Windsor's Lance Ormsby (11) bears down on New Canaan quarterback Nick Cascone during the Class L semifinals. Windsor will try to win its first state title when it takes on No. 1-seeded and No. 1 ranked Hand in the state championship.
No. 2 Windsor vs. No. 1 Hand
WHERE/WHEN – Rentschler Field, East Hartford, Saturday, 5:35 p.m.
ON THE AIR — Radio: WELI 960-AM | TV:CPTV Sports | Online:ESPN 3, Watch ESPN app
TICKETS — $10
COACHES — Windsor: Rob Fleeting (4th year, 38-5); Hand: Steve Filippone (24th year, 200-61-5, 6 state titles).
RECORDS – Windsor 11-0 (CCC Division II West champions); Hand 12-0 (SCC Division I East champions)
HOW THEY GOT HERE —Windsor: def. Fitch 38-7; def. New Canaan 27-21; Hand: def. Platt 55-26; def. Masuk 42-23
STATE TITLES –Windsor (0-1): None. Hand (10-6): 1976-M, 1977-M, 1982-MII, 1984-MI; 1989-MM; 1997-L; 2003-M; 2004-M; 2005-M; 2011-L
Hand LB Matt Walsh loses his helmet making a tackle vs. Masuk in the Class L semifinals. He required stitches on his head, but will be ready to go when the defending champion Tigers take on Windsor Saturday. (Photo: Brian Pounds)
TOP PLAYERS —Windsor: Sr. QB Robert Quinn Fleeting (2,488 yards, 32 TDs, passing; 655 yards, 10 TDs rushing); Sr. RB Devonte Dillon (674 yards, 5 TD rushing); 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); Sr. WR/DB Terrell Huff (451 yards, 4 TDs; Sr. LB Chris Traore. Hand: Sr. FB/LB Matt Walsh (10 TDs); Sr. DL Peter Gerson; Sr. WR Kyle Anderson (504 yards, 4 TD receiving); Sr. WR Caleb Ewald (936 yards, 9 TD receiving; Sr. QB Brendan Bilcheck (2,125 yards 17 TD, 11 INT; 696 yards, 10 TD rushing); Sr. SS Alex Tuccero; Sr. RB Ian O’Toole (858 yards, 15 TDs rushing); Jr. LB Dan Rogers.
WORTH NOTING – Hand has won the second-most CIAC titles (10), tied with St. Joseph (10) and behind Ansonia (17). …Filippone has won six titles, including last year’s Class L title over New Canaan. His 42-23 victory over Masuk was his 200th career victory. …LB Walsh is a UConn commit. DE Gerson will attend Yale. …Hand has been the No. 1 team in Connecticut since a 40-20 victory over Xavier on Oct. 12. …The Tigers have won 25 straight games dating back to last season. …It’s last loss was to New Canaan in the 2010 Class L semifinals. …Windsor is making its second appearance in the championship game. It lost to Ridgefield 14-13 in the 2002 Class L final. …Robert Quinn Fleeting is the son of coach Rob Fleeting. …The Tigers average a balanced 176 passing yards and 168 rushing yards per game. …Windsor allowed just 8 points per game in the regular season, the second-least in Connecticut. Overall it’s allowed 10 per game. …Cole Ormsby is committed to UMass and twin brother Lance is committed to Central Connecticut.
Windsor QB Robert Quinn Fleeting
OUTLOOK — Windsor comes in as the once-jilted, now redeemed power from the north. The Warriors are a year older and wiser than a season ago when New Canaan rallied to knock them out of the running. This time, they held their ground and have advanced to their first final since losing to Ridgefield in 2002. Fleeting has established himself as one of the state’s best passers, and Windsor’s stable of backs and receivers are all tough to defend. The Ormsby twins lead a defense that’s perhaps a bit overshadowed by Quinn Fleeting’s fireworks. They’re a tough opponent. But Hand will be the most talented, most physical team Windsor has seen all season. The No. 1-ranked Tigers aren’t particularly huge up front, but they’re fierce, virtually flawless and just as determined to grab a state championship. Quinn Fleeting figures to have his hands full trying to stave off Hand’s fearless defense, led by Walsh and Gerson. If he can escape, he’ll have Tuccero and the Hand secondary with which to contend. Of more concern is how Windsor will stop the Hand offense. It was perfect in Sunday’s state semifinal vs. Masuk, especially the Bilcheck-to-Ewald combo which torched the Panthers for 185 yards and two TDs. Sheer talent and experience as seniors will allow Windsor to hang around. But by the second half, as the hits began taking their toll, it’ll be all Hand, all the time.
OUR PICK — Hand 38, Windsor 21
NFA's Joey Paparelli rips off a big run against Staples in the Class LL semifinals. NFA is hoping to spring another upset when it takes on No. 3 Xavier in the Class LL title game (Photo: Mike Ross)
No. 5 Norwich Free Academy vs. No. 3 Xavier
WHERE/WHEN — Rentschler Field, East Hartford; Friday, 7 p.m. ON THE AIR — Radio: WELI 960-AM | TV:CPTV Sports | Online:ESPN 3, Watch ESPN app TICKETS — $10 COACHES —Norwich Free Academy: Jemal Davis: 5th year (40-14, 0 state titles); Xavier: Sean Marinan (10th year, 89-31-2, 3 state titles) RECORDS – NFA: 12-0 (ECC Large Division champions); Xavier: 11-1 (SCC Division I West champions) HOW THEY GOT HERE —NFA: def. Newtown 63-21; def. Staples 30-28; Xavier: def. Greenwich 55-14; def. Glastonbury 30-13 STATE TITLES – NFA (0-1): none; Xavier (3-2): 2005-LL, 2010-LL, 2011-LL
Xavier QB Tim Boyle
TOP PLAYERS —NFA: Sr. QB Joey Paparelli (871 yards rushing, 9 TD); Jr. RB Marcus Outlow (1,388 rushing yards), Soph. RB Khaleed Exum-Strong (660 rushing yards), Sr. WR Ryer Caruso (9 TD catches); Sr. OL/DL John Crooks (6-1, 203); Sr. DL/TE Tuzar Skipper (6-2, 205); Sr. OL/DL John Patick Kelly (6-2, 230); Jr. DB Airec Ricks; Sr. K Elisa Formiglio. 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)
WORTH NOTING – This is only NFA’s second state championship appearance. The Wildcats lost the 1998 state final to Southington, 54-26. …This is NFA’s second playoff appearance under Davis. …NFA’s Outlow, a junior, has Division I offers from Alabama, Oregon, Ohio State, Florida, Michigan, Boston College, Oklahoma (among others) …NFA’s kicker Elisa Formiglo could be the first female to play in a Connecticut state championship game (provided NFA scores) …Xavier’s Tim Boyle is committed to play at Boston College. …Xavier has scored 526 points per game and allowed 203. It outscores its opponents by an average margin of 44-17. …NFA has scored 456 points and allowed 139. It outscores its opponents by an average of 39-12. …Since trailing Hillhouse 49-21 in the fourth quarter of a Week 6 meeting, Xavier has outscored its opponents 246-65.
OUTLOOK — NFA has gone from relative obscurity to dangerous championship contender in just two games. They announced their presence when coach Jemal Davis deliberately went over the ‘score management’ policy in a 51-0 victory over Stamford and suspended himself under the rule’s guidelines the following week. He might have been correct in insisting keeping his starters in late to ‘better prepare them’ for the challenges ahead. Though many of their victories in the ECC weren’t as impressive, beating SWC champion Newtown 63-21 and, even better, beating FCIAC champion Staples 30-28 just four days later made them their most-talked about team in these state playoffs. They’re big up front, have a potential Division I back in Outlow, and the quarterback and receivers are scrappy. This is a hungry and determined football team. Xavier, their opponents, didn’t rip through the SCC like it did the previous two seasons. A 40-20 loss at home vs. Hand cost them their No. 1 ranking. They were down 49-21 in the fourth quarter vs. Class M finalist Hillhouse in Week 6. But Xavier rallied to win that game 50-49 and have been on a tear ever since. Berry is one of the state’s top backs, Boyle-to-Luster is an impossible pitch-and-catch combo to contain. Crushed by injuries at midseason, the defense, led by Tylki and Luster, is healthy and perhaps a bit underrated during the Falcons’ . Up front Xavier matches, if not exceeds NFA in size. If they weren’t focused already, Staples loss to NFA should have woken up this group. They know they have a formidable task. Expect NFA to play the defending champions tough, but Xavier’s been here too many times to be denied.
Jared Levi and the Wreckers walk solemnly off the Ken Strong Stadium field following their stunning 30-28 loss to NFA in the Class LL semifinals
With big smiles, massive hugs, and emitting a cacophony of whoops and hollers that echoed across the state, the entire football team gathered in the southern end zone of Ken Strong Stadium for a photo. It could have been West Haven in August, gathering for its annual team photo.
But this was December. These were the state playoffs. And the photographers weren’t contracted shutterbugs from the local studio, they were equally happy and proud parents and inquisitive newspaper reporters. This wasn’t West Haven.
This was Norwich Free Academy.
Jubilant. Victorious. Posing below the scoreboard, emblazoned on it, their birthday gift to coach Jemal Davis.
This was supposed to be one of, if not the best Staples teams in the Marce Petroccio era. It was supposed to be invincible. It was going to take care of these upstarts from way out east and get a championship rematch with mighty Xavier.
Instead, junior back Marcus Outlow, quarterback Matt Paparelli and a massive and determined NFA front held the FCIAC’s best team in check, took command in the second half while Staples wilted with several critical second-half errors.
There was an errant punt that resulted in a safety (and gave NFA the lead for good), an option pitch at the goal line that was batted away and recovered by NFA with 7 minutes remaining and then, just when it looked as if the Wreckers would make a valiant comeback, the punt that fatefully bounced upfield and off a Staples player and recovered by NFA.
Staples’ offense, which didn’t score less than 42 points throughout the entire season yet uncharacteristically committed three turnovers and had just over 100 yards in the second half, never saw the ball again.
Their dreams were crushed.
“It’s awful,” stunned coach Marce Petroccio said. I’m going to try and pick up some of the greatest seniors we’ve ever had at Staples High School. But today was not our day.
“We just found a way to lose.”
NFA’s dreams lives on.
In retrospect, everything we heard about NFA ever since it hammered Stamford 51-0 back in October, and everything we saw from the Newtown game turned out to be spot-on. They were big, they were talented, they were determined.
“We know we can play with anybody,” Davis said.
NFA's Marcus Outlow falls through the Staples defense in a 30-28 upset victory over the Wreckers in the Class LL semifinals (Photo: Mike Ross)
And, my oh my, junior Marcus Outlow is legit.
Outlow has been a key player for NFA since getting significant time on the 2010 semifinal team that lost to Trumbull. This is confirmed: He has “full-ride” offers from Alabama, Oregon, Ohio State… you name it, since impressing a ton of scouts at an NUC combine over the summer. At 5-foot-11, 200 pounds, “he definitely passes the eye test,” said MSG Varsity’s Mike Quick.
But it was quarterback Joey Paparelli, who carried the Wildcats in the second half. He scrambled for first downs. He found receivers, particularly Khaleed Exum-Strong, for third-down conversions. Staples’ strong defense eventually found a way to contain him, giving the offense a chance to rally. But that wasn’t until the Wildcats
had 9-point lead. His long run set up the eventual clinching touchdown late in the third quarter.
“To knock off the No. 1 team, we knew we had it in us,” Paparelli said. “We just went out and got the job done.”
Staples was just as good as NFA, but on this afternoon, in the state playoffs, it had to be perfect. It wasn’t.
Junior Airec Ricks made the biggest play of the game when he batted away an option pitch from Jack Massie at the goal line and recovered by NFA. Later, with Staples in full rally mode, he recovered the punt that bounded up the turf and hit Staples captain Kevin Kearney in the leg.
“You can’t win in a game like this playing the way we played,” stunned Staples coach Marce Petroccio said. “I’m just upset that we waited until today to play the way we did.”
So there will be no rematch. NFA ran out the clock to set up a date with No. 3-seeded Xavier at Rentschler Field. Staples, which has seen more than its share of crushing, state playoff losses of the last six years, goes home empty handed.
“Like I said earlier in the week, we were underestimated because we play in the Eastern Connecticut Conference,” Outlow said. “But people look at it and say, oh your conference is weak, blah, blah, blah. But we just come out here and we try to pursue what our coaches meant for us to do, we came out and we executed as well as we can, and it showed on the scoreboard.”
Their talent and their efforts are now preserved forever, in record books and — more importantly for these players — in photographs. A moment frozen in time.
Fairfield County: Denied.
Michael DiCosmo picks up a fumble that he raced 76 yards for a touchdown with less than a minute remaining vs. Windsor. It turned out to be New Canaan's last gasp in a 27-21 loss.
Super Sunday was not a good day for Fairfield County football teams.
First Staples went down in a gutwrenching finale. Then New Canaan lost its first state semifinal game since 2005.
Those losses erased the last FCIAC teams from state championship contention — something that’s never happened in the 36-year history of the CIAC playoffs.
Weston and Masuk lost.
No one from Shangri La will be playing for a state title.
For the second straight season, New Canaan found itself down big. But visions of a season ago began dancing in the Rams’ heads in the fourth quarter. Cole Turpin’s long catch set up a Louis Hagopian touchdown run to cut a 27-7 defcit to 28-14.
Trying to run out the clock, Robert Quinn Fleeting fumbled and Michael DiCosmo returned it 79 yards with just under a minute remaining.
Not again? Nope. Not again. Windsor corralled the onside kick and hung on to win 27-21, ending New Canaan’s string of state championship games at six.
“It just goes to show the game’s never over,” Windsor coach Fleeting said. “The difference from last year is we didn’t panic. The kids have grown up.”
“They’re just a gutsy group of kids,” New Canaan coach Lou Marinelli said. “They never gave up. We didn’t play well. We lost to a better team. They’re a team that deserves to go play in a state championship. We did not play well enough.”
Weston's Zach Cannon attempts to bat the ball away from Berlin's Tyler Bouchard in the Class M semifinals at Bunnell.
Down 14-0 after a half, Hassett pulled the Trojans within a touchdown. Later, with the score 21-7, just as the Redcoats appeared they would put it away, Erik Dammen-Brower picked off a pass and was headed for the end zone.
But he was chased down, fumbled the ball back and the Trojans were eventually eliminated. Berlin advances to face No. 4-seeded Hillhouse, a 48-26 winner over Montville, in the state championship. This is Hillhouse’s sixth state championship game in school history.
Little Weston, meanwhile, finishes 9-3, including a state playoff victory. This was their best season in 23 years.
“Our kids fought hard,” Lato said. “I’m proud of their effort.”
“This isn’t the finish line. We want to get here every year. It’s always toughest the first time you do something and now we’ve done this and got this far. The underclassmen gained experience and got to see what it’s like to play in playoff games. I’m really proud of what this team has done for Weston football.”
As for Masuk, they were never in it vs. top-seeded and top-ranked Hand.
And this wasn’t even that close. In a heavy fog, Caleb Ewald took a flat pass from Brendan Bilcheck and raced 74 yards for a touchdown on the game’s first play. “They throw a screen, the kid that was supposed to cover it never saw the ball in the air,” Masuk coach John Murphy said. “But they took it to us on both sides of the ball in the first half.”
Hand rolled to a 35-0 halftime lead, piling up over 400 yards of offense to reach its second straight state championship game.
This was Hand coach Steve Filippone’s 200th career victory. “I didn’t win a game,” Filippone said. “I’ve never won a game. … I really take no great satisfaction in it. I take satisfaction in that this team has won 26 games in a row.”
Only some heroics by outstanding senior back Thomas Milone, who returned a free kick for a touchdown, caught a touchdown pass and also had an interception, kept the score from looking too lopsided.
But his career, which included a state championship in 2010, now shifts to baseball season and Hand will face Windsor in the state final.
“I’m proud of my kids,” Murphy said. “After what we lost last year, nobody said they could get back here. I’m proud of them.”
Newsome, Chargers roll into final
Ansonia was our only regional team to reach a state championship game.
As expected, there was no doubts about this one.
Newsome ran for 215 yards and four touchdowns and, in the process broke former Ansonia standout back Alex Thomas’ career state record of 115, as the Chargers reached their third-straight championship game and 27th overall with a 41-13 victory over Hyde. | [CPTV VIDEO]
The Chargers, who have won a state-best 27 consecutive games (Hand has won 26 straight), will play North Branford in the Class S championship.
The T-Birds hammered Woodland 62-27 to reach their first state final since 2001.
S-C-C! S-C-C! S-C-C!
Guess which conference will be playing for three state championships this weekend?
Look no further than Al Carbone’s official Southern Connecticut Conference Twitter account. The Commish’s nimble fingers quickly let everyone know that his league is dominating the proceedings thus far.
Xavier (11-1) will play for its third consecutive Class LL title. Hand (12-0) will play for its second consecutive Class L title. And now, joining the fray, is Hillhouse (10-2), which will be playing for its second Class M title in three years.
After spending the last two championship weekends on the sidelines, the CCC has two representatives. Windsor (11-0) plays Hand in Class L; Berlin (11-1) plays Hillhouse.
The ECC went 1-1 in the semifinals, sending NFA (12-0) to take on Xavier in the Class LL final.
The NVL-Pequot challenge ended 1-1 for each league. Ansonia (13-0), the NVL’s final representative, takes on North Branford (12-0), the Pequot’s last representative.
Overall, the NVL is 3-2 in the state playoffs. The Pequot is 3-3.
And of course, the FCIAC (0-2, 2-5 overall) and the SWC (2-3) will send no state championship representatives.
WATCH the full highlight reel from WFSB’s Friday Night Football crew
Class S champion and NVL runner-up Holy Cross (12-2) chimed in at No. 8.
Locally, FCIAC champion and Class LL runner-up Staples (11-1) took the No. 4 spot. SWC Champion and Class L semifinalist Masuk (11-1) comes in at No. 5. Class L runner-up New Canaan (11-2) finished No. 6.
Class L semifinalists Windsor and New London finished No. 7 and 9, respectively. Notre Dame-West Haven, which lost to both Class LL and L champions and then Windsor in the Class LL quarterfinals, rounded out the poll at No. 10.
Xavier was also a unanimous No. 1 in the Connecticut Sports Writers’ Alliance Poll.
Xavier got all but one of the No. 1 votes in The Day’s state coaches poll.
Final NHR State Media Poll
Others receiving votes: Norwalk (9-2), 225; North Haven (9-2), 192; Ledyard (11-2), 186; Newtown (9-3), 169; Cromwell (10-3), 144; Greenwich (8-2), 84; Hall (9-2), 81; Berlin (10-2), 52; Valley Regional/Old Lyme (10-2), 51; Northwest Catholic (9-3), 21; Conard (9-2), 20; Ellington/Somers (10-1), 17; Glastonbury (8-3) and West Haven (7-3), 11; Wolcott (8-4), 9; Pomperaug (8-2), 7. The following voted: Marc Allard, Norwich Bulletin; Bob Barton, New Haven Register; Bill Bloxsom, Hersam-Acorn; Sean Patrick Bowley, Connecticut Post; Don Boyle, Sporting News CT; Jim Bransfield, Middletown Press; Bryant Carpenter, Meriden-Record Journal; George DeMaio, WELI; Mike DiMauro, The Day of New London; Matt Doran, MSG Varsity; Kevin Duffy, Danbury News-Times; Tom Evans, Norwalk Hour; Noah Finz, WTNH-8; Ned Griffen, The Day of New London; John Holt, WFSB-3; Mark Jaffee, Waterbury Republican-American; Ken Lipshez, Patch/West Hartford News; Mike Madera, Elm City Newspapers; Joe Morelli, New Haven Register; Dave Phillips, Shore Line Newspapers; Mike Pucci, New Haven Register; Dave Ruden, Stamford Advocate; Tom Yantz, Hartford Courant; Mike Wollschlager, New Haven Register; Jimmy Zanor, Shore Line Newspapers.
Final Day Coaches Poll
Also receiving votes: Notre Dame-West Haven (8-3), 107 points; Cromwell (10-3), 104; North Haven (9-2), 91; Norwalk (9-2), 73; Newtown (9-3), 50; Conard-West Hartford (9-2), 35; Greenwich (8-2), 29; Berlin (10-2), 26; Valley Regional/Old Lyme (10-2), 25; Hall-West Hartford (9-2), 18; Northwest Catholic-West Hartford (9-3), 17; Farmington (9-1), 15; Bunnell-Stratford (8-2), 8; Tie, Waterford (7-4) and West Haven (7-3), 7. The following coaches voted: Tom Brockett, Ansonia; Jim Buonocore, Ledyard; Craig Bruno, Bunnell-Stratford; Dave Cadelina, Bridgeport Central; Steve Filippone, Hand-Madison; Rob Fleeting, Windsor; Tanner Grove, Montville; Jude Kelly, St. Paul-Bristol; Tim King, Valley Regional-Deep River; Sean Marinan, Xavier-Middletown; John Murphy, Masuk-Monroe; Marce Petroccio, Staples-Westport; Bob Zito, Maloney-Meriden.
Dave Cadelina of Bridgeport Central could not be reached to vote.
CSWA Media Poll
Also Receiving Votes: Ledyard 11-2 114; Norwalk 9-2 106; Newtown 9-3 85; Cromwell 10-3 80; North Haven 9-2 60; Greenwich 8-2 32; Hall 9-2 21; Berlin 10-2 19; Valley Regional/Old Lyme 10-2 16; Shelton 8-2 8; Northwest Catholic 9-3 5; Conard 9-2 4; North Branford 4; Wolcott 8-4 3; Darien 2; Farmington 9-1 2; Bunnell 1 Voters: Brian Barreto (NVL Blog), Bob Barton (CT H.S. Football Record Book), Bill Bloxsom (Hersam Acorn), Jim Bransfield (Middletown Press), Kyle Brennan (Waterbury Republican-American), George DeMaio (WELI Radio), Gerry deSimas (Collinsville Publishing Co.), Bill Donovan (WXLM 980 AM), Mark Fijalkowski (CT Sports Network), Dave Greenleaf (Bristol Press), Mike Guerrera (Southington Citizen), John Holt (WFSB Channel 3), Larry Kelley (SE Conn Patch), Bob Lazzari (Valley Times), Greg Lederer (Cheshire Herald), Ken Lipshez (Farmington/W. Hartford Patch), Robert Mayer (Berlin Patch), Eric Montgomery (Minuteman Newspapers), Sean Patrick Bowley (Connecticut Post), Dave Phillips (Shoreline Newspapers), Mike Pucci (New Haven Register), Paul Rosano (Meriden Record-Journal), Dave Ruden (Stamford Advocate), Elliott Schickler (Westport News), Mike Suppe (Hersam Acorn Newspapers), Peter Vander Veer (Hersam Acorn Newspapers), Tom Yantz (Hartford Courant), Rich Zalusky (Willimantic Chronicle), Jimmy Zanor (Shore Line Times).
But, oh yes, one state championship will be decided tonight. It doesn’t include regional teams, but it has potential of being the best of the four state championships.
The Class S title game between Holy Cross and Cromwell.
You can follow all the action here, interactively on the live blog, or you can just watch the CIAC’s Play-by-play update feed from Rentschler Field, or you can visit our friends Remmy and Kyle at the NVL Football Blog, who have been all over this one. Or you can do all three.
No. 2 Holy Cross vs. No. 8 Cromwell
WHEN/WHERE – Rentschler Field, 6:30 p.m. ON THE AIR –Sportingnewsct.com | WELI 960-AM TICKETS – $10 COACHES — Holy Cross: Mike Giampetruzzi; Cromwell: Chris Eckert RECORDS — Holy Cross 11-2 (NVL runners-up); Cromwell (10-2) HOW THEY GOT HERE –Holy Cross: def. Haddam-Killingworth 42-14, def. Valley Regional 23-14; Cromwell: def. Capital Prep/Classical Magnet 23-14; def. Northwest Catholic 35-19 STATE TITLES –Holy Cross (1): 2006-SS; Cromwell (1): 2008-S TOP PLAYERS — Holy Cross: Sr. RB/LB Dave DiGiorgi (1,068 yards, 12 TDs); Sr. QB Zach Brown; Sr. LB/OL Anthony Jemele (6-0, 215); Jr. RB/LB Adrian Brown (1,152 yards, 13 TDs); Sr. WR/DB Paul Cotter; Sr. LB Joe Parent; Fresh. WR/DB Isaiah Wright (8 TDs). Cromwell:Sr. QB Anthony Morales (3,365 yards passing, 42 TDs); Derrick Villard (1,964 yards yards, 24 TDs rushing); Sr. WR Michael Antonio (1,291 yards, 18 TDs receiving) Sr. OL/DL Mike Sullivan (18 sacks); Sr. WR/DB/K Brett Director (874 yards, 9 TDs receiving); Sr. LB Ricky Feggins. WORTH NOTING – Morales is one touchdown pass away from breaking the state’s single-season passing record he shares with New Canaan’s Matt Milano (42), and is 193 passing yards away from breaking former Southington QB Matt Keleher’s single season record of 3,558. …Behind Morales in the air, Villard on the ground Cromwell is the state leader in passing yards and total offense (5,990). …It averages 42.7 points per game, it has scored under that average in two playoff games. …Holy Cross’ only losses this season have both been to Ansonia, 45-13 in the regular season and 33-0 in the NVL title game. …Take away two losses to Ansonia, Holy Cross is 11-0 and has outscored its opponents 363-150, or an average of 33-14. OUTLOOK — In one of the best matchups of the state championship weekend, the Class S game features offenses on opposite ends of the spectrum. Cromwell has produced the state’s statistically most prolific offense in the state with a spread attack that stretches the field with a deep passing game and selective, but effective running from Villard on the ground. Holy Cross loves to pound away with backs DiGiorgi and Brown, but can pass when necessary with freshman Wright already emerging as a bit-time threat. The Class S championship will come down to defenses and Holy Cross might hold the edge in that department, having allowed just 150 points all season against everybody but Ansonia. But Cromwell’s not exactly a sieve. Sullivan’s 18 sacks lead the state. The offenses should have their way early before defenses take control. Someone’s going to have to make a big play late. Tough matchup to call. OUR PICK — Cromwell 34, Holy Cross 26
Finally, the last of the CIAC State Championship Videos: St. Joseph’s 49-28 victory over Ansonia in the Class S championship game. This game was probably the best of the bunch, given the extraordinary efforts by both teams, the back-and-forth fireworks display between St. Joseph’s Tyler Matakevich and Ansonia senior Montrell Dobbs, who was heroic in trying to will his young teammates to the title — 52 carries, 303 yards, 3 TDs.
You really couldn’t have asked for much more from a battle between two of our region’s best programs. St. Joseph and its massive class of seniors won its second straight championship, going from 1-2 to 10-3 and a high ranking in the state polls. But they all walked off the field overflowing with respect for Ansonia, a team that played well beyond its years.
Final thoughts on the weekend, the season and Elite 8 rankings coming up.
Tonight the first high school football teams will make their final preparations, pack up their equipment, load up their buses and settle in for the ride up to Rentschler Field in East Hartford for the first of four state championship games.
Trumbull (11-2) and Xavier (12-0) face off in the Class LL title game tonight at what is expected to be a frigid, but snow-free championship game.
Tomorrow, we kick off at 11 a.m. with Class M, followed by our first dream final in Class L and then wrap it all up with our second dream final in Class S.
Without question, we can say these teams are the best of the best. Unlike previous years, we know there aren’t any deserving teams sitting home. We’ve whittled away the pretenders, leaving only the contenders to duke it out for a coveted state championship in one of this state’s finest football facilities.
This might be the best CIAC state championship round since the tournament’s inception 34 years ago. Those who wear the crowns this season can truly say they are among the elite.
In the post below, we go in-depth to all four state championship games and pick our winners. If you haven’t picked yours, you may do so below each capsule. Give us your picks, tell us your reasons.
At right is our video player, with interviews from many of the championship game participants. We’ll continue to add new videos throughout the day and into tomorrow, so keep checking back for interviews and highlights.
Here’s a running list of stories and previews written by the staff of Connecticut Post and Stamford Advocate in advance of the title games:
WHERE — Rentschler Field, East Hartford
WHEN — Friday, 7 ; TICKETS – $10
ON THE AIR — WELI 960-AM; Sportingnewsct.com
COACHES — Trumbull: Bob Maffei (13th year, 97-31); Xavier: Sean Marinan (9th year, 65-32-2).
RECORDS — Trumbull 11-2 (FCIAC runner-up); Xavier 12-0 (SCC Division I West champion)
HOW THEY GOT HERE – Trumbull defeated Conard 27-9 in quarterfinals, defeated NFA 21-6 in semifinals; Xavier defeated West Haven 28-7 in quarterfinals; defeated Glastonbury 24-13 in semifinals.
STATE TITLES — Trumbull (3): 1978-LL, 1985-LI, 1986-LI. Xavier (1): 2005-LL.
TOP PLAYERS — Trumbull: Sr. WR/DB/KR Phil Terio; Sr. QB/DB Ian Milne; Jr. FB/LB Don Cherry; Sr. FB/LB Matt Lena; Sr. OL/DL Brian Barnash (6-0, 215); Sr. C Joe Riehl (6-0, 220); Sr. QB Brian Gallo; Sr. WR/DE Tom Pauciello (6-6, 235); Sr. G/DT Will Testani (5-10, 240); Sr. DT Ryan Monaco (5-11, 212); Xavier: Sr. LB/TE Graham Stewart (6-1, 220); Sr. TE/DE Eric Mischke (6-3, 230); Jr. FB/LB Mike Mastroianni (1,500+ yards rushing); Sr. LB Austen Ahern; Jr. WR/CB Ryan Jacobucci; Jr. TE/SS Ryan Murphy (6-2, 193); Jr. G/NG Austin Wezneski (6-1, 220); Jr. G/DE Sean Marinan (6-1, 220); Jr. QB/FS/WR Pat D’Amato.
WORTH NOTING — Xavier averages 27.8 points scored, 8.6 points allowed. … Trumbull averages 28.6 points scored, 12.8 allowed. … Xavier has been ranked No. 1 in the New Haven Register media poll for 13 consecutive weeks since defeating No. 1 Notre Dame-WH 22-15 in Week 1. … Stewart is committed to Boston College. … This is Trumbull’s first trip to the playoffs since 2005, when it lost to Xavier 20-7 in the Class LL semifinals. … Trumbull claims a fourth state title, in 1980 when it finished 10-0 and was voted No. 1 in the state despite not qualifying for the Class LL final.
OUTLOOK — Armed with a new offense and a dedicated class of seniors, Trumbull is back in the state championship game for the first time since Jerry McDougall retired after 1997. The Eagles face a formidable foe in top-ranked and unbeaten Xavier. The Falcons are big, fast and physical. Its defensive line is a brick wall, allowing talented linebackers led by Stewart and Ahern and the strong secondary to roam free and cause havoc. It will try to pressure and intimidate Trumbull’s backs and receivers. Offensively, Xavier is old school. It pounds Mastroianni behind a massive line, mixing in timely passes from emerging QB Boyle to receivers Murphy and Stewart. The offense has been mistake prone at times, but has gradually improved. Trumbull isn’t as big, but no team has intimidated the Eagles all year. They must match Xavier’s intensity, keep its playmakers out of the backfield, play focused and mistake free to pull the upset. Most important, Trumbull can’t squander any of the few scoring chances it gets.
OUR PICK–Xavier 22, Trumbull 14
WHERE – Rentschler Field, East Hartford
WHEN – Saturday, 3; TICKETS – $10
ON THE AIR — WELI 960-AM; Sportingnewsct.com COACHES – New Canaan: Lou Marinelli (30th year, 244-83-7); Masuk: John Murphy (14th year, 136-31-1)
RECORDS – New Canaan 11-1; Masuk 12-0 (SWC Champions)
HOW THEY GOT HERE – New Canaan: def. Naugatuck 21-12 in QF, def. Hand 39-21 in SF; Masuk: def. Bristol Eastern 49-23 in QF, def. Darien 41-0 in SF.
STATE TITLES – New Canaan (8):1982-LII, 1993-M, 2001-M, 2002-M, 2006-MM, 2007-MM, 2008-MM, 2009-MM. Masuk (2): 1998-L, 2008-L.
TOP PLAYERS – New Canaan: Sr. WR/DB/KR Kevin Macari (50 catches, 1,065 yards, 18 TDs); Sr. QB Matt Milano (2,766 yards, 39 TD passing); Sr. TE/DE Connor Kilbane; Sr. OL/DL Conor Hanratty (6-5, 310); Sr. RB/DB Joe Costigan; Sr. NG Ryan Schullman (12 sacks); Sr. OL/DL Jack Atchue (6-6, 280); Sr. Masuk: Sr. WR/DB/K Jon Testani (5 TDs, 3 FG, 5 INT, 53 touchbacks); Jr. QB Casey Cochran (3,036 yards, 37 TD, 7 INT passing); Jr. RB Colin Markus (1,362 yards rushing, 22 TDs); Soph. WR Tom Milone (40 catches, 877 yards, 9 TD); Sr. WR Tyler Perimenis (644 yards, 9 TDs receiving); Sr. WR/S/KR Joe Diaz; Jr. DB Shawn Flynn; Sr. LB Anthony Calabrese; Jr. LB Matt Duigan; Sr. DL Tim Allen (6-1, 230 – 7 sacks); Sr. OL Dan Minardi (6-3, 280); Sr. OL Evan Kollmann (6-0, 210).
WORTH NOTING –New Canaan is 56-5 with four straight state championships since 2006. …The Rams have won titles with four different QBs. …Masuk’s Cochran is the 2010 Gatorade Player of the year. …New Canaan averages 40 points scored and 13 points allowed per game. …Masuk has scored a state-best 588 points, and allowed a state-lowest 86. …Masuk’s has 39 sacks, and forced 35 turnovers (16 interceptions, 19 fumbles).…New Canaan has made a state-best 41 sacks. OUTLOOK — Masuk is one victory away from completing its best season in school history. Led by Cochran and his quick-strike offense, an aggressive defense and superhuman kicking from Testani, Masuk has crushed everyone in its path by an average score of 49-7, including a 41-0 rout of FCIAC champion Darien in the semifinals. Standing in their way is their toughest opponent yet, four-time defending state champion New Canaan, which is practically Masuk’s mirror image. The Rams, armed with an all-purpose threat in Macari a flawless QB in Milano and an underrated defense, can be just as potent. New Canaan fell just one point short of an unbeaten regular season and won’t go down lightly, if at all. Given Testani’s uncanny knack for kicking touchbacks, New Canaan will have to somehow force punts and turnovers, shorten the field and put Masuk’s defense to work. That’s easier said than done. As good as the Rams are, Masuk looks like the total package.
OUR PICK –Masuk 38-28
WHERE –Rentschler Field, East Hartford
WHEN – Saturday, 11 a.m.
TICKETS –$10 ON THE AIR — WELI 960-AM; Sportingnewsct.com COACHES – Hillhouse: Tom Dyer (4th year, 32-12); New London: Jeff Larson (2nd year, 20-3)
RECORDS – Hillhouse 9-3; New London 10-2
HOW THEY GOT HERE – Hillhouse: def. Berlin 33-30, def. Gilbert/Northwestern 42-14; New London: def. Platt 53-14; def. Brookfield 30-12.
CHAMPIONSHIP HISTORY – Hillhouse (3-1): 1985-MI, 2002-SS, 2006-M. New London (5-5): 1983-MII, 1989-SS; 1991-S, 1992-S, 2005-S, 2007-SS. TOP PLAYERS – Hillhouse: Fresh. RB Harold Cooper (1,254 yards rushing, 13 TD); Sr. RB/LB Taurese Washington (511 yards, 9 TDs rushing); Sr. WR/DB/K Steven Dejournett (279 yards receiving, 3 INT); Sr. OL/DL Tyvon Williams (6-0, 365); Soph. QB Je’Vaughn Moore. New London: Sr. QB Josh Clements (1,400 yards, 20 TDs); Jr. RB/DB Jevon Elmore; Jr. RB/LB Kyle McKinnon (1,056 yards rushing, 15 TD); Sr. FB/LB Stefan Dance (9.1 tackles/gm; Jr. WR/DB Garrick McQueen; Sr. LB Carlos Lozada. WORTH NOTING –Hillhouse is playing in its second state final in three years under Dyer. …New London is playing in its fourth final in six years, the first under Larson. …Hillhouse averages 24.5 points per game, and allows 15.6 points per game …New London averages 34 points per game, and allows 12 points per game. …The Whalers won eight straight during the season, its only losses were to Montville in the season opener and NFA on Thanksgiving. OUTLOOK — A tournament once referred to as Berlin invitation will now be won by one of these two proud city programs. Hillhouse is the most unlikely of the two, having gone 7-3 in the regular season with a team that starts a freshman RB and sophomore QB. But here the Acs are, having upset Berlin 33-30 in the quarterfinals and rolling through Gilbert/Northwester. Their opponent, a talented New London squad making up for last year’s upset loss to Bethel. Both teams have speed, although Hillhouse might be the larger of the two. New London might be the more dynamic and more experienced. OUR PICK – New London 28, Hillhouse 18
WHERE — Rentschler Field, East Hartford WHEN – Saturday, 7; TICKETS — $10 ON THE AIR — WELI 960-AM; Sportingnewsct.com
COACHES–St. Joseph: Joe Della Vecchia (13th year, 68-69); Ansonia: Tom Brockett (5th year, 57-6) RECORDS–St. Joseph (9-3), Ansonia (11-1, NVL runner-up). HOW THEY GOT HERE–St. Joseph: def. Woodland 42-12; def. Valley Regional 44-7. Ansonia: def. Hyde 47-26; def. Montville 46-15. STATE TITLES — St. Joseph (9): 1980-S, 1981-SI, 1982-SI, 1983-SI, 1984-SI, 1988-M, 1989-M, 1990-M, 2009-SS. Ansonia (16): 1976-S, 1977-S, 1979-M, 1981-SII, 1982-SII, 1983-SII, 1984-SII, 1987-S, 1988-S, 1989-S, 1994-SS, 1995-S, 2002-S, 2003-S, 2006-S, 2007-S. TOP PLAYERS–St. Joseph: Sr. FB/LB Tyler Matakevich; Sr. QB Joe Della Vecchia (2,864 yards, 35 TD passing, 586 yards rushing, 5 TD); Sr. RB/DB Jerry Kramer (625 yards, 5 TDs receiving); Sr. WR/DB Quinn Irwin (616 yards, 5 TD receiving); Sr. WR/DB Joe Burns; Sr. WR/DB Pat Mulligan (867 yards, 12 TDs receiving); Sr. RB/LB L.J. Hunt (881 yards rushing, 5 TD); Sr. LB Sean Chinova; Sr. G/DL Nick Adzima (6-1, 254). Ansonia: Sr. RB Montrell Dobbs (354 carries, 3,140 yards rushing, 42 TDs); Jr. QB Eliot Chudwick (884 yards, 22 TD passing); Fr. RB/DB Arkeel Newsome (787 yards, 12 TDs rushing); Jr. TE/DE Sean Rowley; Jr. LB Tyler Wood; Soph. WR/DE Andrew Matos (7 TDs). WORTH NOTING–St. Joseph leads the state in total offense, with 424 yards per game. …The Hogs have won 8 of 9 games going into the championship. … Ansonia leads the state in rushing with 329 yards per game. … Dobbs’ season rushing totals are the second best in Connecticut history (Ansonia’s Alex Thomas had 3,596 in 2007), his season total touchdowns (42) is tied for second best in state history and his career rushing total of 5,166 yards is fifth best in state history. … Dobbs has run for over 300 yards six times this year. OUTLOOK–Perhaps no player has done more for his team than Ansonia back Montrell Dobbs. The team’s only senior, Dobbs has led an assault on the state record books, leading the Chargers into their record 24th state championship game. He’s carried this young club on his back. Then again, so has St. Joseph’s versatile QB Della Vecchia, who kept the Hogs afloat while injured starters and stars became healthy enough to return. Since starting the season 1-2, St. Joseph has put up big numbers on its way to its second straight state title game. Prone to teams who can run the ball, St. Joseph’s defense will have its hands full trying to stop Dobbs. Same goes for Ansonia’s defense, which has allowed 21.8 points per game this season. It will have to contend not only with Della Vecchia and his corps of receivers, but big backs Matakevich and Hunt as well. Dobbs figures to get his yards (and touchdowns), but so will St. Joseph. Look for a shootout in this dream matchup between two powerful local programs and a second consecutive title for the Hogs. OUR PICK–St. Joseph 35, Ansonia 26
Coach Tom Dyer (center) and the Hillhouse football players gaze out onto Rentschler Field during the CIAC football luncheon Monday.
Rentschler Field, five days before the first CIAC state championship game. CIAC Executive Director Paul Hoey said the field's grounds crew was busy resodding the field (that's fertilizer sprinkled across the surface) and by game time, "it will be the best grass field you've ever played on."
Here are the dates and times for the four high school football state championships at Rentschler Field, announced Monday morning at the annual CIAC football championship luncheon in East Hartford.
After years spent at CIAC headquarters in Cheshire, and then two years at banquet halls in Simsbury and Southington, this was the first time the annual luncheon was actually held at the title game site.
This gathering felt significantly different than all the others.
The Rentschler Field’s luxury boxes and dining pavilion overlooking the field was a first-class setting for the elite eight teams and coaches. Heck, they even had a first-class speaker: former NFL and University of Notre Dame quarterback Joe Theismann.
You could feel the anticipation and anticipation hanging in the air, ready to be plucked from the tree and devoured by the players.
They walked up to and inside the stadium, wide eyed, some of them speechless. They took turns sitting in the suite’s stands, gazing down at their soon-to-be championship stage.
Sure the field looked beat up after hosting two football seasons (the Big East champion UConn Huskies and the UFL’s Hartford Colonials) but officials assured everyone the grass turf would be in tip-top shape come Friday night, when Trumbull and Xavier kicks off the four-game title round.
They were just thrilled to be here, thrilled to have the opportunity to play the biggest games of their lives in such a colosseum.
This was a championship atmosphere.
Just four more days, four fabulous matchups. We’re almost there.
Ladies and Gentlemen: The title schedule.
Note: Tickets to the games will be $10 for each day the games are played.
No. 3 Trumbull vs. No. 1 Xavier
Friday, 7 p.m., at Rentschler Field
No. 6 New Canaan vs. No. 1 Masuk
Saturday, 3 p.m. at Rentschler Field
No. 8 Hillhouse vs. No. 2 New London
Saturday, 11 a.m. at Rentschler Field
No. 4 St. Joseph vs. No. 2 Ansonia
Saturday, 7 p.m. at Rentschler Field
ESPN analyst and former NFL QB Joe Theismann talks to St. Joseph QB Joe Della Vecchia during Monday's CIAC football luncheon at Rentschler.
Theismann talks to Masuk quarterback Casey Cochran during the CIAC's football championship luncheon at Rentschler Field.
NEWS AND NOTES
St. Joseph senior L.J. Hunt shows off a signed necktie he swapped with former NFL quarterback Joe Theismann during Monday's CIAC state championship at Rentschler Field.
We’re adding some videos from today’s luncheon, including the coaches from Class LL and L and the speech from former NFL quarterback Joe Theismann, who, on his way to cover the Monday Night Football game between the Patriots and Jets, popped in to speak to the championship participants.
Later, Joe chatted with players from Masuk and St. Joseph — particularly QBs Casey Cochran and Joe Della Vecchia.
St. Joseph senior L.J. Hunt (somehow) swapped neckties with Theismann, which had Hunt and the St. Joseph players all fired up (right).
It didn’t dawn on me until later that, as Theismann was giving his speech, Conor Hanratty was sitting right in front of him. Hanratty’s dad, of course, is Terry Hanratty, the quarterback who preceded Theismann at the University of Notre Dame. Conor will be playing there next year.
We’ll have expansive video previews up later in the week.
Until then, keep looking back here for updates.
VIDEO: Class LL championship coaches remarks (Trumbull’s Bob Maffei and Xavier’s Sean Marinan)
VIDEO: Class L championship coaches’ remarks (Lou Marinelli and John Murphy)
VIDEO: Joe Theismann’s speech to the eight state championship participants.