”

And then there was the other side.

“Football is played the elements,” Hillhouse coach Tom Dyer said. Asked again, Dyer added, “We were prepared. This is football weather. This is a turf field.”

So we kicked off four quarterfinal games, some played in driving snow for at least a half or two. The worst of it was high atop Wheelbarrow Road in East Haven (The East Haven Himalayas, says Ned ‘Polecat’ Griffen’). Westport seemed to get the least.

Three hosts won. The other lost in a heartbreaker.

Staples passed its test. With high flying colors, it passed.

So did Hillhouse.

Visitors St. Joseph and Bullard-Havens? Not so much.

Bullard-Havens didn’t seem to mind. “It’s no excuse for not doing our job,” senior back John Shannon said of his team’s 41-14 loss.

St. Joseph… to say they minded would be sugarcoating it.

“I’m not sure whose idea it was to play,” said coach Joe Della Vecchia, in a string of not-so-subtle complaints about the weather and the officiating, which he believed hindered his team’s potential.

“I’m not a fan of it. It certainly didn’t help the timing of what we had to do. It didn’t hurt us as far as the outcome, I don’t think, but the whole time the receivers were a little bit slower and the balls were going a little bit farther. I disagree with the decision to play here today. I thought it was just raining. We came up here and the field was covered in snow and it wasn’t really taken care of well. It was tough for both teams.”

Andre Anderson stretches the ball across the goal line for a touchdown in Tuesday night's Class M quarterfinal victory over St. Joseph.

The Hogs’ offense never found its footing on the inch of snow on the Crisafi Field turf. They committed four turnovers, one fumble and three interceptions. The fumble came on the first play from scrimmage. It led to a touchdown. Darryn Horner took another 98 yards for a touchdown to put the Academics up 28-6 at halftime.

St. Joseph also couldn’t score inside the 10-yard line twice in the first half.

Hillhouse, meanwhile, were practically making snow-angels. While Harold Cooper wasn’t a major factor with 47 yards, Andre Anderson was. He ran for 139 yards. One long run led to a touchdown, the other was a touchdown.

“I never played in anything like this,” said Horner, who had two interceptions to lead a physical defensive backfield that harassed and punished St. Joseph’s receivers  “It was exciting.”

“”I’m real proud of them for showing some real toughness and battling the weather and really not making the weather an issue,” Dyer said. “I never once heard my kids say, hey coach, I slipped.”

The speedy and physical academics will face the winner of Wolcott-Montville. They’re the surefire favorites in Class M now after winning what many of us called the ‘Class M championship in the quarterfinals.’

Dyer didn’t want to hear it.

“This wasn’t the state championship,” he said. “We’ve seen Wolcott. We’ve seen Montville. Both two quality programs. We’ve got to be prepared to play because if we’re not prepared to play, we’re going to be sitting home watching the state championship.”

James Fruciante hauls in a long touchdown pass from Jack Massie in the Wreckers' 42-20 victory over West Haven.

SPEAKING OF FAVORITES, Staples sure looked like one in demolishing West Haven 42-20. The Wreckers scored on the first offensive play of the game — a 60-yard touchdown pass from Jack Massie to James Frusciante and then scored another three touchdowns on five more plays.

The Wreckers defense had no issues stopping the Westies sterling back Ervin Phillips.

Like they did to so many teams this season, the Wreckers amassed over 300 yards in the first half and led 35-0.

“We came out fired up,” Frusciante said. “I think we were really ready to go for this game. The offense came out fired up and the defense was lights out in the first half.”

The Westies came into the game without staring quarterback Jevon Taylor but, “Our problems really weren’t on offense in the first quarter,” West Haven coach Ed McCarthy said.

Staples did get a jolt of reality when senior back Nick Kelly injured his shoulder in the third quarter and didn’t return to the field, except to sit on the bench. Losing the all-state player wouldn’t be fun for the Wreckers. Not now.

Still, what a performance.

BULLARD-HAVENS MUST have had underdog fans giddy in the second half of their state quarterfinal vs. Berlin. The Tigers were down early, but rallied to pull within 21-14 in the second half on a pair of Jacqua Solomon runs.

But Berlin turned on the jets and eventually cruised to a 41-14 victory.

It was a much better effort than their last two trips. “This was the most talented team I’ve coached,” Johnson said. “We represented ourselves well.”

FINALLY, it was heartbreak in Class S for Rocky Hill. The No. 4-seeded Terriers had just rallied from 15-0 down to pull within 15-14 with seconds remaining against Hyde, pending the extra point. They decided to kick, take their chances in overtime. But the it was blocked slightly and fell just short of the goal posts. Hyde wins and advances.

Wow.

Watch highlights of that, and West Haven-Staples below from the guys at WFSB.

Here’s hoping for more excitement in today’s quarterfinals.

Hyde 15, Rocky Hill 14: Highlights via WFSB

WFSB 3 Connecticut

Staples-West Haven highlights via WFSB

WFSB 3 Connecticut

Sean Patrick Bowley