Hearst Connecticut’s sports staff rates the top regional high school football programs (records, first-place votes in parentheses):
1. NEW CANAAN (14-1) (7): Rams allow 12 points in playoffs, capturing Class L title 44-12 over rival Darien.
2. ANSONIA (15-0) (2): Chargers win 43rd in a row in claiming 19th state title.
3. ST. JOSEPH (13-2): St. Joseph’s offense goes hog-wild in playoffs on the way to Class M championship.
4. DARIEN (12-2): Magical ride for Blue Wave finally breaks and rolls back as Darien loses Class L final.
5. FAIRFIELD PREP (11-3): Jesuits were there for 31⁄2 quarters of Class LL final before falling to Southington.
6. NEWTOWN (12-1): Uplifting season ends in Class LL first round for SWC champions.
7T. BROOKFIELD (11-4): Bobcats make a run to Class M championship before running into St. Joseph.
7T. RIDGEFIELD (10-3): Ridgefield knocked out No. 1 Newtown before going down in semifinals to Southington.
Also receiving votes: Barlow (10-3)
— SCOTT ERICSON
Members of the Hearst Connecticut staff who were balloted: Doug Bonjour, Scott Ericson, Dave Fierro, Rich Gregory, Ryan Lacey, Chris McNamee, Gino Moretti, Gary Rogo and Reid L. Walmark.
Why did you pick your No. 1?
BONJOUR (New Canaan): New Canaan was very, very good, as was Ansonia. Rams get the edge for the way their defense dominated in the postseason.
ERICSON (New Canaan): New Canaan beat Hand, Greenwich, Staples, Darien, North Haven, Farmington and St. Joseph twice. Rolled over Darien in Class L final and were just 9 yards from an unbeaten season, losing only to rival Darien with just five days to prepare for the game after FCIAC final vs. St. Joseph. Best defense in the state allowed 12 points the entire state tournament.
FIERRO (New Canaan): Choosing between New Canaan and Ansonia for the No. 1 spot was a very tough decision. Ansonia became the first team in Connecticut to win 15 games and routinely, and convincingly, beat everyone on its schedule en route to winning another state championship. However, I give New Canaan the slightest of edges based on the schedule it faced during the regular season and the teams it had to defeat in the Class L Tournament. Defeating St. Joseph twice and then Darien and North Haven in the state tournament were impressive feats for the Rams. With that being said, I believe Ansonia would have had great success as well if it played in the FCIAC and is strong at all positions — the Chargers aren’t just a one-man team.
GREGORY (New Canaan): Why New Canaan? The 14-1 record, the FCIAC title and the Class L state title are the obvious reasons. Look a little closer and you’ll see the Rams outscored their three state-tournament opponents 107-12, including back-to-back shutouts. The Rams beat a powerful St. Joseph team — the Class M state champ — twice, including once in the FCIAC title game. They split their two games with border rival Darien. And they posted lopsided wins over perennial contenders Hand, Greenwich and Staples.
LACEY (New Canaan): While Ansonia bulldozed its way to a third straight state title, I went with New Canaan at the top because of the strength of schedule. The Chargers, who barely survived a game against Seymour, just didn’t play a team of any real quality and New Canaan took on most of the top teams in the state. The Rams’ defense was so dominant in the postseason and their only blemish was a close loss to my No. 3 ranked team.
McNAMEE (New Canaan): Rams won the deepest, strongest league in the state this year, the FCIAC. New Canaan went 2-1 against teams that made the playoffs during the regular season, beat two SCC playoff teams and posted four wins during the regular season over teams that won at least eight games: Daniel Hand (8-3), Greenwich (8-3), Staples (8-3) and St. Joseph (10-1). New Canaan beat Class M champion St. Joseph twice. They also have in my mind the best defense in the state. The Rams resume is by far the most impressive, making them an easy choice for me as the No. 1 team.
MORETTI (Ansonia): Three reasons why I voted Ansonia No. 1: They are the state’s only undefeated team, they’re the first team in state history to win 15 games in a season, and they had Arkeel Newsome, the state’s top player.
ROGO (New Canaan): Rams weren’t tested in Class L playoffs and beat what I consider the second-best team, St. Joseph, twice. New Canaan plays shutdown defense.
WALMARK (Ansonia): Ansonia would have had trouble beating New Canaan early in the season when the Rams were at their best. There is never any shame losing to their archrival Darien, which should always be considered a 50/50 game. But a team that wants to claim to be the best cannot lose to anyone at anytime under any circumstance, regardless of difficulty of schedule. Hats off to Rams for rallying in the state tournament, but from opening kickoff to the final whistle, no one in the state did it any better than Ansonia.