All with a shot to reach the glorious state championship games at Rentschler Field on Dec. 7-8
We are nearing the end of the modified, snow-delayed version of The Gauntlet, which has been extended to a 10-day, two-game stretch of state playoff games that produce the eight state championship contestants. Twelve teams got a bit of a breather when their state quarterfinal games were postponed due to Tuesday’s snow/rain/panic and the state semifinals were postponed to Sunday. The four teams that played Tuesday got an extra day of rest to prepare for their championship drive.
Welcome to the CIAC State Semifinals, 2012.
It’s been a crazy couple of weeks. But we’re far from finished.
IN CLASS LL, fresh off avenging its only regular season loss of the season to Southington in the quarterfinals, Glastonbury will get another crack at upending playoff rival and two-time defending champion Xavier in the semifinals at Cheshire. Norwich Free Academy, which flexed its muscles and opened some eyes by crushing SWC champion Newtown, gets a shot at derailing the mighty Staples train at Ken Strong Stadium.
IN CLASS L, it’s deja vu all over again with some 2011 rematches.
New Canaan, which is vying for its eighth state championship appearance, heads to Bunnell to face Robert Quinn Fleeting and the Ormsby Twins of Windsor. The Warriors, as everyone well knows, let slip a 24-7 lead and lost to the Rams in this same spot a year ago.
In the other semifinal, Thomas Milone and Masuk will get another chance to defeat Matt Walsh and No. 1 Hand in the state semifinals. Hand ended Masuk’s two-year unbeaten streak and title reign with a 35-14 victory a year ago. Now the roles are reversed. This year, it’s Hand that’s riding a two-year unbeaten streak and hold the Class L championship belt.
CLASS M certainly has a different look than probably most expected. Montville ‘upset’ No. 1 seeded Wolcott and advances to face Harold Cooper, Andre Anderson and No. 4-seeded Hillhouse in Middletown.
Tyler Hassett and Weston, who won the schools first playoff game with a heart-attack inducing 29-22 victory over Ellington/Somers, takes a shot at No. 2 Berlin in Stratford at Bunnell High School.
And in CLASS S, it’s the NVL-Pequot Challenge: Tanner Kingsley and Woodland get a chance to do what Trinity Catholic could not, stop Brandan Basil, Joe DeLucia and the high-flying North Branford T-Birds at Falcon Field in Meriden. No. 5 Hyde Leadership will try to pull off what would be the biggest upset of the playoffs, beating No. 1 and huge favorite Ansonia in Middletown.
ONCE AGAIN, your League Scoreboard (because we know you care, especially you Al Carbone): SCC 4-1 | SWC 2-1 | ECC 2-1 | NVL 2-1 | Pequot 2-2 | CCC 3-4 | FCIAC 2-3 | CSC 0-3
Here are our humble breakdowns of all eight state semifinal games. As usual, pick your winners and give us your thoughts below.
Capsules compiled by the Hearst Connecticut sports staff: Sean Patrick Bowley (online sports producer); Mike Cardillo (Connecticut Post), Doug Bonjour (Westport News), Dave Ruden (Stamford Advocate).
No. 7 Glastonbury vs. No. 3 Xavier
WHERE/WHEN — The Maclary Complex, Cheshire, Sunday, 12:30 p.m.
RECORDS – Glastonbury (10-1, CCC Division I East champions); Xavier (10-1, SCC Division I West champions)
ALL-TIME PLAYOFF RECORD (Semifinals) — Glastonbury: 6-4 (1-2); Xavier 9-4 (3-2)
HOW THEY GOT HERE – Glastonbury: def. No. 2 Southington, 23-14; Xavier: def. No. 7 Greenwich 55-14
PLAYERS TO WATCH – Glastonbury: Sr. QB/WR Ben Berey; Sr. QB/DE/TE Joshua Hill; Sr. OL/DE Matthew Hill; Sr. RB/DB Charles Wooding; Sr. RB/DB Tyler Janssen; Jr. QB Jalen Ollie; Xavier: Sr. RB/DB DeAngelo Berry (1,600 yards, 34 TDs); Sr. QB Tim Boyle (2,087 yards, 21 TDs); Sr. WR/DB Kris Luster (66 receptions, 1,223 yards, 11 TDs); Jr. RB/DB Andrew Meoli (411 yards, 4 TDs); Sr. LB Max Tylki (6-1, 207); Sr. LB Charlton Ortega; Jr. DB/WR Nate Gonzalez (6 INT); Sr. OL/LB Matt Manzione; Jr. ILB Derek Jones (5-10, 207)
OUTLOOK — Xavier is the two-time defending class champions and has won seven straight playoff games dating back to 2010. …This is the third straight season Xavier and Glastonbury have met in the playoffs. Xavier won 24-13 and 34-6 the last two meetings. …After scoring twice early in the quarterfinal victory over Greenwich, Berry sat out a majority of the game but is expected to play. Even without him, the Falcons can run with Luster and the combo of Boyle-to-Luster has been outstanding all season. Since being down 49-21 vs. Hillhouse in Week 6, the Falcons have cruised. They rallied back to win the game 50-49 and have outscored their opponents 216-52 in their last five games. …Glastonbury has used multiple quarterbacks. During last the quarterfinals, Berey and Hill rotated chores. Hill threw a TD pass to Berey and later throw the eventual game-winner, an 85-yard TD pass to Grant Lewis. …Expect more Xavier fireworks, more Boyle-to-Luster strikes and long runs. Xavier’s defense has been overshadowed, but it’s stronger than it’s been all season, and don’t expect Glastonbury to gain much ground. Xavier has owned many teams during this glorious playoff run, especially Glastonbury.
OUR PICK – Xavier 48, Glastonbury 7
No. 5 Norwich Free Academy vs. No. 1 Staples
WHERE/WHEN — Ken Strong Stadium, West Haven, 12:30 p.m.
ON THE WEB — MSG Varsity.
FURTHER READING — Staples hopes practice makes perfect against unbeaten NFA in semifinals
ALL-TIME PLAYOFF RECORD (STATE SEMIFINALS) — Norwich Free Academy: 3-3 (1-2); Staples 12-8 (7-2)
HOW THEY GOT HERE – NFA def. No. 4 Newtown 63-21; Staples def. No. 8 West Haven 42-20.
PLAYERS TO WATCH – NFA: Sr. QB Joey Paparelli (11passing TD, 4 INT, 871 rushing yards, 9 rushing TD); Jr. RB Marcus Outlow (1,123 rushing yards, 16 rushing TD, 4 receiving TD), Soph. RB Khaleed Exum-Strong (633 rushing yards, 10 TD), Sr. WR Ryer Caruso (6 TD catches). Staples: Sr. RB/DB Joey Zelkowitz (1,040 rushing yards, 16 TD), Sr. WR/DB James Frusciante (819 receiving yards, 14 TD), Jr. QB Jack Massie (1,353 passing yards, 15 TD, 578 rushing yards, 9 rushing TD), Sr. DE Pieter Hoets (84 tackles, 7 sacks), Sr. LB Lance Lonergan (85 tackles, 5 INT, 1.5 sacks), Sr. DE Jared Levi (60 tackles, 7 sacks).
OUTLOOK – With a mammoth offensive line and speed at the skill positions, Staples’ offense has been near unstoppable this season. The Wreckers lead the state with 51 points a game and have made a habit of turning games into routs early. Junior quarterback Jack Massie is a threat to pass or run out of the read-option offense. The Wreckers rolled to their second-straight FCIAC title and have yet to trail at any point this season. NFA has had plenty of success of its own on offense, scoring 41 points a game. Running back Marcus Outlow is a physical runner and can change a game in a hurry. NFA’s offense put on an exhibition against SWC champion Newtown in the quarterfinals with 35 third-quarter points. The Wildcats can run with Staples, for awhile but the Wreckers have far, far too many weapons and the defense, led by Levi, Lonergan, Hoets, is one of the state’s best. This isn’t Newtown. It’s Staples, perhaps the best Staples team of the Marce Petroccio era. Staples rarely loses in the state semifinals. This group shouldn’t.
OUR PICK –- Staples 38, NFA 23
No. 6 New Canaan vs. No. 2 Windsor
WHERE/WHEN — Bulldog Field, Bunnell High School, Stratford, Sunday, 12:30 p.m.
ON THE WEB — MSG Varsity
FURTHER READING — Experts on quick turnarounds, New Canaan coaches prepare for Windsor rematch (Stamfordadvocate.com)
RECORDS – New Canaan 9-2 (FCIAC East third place); Windsor 10-0 (CCC Division II West champions)
ALL-TIME PLAYOFF RECORD (Semifinals) — New Canaan 21-6 (10-2); Windsor 3-4 (1-3)
HOW THEY GOT HERE – New Canaan: def. No. 3 Avon 16-8; Windsor: def. No. 7 Fitch 38-7
PLAYERS TO WATCH – New Canaan: Jr. QB/RB Nick Cascione (1,102 yards passing, 16 TDs; 737 yards rushing, 8 TDs); Teddy Bossidy Jr. QB/RB (683 yards passing, 8 TDs; 363 yards rushing, 3 TDs); Sr. WR Grady Lynch (30 catches, 303 yards, 5 TDs); Jr. LB Cole Harris (124 tackles, 2 interceptions); Jr. LB Michael Root (79 tackles); So. LB Zach Allen (60 tackles, 7.5 sacks); Windsor: Windsor: Sr. QB Robert Quinn Fleeting (2,430 yards, 31 TDs, passing; 545 yards, 9 TDs rushing); Sr. RB Devonte Dillon (579 yards, 3 TD rushing through 10 games); Jr. RB Jalen Berry (496 yards, 7 TD rushing through 10 games); Sr. WR Ryhieme Moore (771 yards, 8 TD receiving through 10 games); Sr. LB Cole Ormsby (14 sacks through 10 games)
OUTLOOK – This game is a rematch of last year’s semifinal, when the Rams rallied from a 24-7 halftime deficit to stun Windsor, 27-24, on Collin Shapiro’s 33-yard field goal with 4.2 seconds left. … The Rams will be attempting to play in their seventh straight championship game. … Quinn Fleeting accounted for all six of Windsor’s touchdowns in the quarterfinals, throwing for 305 yards and four scores and running for two more. … The game with Fitch was scoreless until Windsor erupted for 19 unanswered points in the final 4:43 of the half. … 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. …Cole Ormsby is committed to UMass and twin brother Lance is committed to Central Connecticut. …After letting slip last year’s semifinal, the Warriors are on a mission to make amends to themselves. They’re strong, talented and experienced this time around. Unless the Rams play their best game of the saeason, don’t expect anything close to the same result.
OUR PICK – Windsor 28, New Canaan 16.
No. 4 Masuk vs. No. 1 Hand
WHERE/WHEN — Ken Strong Stadium, West Haven, 5 p.m.
RECORDS – Masuk 10-1 (SWC runners up); Hand 11-0 (SCC Division I East champions)
ON THE WEB — CIAC NETWORK | WELI 960-AM
FURTHER READING — Hand, Masuk lock horns again (CTPost.com)
ALL-TIME PLAYOFF RECORD (Semifinals) — Masuk: 14-11 (7-4); Hand: 19-7 (6-1)
HOW THEY GOT HERE – Masuk: def. No. 5 Middletown 21-14; Hand: def. No. 8 Platt 55-26.
PLAYERS TO WATCH – Masuk: Sr. WR/RB/DB Thomas Milone (1,083 receiving yards, 915 rushing yards, 34 TDs); Sr. RB Frank Bacarella (939 rushing yards, 14 TDs); Sr. DB Kyle Fontneau; Sr. DE Jon Skoog; Jr. RB/LB Joseph DaMota. Hand: Sr. FB/LB Matt Walsh (10 TDs); Sr. DL Peter Gerson; Sr. WR Kyle Anderson (472 yards, 4 TD receiving; Sr. WR Caleb Ewald (665 yards, 7 TD receiving; Sr. QB Brendan Bilcheck (1,693 yards 15 TD, 10 INT; 507 yards, 8 TD rushing); Sr. SS Alex Tuccero.
OUTLOOK – This is a rematch of last year’s semifinal won by Hand 35-14 also played at Ken Strong. The Tigers scored 21 unanswered points in the second half sending the Panthers to their only defeat in 2011. … Masuk rallied from a 14-0 halftime deficit to defeat Middletown 21-14 Wednesday night. The Panthers switched to their ‘rock’ power rushing formation, using senior quarterback Brandon Charney over junior Malik Cummings finishing the game with 21 straight runs. … Milone, one of the best overall talents in the state, will play baseball at UConn. … Masuk is averaging 43.5 points, but has scored just 35 in its last two games. … Masuk defensive end Brad Swain is doubtful with a foot injury. … Hand is ranked No. 1 in the state overall, is riding a 24-game winning streak and has 10 CIAC state titles. … Walsh will play at UConn, while Gerson is bound for Yale. … Hand has rushed for over 100 yards in each of its games. … The Tigers average a balanced 176 passing yards and 168 rushing yards per game. …Masuk has shown some vulerability of late. Hand hasn’t. Unless Milone can go wild, Masuk will have a tough time cracking this defense.
OUR PICK – Hand 42, Masuk 28
No. 8 Montville vs. No. 4 Hillhouse
WHERE/WHEN — Middletown High School, Sunday, 5 p.m.
ON THE WEB — CIAC NETWORK | CPTV Sports (check local listings)
RECORDS – Montville 9-2 (ECC Medium co-champions); Hillhouse 9-2 (SCC Division II West champions).
ALL-TIME PLAYOFF RECORD (SEMIFINALS) – Montville: 4-6 (2-2); Hillhouse 10-2 (4-1)
HOW THEY GOT HERE – Montville: def. No. 1 Wolcott 32-14; Hillhouse: def. No. 5 St. Joseph 34-14
PLAYERS TO WATCH – Montville: Jr. RB Jeremiah Crowley (1,737 yards, 21 TDs); Sr. OL/DL Jake Basillica (6-4, 295); Sr. OL/LB LB Isaiah Holloway; Sr. QB Nick Clemons (6-2, 205); Hillhouse: Jr. RB/LB Harold Cooper (1,403 yards, 19 TD rushing); Sr. RB/DB Andre Anderson (1,221 yards, 14 TD rushing); Sr. QB/DB Je’Vaughn Moore (684 yards, 6 TD passing; 801 yards, 6 TD rushing); Sr. LB/OL Terrell Fairweather (101 tackles incl. 4.5 sacks); SR WR/DB Darryn Horner (5 interceptions; 227 yards, 3 TD receiving).
OUTLOOK – Hillhouse has won four straight playoff game dating back to the 2010 state playoffs, during which the Academics won the Class M championships. Senior QB Je’Vaughn Moore was the starter on that team. Backs Cooper and Anderson are the state’s best one-two tandem with a combined 2,627 yards and 33 touchdowns. …Montville, making its first state playoff appearance since 2009, knocked off No. 1-seeded Wolcott with Jeremiah Crowley rushing for 200 yards and a pair of touchdowns. …The Indians held Wolcott QB Mike Nicol to 24 yards passing in the second half. …Hillhouse has speed and power, but most importantly speed. Basillica and the Montville defense figure to have their hands full with either Cooper or Anderson. Though Hillhouse’s interior line is tough, the elusive Crowley might be able to do some damage on the ground to keep this one close. But if the Indians give up too many big plays to Anderson-Cooper, they’ll be forced out of their run game and into comeback mode. Hillhouse’s defensive backs should have a field day.
OUR PICK – Hillhouse 42, Montville 14
No. 6 Weston vs. No. 2 Berlin
WHERE/WHEN – Bulldog Field, Bunnell High School, Stratford, Sunday, 5 p.m.
RECORDS — Weston 9-2 (SWC Patriot Division champions); Berlin 10-1 (CCC Division III East second place)
ALL-TIME PLAYOFF RECORDS (SEMIFINALS) — Weston 1-1 (0-1); Berlin 5-14 (2-12)
HOW THEY GOT HERE –- Weston def. No. 3 Ellington-Somers 29-22); Berlin def. No. 7 Bullard-Havens 41-14.
PLAYERS TO WATCH — Weston: Sr. QB/DB Tyler Hassett (1,735 passing yards, 17 TD, 860 rushing yards, 12 rushing TD), Sr. WR/DB Justin Schaffer (1,035 receiving yards, 8 TD), Sr. DE/OL Austin Gomar (14 sacks), Sr. DE/OL Jack Hamilton (3 sacks). Berlin: Jr. QB Mitch Williams (14 TD, 5 INT), Sr. RB Justin Gombotz (over 1,110 rushing yards, 18 TD), Sr. RB/CB Scott McLeod (15 TD).
OUTLOOK — Weston has lived on the edge all season, winning four games with fourth-quarter comebacks. The Trojans earned their first-ever state playoff win in the quarterfinals. Senior quarterback Tyler Hassett has the ability to break off long runs and has also developed a strong rapport through the air with wide receiver Justin Schaffer. The Trojans have been able to pressure quarterbacks with help from senior defensive lineman Austin Gomar, who has 14 sacks. Berlin is equipped with talent on both sides of the ball and has lost just once this season. In its 10 wins, Berlin has allowed just 11 points a game. Senior running backs Justin Gombotz and Scott McLeod have given defenses fits, combining for 33 touchdowns. Gombotz, however, was injured in the quarterfinal victory over Bullard-Havens. With or without him, Berlin will be tough to stop. Weston should keep it close, but Berlin gets the plays it needs to pull this out late.
OUR PICK -– Berlin 34, Weston 26
No. 7 Woodland vs. No. 2 North Branford
WHERE/WHEN — Falcon Field, Meriden, Sunday, 12:30 p.m.
RECORDS – Woodland 8-3 (NVL runners-up); North Branford 11-0 (Pequot Sassacus champions)
ALL-TIME PLAYOFF RECORD (SEMIFINALS) – Woodland 5-2 (2-1); North Branford: 2-7 (1-6)
HOW THEY GOT HERE – Woodland: def. No. 2 Capital Prep/Classical 37-35; North Branford: def. No. 6 Trinity Catholic 49-28
PLAYERS TO WATCH — Woodland: Jr. QB Tanner Kingsley (2,675 yards, 42 TDs passing); Sr. WR/DB Anthony Scirpo (1,087 yards, 23 TDs receiving; Sr. WR Rahmil Rountree (737 yards, 12 TDs receiving); Sr. OL/DL Eric Collodel; Jr. TE/LB Levi Fancher. North Branford: Sr. QB Brandan Basil (138-for-227 passing, 2413 yards, 36 TDs, 4 interceptions); Sr. RB/KR Joe DeLucia (1,000 all-purpose yards, 19 TDs); Sr. RB/LB Dale Hausman (1,039 yards rushing, 10 TDs; Sr. RB/LB Chris Caron (42 receptions, 887 yards, 15 TDs), Sr. G/DE Christian Sgro (8 sacks).
OUTLOOK – North Branford has only advanced past the semifinals once, in 2001 when the T-Birds lost in the Class S finals to Bloomfield. …It’s victory over Trinity Catholic was its first playoff victory since defeating Ansonia 21-20 in the 2001 Class S semifinals. …QB Brandan Basil, the son of head coach Mark Basil, threw for 166 yards and 3 TDs in the quarterfinal win. …Hausman ran for 161 yards and a touchdown. DeLucia caught 5 passes for 76 yards and 3 TDs. …Woodland’s Tanner Kinglsey is the state’s passing leader with 2,997 yards and 47 touchdowns. …He set the state’s single-game mark with 615 yards vs. Seymour on Thanksgiving, and threw for 321 yards and 5 TDs in the quarterfinals …North Branford averages 450 yards per game, balanced between run (214 yards) and pass (235). …Woodland averages 375 yards per game, 252 of that is passing yardage. … Expect this to be a shootout relatively early, but the T-Birds are a much more complete package. They’re tough to contain defensively. Led by Sgro, they have made 30 sacks this season and have 19 interceptions. Kingsley might be running for his life unless the Hawks line can put up a good defense.
OUR PICK – North Branford 49, Woodland 20
No. 5 Hyde Leadership vs. No. 1 Ansonia
WHERE/WHEN — Middletown High School, Sunday, 12:30 p.m.
RECORDS – Hyde 10-1 (Pequot Sassacus second place); Ansonia 12-0 (NVL Champions)
ON THE WEB — CIAC NETWORK | CPTV Sports (check local listings)
ALL-TIME PLAYOFF RECORD (Semifinals) – Hyde: 9-5 (4-3); Ansonia: 30-14 (10-6)
ON THE AIR — (CIAC Network, MSGvarsity.com)
HOW THEY GOT HERE — Hyde: def. No. 4 Rocky Hill 15-14; Ansonia: def. No. 8 Prince Tech 53-16.
PLAYERS TO WATCH – Hyde: Sr. QB/CB Kevin Jones (16 total TDs); Sr. RB/FS Ezekiel Nixon (1,124 yards, 15 TD rushing); Sr. RB/LB Marcus; Sr. OL/DL Donnery Evans (8 sacks); Ansonia: Soph. QB JaiQuan McKnight (22 TDs, 6 INTs); Jr. RB Arkeel Newsome (1,800 rushing yards, 28 TDs); Sr. WR/LB Andrew Matos (13 TDs); Sr. TE/DE Raeshaun Finney.
OUTLOOK – Ansonia has a Connecticut-best 17 state titles. … Ansonia, the NVL champs, is riding a state-best 26-game winning streak. The Chargers last defeat came in the 2011 Class S final to St. Joseph. … Ansonia has outscored opponents 595-189. … Ansonia got five touchdowns from Newsome in the win over Prince Tech. … Hyde beat No. 4 Rocky Hill 15-14 Tuesday night. Ezekiel Nixon and William Burroughs blocked Greg Marzilli’s extra point attempt with 17 seconds left on the clock to preserve the Howling Wolves victory. … Since 2002 the two schools have combined for seven Class S championships. In Hyde’s relatively short, 14-year history, the Howling Wolves have won four state championships, almost as many as Ansonia over that time (5). But Ansonia has won both times the teams have met in the playoffs, in 2003 and 2010, and won both handily. Doesn’t mean that much for this year, but consider nobody has come within three touchdowns of the Chargers all season. We can’t see Hyde breaking the trend.
OUR PICK – Ansonia 55, Hyde 14