Welcome… to another edition of THUNDERDOME.
Four undefeated teams enter.
Two leave undefeated.
On one end of the state, the No. 2 and No. 3 teams in the GameTimeCT / Register poll face off in what’s sure to be an epic FCIAC battle. FCIAC playoff positioning, state playoff positioning and — of course — the hearts and minds of Connecticut’s poll voters are at stake in game that’s sure to pack ‘em in tight at Dunning Field.
On the other, the No. 4 team will attempt to stare down a perennial playoff bridesmaid.
It’s St. Joseph vs. New Canaan.
It’s Farmington vs. Middletown.
Those are the headliners of Week 8 as we round the corner and head into the final month of the season.
Though not as sexy, there are plenty of other games that pack just as much intrigue:
At the actual Thunderdome (wasn’t that the Surf Club’s original name?), Xavier will be fighting for its playoff life against arch-nemesis Daniel Hand. One loss will likely dump Xavier from the state playoffs for the first time since 2008. Hand needs a victory to keep pace in Class L.
Fresh off its beating administered by No. 2 New Canaan, Staples is in a similar spot. The Wreckers must beat Trumbull to put itself back on playoff course. Trumbull, a surprise winner of six straight games, can brush aside the Wreckers and continue their run to what looked like a supremely unlikely FCIAC championship berth two months ago.
Woodland can clinch the first NVL playoff spot by taking out Holy Cross.
And, finally, you have Avon vs. Gilbert/Northwestern and Northwest Catholic vs. Bristol Eastern in a pair of games with state implications.
No. 3 ST. JOSEPH (7-0) at No. 2 NEW CANAAN (7-0)
WHEN: Friday, 7
WHERE: Dunning Field, New Canaan
LAST YEAR: New Canaan 27-21
PLAYERS TO WATCH: St. Joseph: Sr. QB Jordan Vazzano (1,541 yards, 18 TD passing), Jr. WR Lars Pedersen, Sr. RB Mufasha Abdul-Basir (934 yards, 13 TDs rushing); Sr. T Steve Hashemi; Sr. G Pete Mestre; Sr. TE Mark Hirschbeck; Sr. NG Mike Schuchmann (43 tackles). New Canaan: Sr. QB Nick Cascione (1,163 yards, 19 TD passing), Sr. LB Cole Harris, Sr. DL/FB Connor Buck, Jr. DL Zach Allen (5.5 sacks); Sr. RB Jack Gilio (285 yards, 5 TD receiving); Sr. WR Alex LaPolice (232 yards, 5 TD receiving).
OUTLOOK: It’s the matchup Connecticut’s been waiting for all season. These two programs have developed quite a nice rivalry over the last 10 seasons, though New Canaan has held the upper-hand in recent engagements, including last year’s 27-21 comeback victory won on Cole Harris’ interception return touchdown.
Led by Cascione, who directs the Rams fast-break spread offense, and Harris, who’s good for at least one score a game, the Rams have hammered opponents by an average score of 49-17 — a majority of the 17 scored in garbage time: The first team’s allowed just 12 points all season.
NC’s dominance over Hand (50-21), Greenwich (66-20) and Staples (47-7) has inspired hyperbole across Fairfield County (MSG’s Mike Quick said it’s the best NC team he’s seen in 27 years) and given the Rams a strong case for No. 1 in the state.
They can make a loud statement against one of the best St. Joseph teams of coach Joe Della Vecchia’s tenure. The Hogs have studs on the offensive line, at quarterback, at receiver and at tailback. St. Joseph is 7-0 in football for the first time since 1990.
A key matchup will be NC’s aggressive front seven vs. St. Joseph’s massive O-line: Can the Hogs give Vazzano enough time to work, or open lanes for Abdul-Basir? Another key will be St. Joseph’s defensive backfield vs. Cascione and Co. The Rams have an array of weapons that love to find mismatches. The St. Joseph D-backs and linebackers figure to be in for a workout.
Few opponents have been able to pressure either quarterback all season. Defensive players on both sides figure to be stretched to their limits.
Though it’s looked like a team of destiny while compiling its 7-0 start, St. Joseph has had its issues. It needed a Hail Mary to hold off Fairfield Prep, and it trailed Darien in the second half of its 28-14 win. Signs of weakness, perhaps? If so, they’re about to get a stern lesson… Perhaps one they’ll take to the rematch in the FCIAC championship game in three weeks.
Yeah, that could happen.
FARMINGTON (7-0) at No. 4 MIDDLETOWN (7-0)
WHEN: Friday, 7
WHERE: Rosek-Skubel Stadium, Middletown High School
LAST YEAR: Middletown 14-6
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Farmington: Ivan Guadalupe (735 yards, 8 TDs rushing); Sr. QB Jeremy Buck (995 yards, 10 TDs passing); Sr. WR Kenny Jones, Sr. WR Anthony Carpenter; Jr. DL Dan Hardiman, 6-3, 235; Sr. DL Jayson Martin, 6-2, 210; Sr. DE Chaunsey Pilgrim, 5-10, 193; Sr. LB Collin Grattan, 5-10, 161. Middletown: Jr. QB/DB Dario Highsmith; Sr. OL David Bednarz (6-7, 275), Sr. OL Anthony Bednarz (6-7, 250); Sr. LB Cody Carrillo; Jr. RB/LB Isaiah Thompkins; Sr. DL Sam Rivera (6-1, 280).
OUTLOOK: Far from the hub-bub surrounding the No. 2 vs. No. 3 matchup between St. Joseph and New Canaan is Connecticut’s other mega showdown of unbeatens. Quarterback Dario Highsmith leads No. 4 Middletown vs. Ivan Guadalupe and Farmington. For the first time all season, the Blue Dragons will march into Rosek-Skubel Stadium as a complete team. Starters London Highsmith, a tailback, and linebacker Cody Carrillo will play for the first time this year. Thompkins, who sat out the team’s win over Maloney, is also back. They’ll need every one of them in the Dragons’ biggest test of the season. Both teams feature two of the state’s best defenses. Neither has allowed more than 10 points per game. Stopping the other team’s versatile quarterback is paramount. Middletown has Dario Highsmith, who is, perhaps, the CCC’s most electric player. Less know, but just as effective is Farmington’s Buck, who makes things happen in both offensive dimensions. Middletown will also hope to put the breaks on Gualdaupe, one of the league’s best all-around players. Middletown, however, might have the advantage of beef up front.
STAPLES (5-2) at TRUMBULL (6-1)
WHEN: Friday, 7
WHERE: McDougall Stadium, Trumbull
LAST YEAR: Staples 57-14
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Staples: Sr. QB Jack Massie (915 yards, 14 TD passing); Sr. RB Pat Lesch (664 yards, 9 TDs rushing); Sr. WR Will Johnson; Sr. DB Peter Blevens; Trumbull: Sr. QB Nick Roberts (2,091 yards, 24 TDs passing); Sr. RB M.J. Cesare; Sr. WR T.J. Hayduk (672 yards, 8 TD rec); Sr. DB Liam Moore (3 INT); Sr. WR/DE Quentin Brunetti (521 yards, 7 TD rec).
OUTLOOK: The eyes of the FCIAC might be on St. Joseph-New Canaan, but this game might be even bigger in the grand scheme of the season. A Trumbull win will significantly help both its chances at Class LL and FCIAC championship berths, especially Trumbull. The Wreckers are in danger of falling out of the running completely. The Eagles have won six straight since an opening blowout loss to Shelton. Roberts and his corps of receivers have suddenly developed into one of the state’s most lethal passing attacks. Staples, which has been held together by the its seniors, has proven vulnerable in spots. The game could develop into a shootout between Roberts and Staples RB Lesch, who’s among the FCIAC’s best backs.
XAVIER (5-2) at HAND (6-1)
WHEN: Friday, 7
WHERE: The Surf Club, Madison
LAST YEAR: Hand 40-20
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Xavier: Andrew Meoli, Sr., RB/DB; Joe Carbone, Sr., QB; Will Garrity, Sr., OL/LB; Hand: Tommy Wilson, Jr., S; Nick van Dell, So., QB; Dan Rogers, Sr., RB/LB
OUTLOOK: This contest hasn’t generated the type of hype that last season’s did, but it should still be highly competitive. Last season, Hand defeated Xavier 40-20, snapping the Falcons’ 30-game winning streak. Both teams went on to win state championships. This marks the 22nd time the two storied programs will play. Hand leads the series 15-6.
Hand is coming off a thrilling 44-41 victory over Shelton last week in which junior Tyler Phan kicked the winning field goal. Phan is one of the state’s best kickers and should be an asset to the Tigers again tonight. The two-time defending Class L champions have won six straight since losing to New Canaan in the season opener.
Van Dell has completed 101 of 156 passes for 1,326 yards and 14 touchdowns. He has also rushed for seven scores. Running back Conor Dowd (643 yards, six touchdowns) and receivers Tom WIlson (33 catches, 519 yards, six touchdowns) and Jake Mirando (30-294-3) also contribute on offense. Defensively, Tommy Wilson leads the teams with 78 tackles and three interceptions while Rogers has made 76 tackles.
Xavier, the three-time defending Class LL champion, is led by Meoli (118 carries, 872 yards, 12 touchdowns). Carbone is a threat to run or pass. The Falcons may need to win out in order to qualify for the postseason, but could be in better shape than Hand if it loses.
Give a slight edge to Hand in this one, mainly because it’s playing on its home field. –MIKE PUCCI
Others to watch
NORTHWEST CATHOLIC (6-1) at BRISTOL EASTERN (6-1)
WHEN: Friday, 7
WHERE: Muzzy Field, Bristol
LAST YEAR: NWC 36-7
PLAYERS TO WATCH: NWC: QB Christian Flynn (1,504 yards, 14 TDs); Jr. OL/DL Elijah Riley; Sr. WR Chris McLaughlin; Sr. OL/DL Mike Story. Bristol Eastern: Sr. QB Gerry Ouelette; Sr. WR Roderick Green; Sr. WR Kenny Smith.
OUTLOOK: The second biggest game in the CCC this week features an interdivisional matchup between two squads with playoff aspirations. Flynn, who’s been lighting up opposing defenses so far, leads the Indians into a game that’s a virtual must-win if the team wants to strengthen its positioning in Class S heading into a brutal two-game finale vs. Platt and Rocky Hill. Bristol Easter, which upset Windsor last week on Jeremy Meccariello’s late field goal, is suddenly looking good in the Class L race. But this game, and the following game vs. Farmington, remain major hurdles.
WOODLAND (7-0) at HOLY CROSS (5-2)
WHEN: Friday, 7
WHERE: Municipal Stadium, Waterbury
LAST YEAR: Woodland 28-0
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Sr. QB Tanner Kingsley (1,865 yards, 30 TDs pasing); Soph. RB/DB Sean McAllen (785 yards, 7 TDs rushing); Sr. WR Taylor Tucciarone; Sr. LB Levi Fancher; Jr. DL Will Flormann. Holy Cross: Jr. FB/LB Gerron Pendarvis; Jr. RB Drew Bialoglowy; Jr. QB Joe Kalosky; Sr. LB Bryan Burnettel; Jr. LB Mike Gugliotti.
OUTLOOK: Kingsley leads the state with 30 touchdown passes and is just 15 away from breaking Casey Cochran’s all-time Connecticut record of 112. More important, the Hawks can clinch the NVL Copper Division title for the second consecutive year and punch their tickets to the NVL final in three weeks. Holy Cross has to win to make the division race interesting. The Crusaders, who lost to Ansonia and Derby this year, play Naugatuck next week.
AVON (5-2) at GILBERT/NORTHWESTERN (6-1)
WHEN: Saturday, 2:30
WHERE: Gilbert High School
LAST YEAR: Avon 41-10
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Avon: Sr. RB/LB Jimmy Murphy; Sr. WR Justin Reichler; Sr. QB Noah Hahn. GNW: Sr. RB Tony Ortiz (1,087 yards, 9 TD rushing); LB Ryan Ott (8.2 tackles/gm); Sr. QB John Lippincott (783 yards, 9 TD passing).
OUTLOOK: Avon is hanging on by a thread in a competitive Class L Division. The Falcons will need to win out to make a return to the playoffs. They have H-K. Cromwell and Ellington/Somers remaining. But it all starts here in a big game vs. one of the Pequot’s best tailbacks in Ortiz, Jr. Gilbert/Northwestern has good position in the developing Class M playoff race. Of the Yellow Jackets’ remaining games after Avon, only Valley Regional/Old Lyme has a winning record. A victory over one of the league’s better teams will help G/NW’s cause immensely.
- St. Joseph hopes to right last year’s wrongs in No. 3 vs No. 2 showdown with New Canaan
- Week 8 Games to Watch: Welcome to Thunderdome
- Pooch’s Picks: Greater New Haven Predicitions
- Sean Patrick Bowley’s Audibles: The Statewide guide to Week 8
- Bransfield’s Middletown region picks
- Danbury football players honor coach’s cancer-stricken wife
- Ansonia wins school record-tying 36th straight game
- Darien football assistant arrested
- Week 7 Plays of the Week
- MSG’s Mike Quick: New Canaan would beat Ansonia by ‘three or four’ touchdowns