Underdog an unfamiliar role for Masuk

Senior quarterback Malik Cummings, right, leads Masuk (4-1) into Thursday's tilt at No. 1 Ansonia (5-0). (Photo by Christian Abraham)

Senior quarterback Malik Cummings, right, leads Masuk (4-1) into Thursday’s tilt at No. 1 Ansonia (5-0). (Photo by Christian Abraham)

For years, Masuk lived life as the favorite, the team that nobody wanted to play. Stars like quarterback Casey Cochran and wide reciever Thomas Milone left opposing defensive coordinators with plenty of headaches and few answers.

Now, the Panthers are 4-1 — coming off a 35-32 loss to Pomperaug — and are unranked in the state poll. They’ve been good, but far from dominant. And on Thursday, they’ll be living life from the other side.

Next up: unbeaten and top-ranked Ansonia, at Nolan Field.

“Our kids are in the situation where they’ve never been considered an underdog,” Masuk head coach Dave Brennan said. “I told the kids this is the first time that they might be in that situation.”

A lot has changed over the years at Masuk. Cochran and Milone have been replaced by Malik Cummings and PJ Kokkoros. Head coach John Murphy — now at New Milford — gave way to Brennan over the offseason. But the Panthers, who won six South-West Conference titles and three state championships in Murphy’s 15 years at the school, still garner plenty of respect from opponents.

“I still think they are (a top 10 team),” Ansonia head coach Tom Brockett said. “I don’t think last week is reflective of what type of football team they are. … They’re one of the top programs of the last 15 years. I don’t think this team is any drop in talent level.”

The Panthers have put up big numbers on offense thus far, averaging 46 points a game. Cummings, a 6-foot-1, 180-pound senior, has thrown for 701 yards, seven touchdowns and four interceptions. He’s also rushed for 380 yards. Kokkoros has racked up 1,030 all-purpose yards and eight total scores.

“We have a team that’s going to be very, very competitive,” Brennan said.

Ansonia can make the same claim about itself. A two-time defending state champion, the Chargers (5-0) have arguably the best player around in senior tailback Arkeel Newsome. The UConn commit has rushed for 1,184 yards with 20 total touchdowns this year.

“They do a lot of things fundamentally sound,” Brennan said. “You have to be prepared for them on multiple fronts. They can stretch the field both vertically and horizontally.”