Class L football state quarterfinal preview capsules

How much has quarterback Nick van Dell and the young Hand Tigers learned since their season-opening loss to New Canaan? Enough for a three-peat as Class L champs?

How much has quarterback Nick van Dell and the young Hand Tigers learned since their season-opening loss to New Canaan? Enough for a three-peat as Class L champs?

Nick Lombardo is one of the state's top all-purpose backs. He leads the stunning No. 1 seed Blue Wave in a mega quarterfinal match vs. defending champion Hand.

Nick Lombardo is one of the state’s top all-purpose backs. He leads the stunning No. 1 seed Blue Wave in a mega quarterfinal match vs. defending champion Hand.

Just a few weeks ago, maybe as late as 10:30 a.m. on Thanksgiving morning, the Class L playoff field looked like a slam dunk: No. 1 ‘Jersey good’ New Canaan was the belle of the ball. They were going to roll this bracket like a bowling ball and take home the Walter Camp trophy as the No. 1 team in the state.

Something happened on the way to all-time glory. New Canaan looked relatively mortal while defeating St. Joseph to win the FCIAC title. But then came arch rival Darien. The Blue Wave stunned a state by toppling the Rams from the ranks of the unbeaten and capturing the No. 1 seed over unbeaten Platt.

Then New London stunned everyone by toppling NFA to join the field, keeping Naugatuck and/or Bristol Eastern out of the proceedings while Hand and North Haven rounded out the field.

Did anybody figure Class L would set up this way in September? Not a chance. It’s a wild bracket, but will the regular season results hold true.

Can Nick Lombardo, Silas Wyper and Co. continue to ride this wave into the final? Will they face their rivals again in a state championship rematch of 2008?

Defending Class L champion Hand was smoked by New Canaan 52-21 in the season opener. But the Tigers are a remarkably different squad which has learned a few lessons in the SCC. Can Hand successfully defend its title?

What does Platt (11-0) have to offer? The Panthers have dominated their CCC Division III schedule behind sensational junior back Tyzhaun Leatherwood. They read for a step up in competition? How does Ethan Suraci and the North Haven single wing stack up?

Not a month ago, Middletown was itself a Class L favorite. But New London stunned Dario Highsmith and the Blue Dragons to continue its meteoric run to the playoffs. The rematch is on Middletown’s turf. And they’re thinking payback.

Finally, Farmington comes in as a prohibitive underdog against the jilted New Canaan Rams at Dunning Field. The Indians are led by playmaker Ivan Guadalupe. Can he deliver a stunning upset?

Or was the last few weeks just a tease? Will Cole Harris and New Canaan make this whole bracket a slam-dunk after all?

–SEAN PATRICK BOWLEY

2013 Class L fb bracket

Capsules compiled and written by Mike Pucci.

No. 8 HAND (8-3) at No. 1 DARIEN (10-1)

2013 QF L Hand Darien• Where: McMahon High, Norwalk
• Players to watch: Hand: Nick van Dell, So., QB; Conor Dowd, Sr., RB; Tom Wilson, Sr., WR; Darien: Silas Wyper, Sr., QB; Nick Lombardo, Sr., WR/SS; Griffin Ross, Jr., WR.
• You should know: Hand, the two-time defending champion in this class, gets a chance for the three-peat despite being the only team in any of the four classes to lose three games during the regular season.

The Tigers are vastly improved from the team that lost 50-21 to New Canaan in the season opener. Hand then won six straight games before losing consecutive contests to Xavier and West Haven. During the winning streak, the Tigers defeated fellow Class L participant North Haven.

Van Dell has been a revelation since taking over at quarterback. He has thrown for 2,059 yards and 20 touchdowns. His top targets are Wilson (46 receptions, 711 yards, 10 touchdowns) and senior Jake Mirando (42 receptions, four touchdowns). Hand can also run. Dowd has gained over 1,000 yards rushing and junior Tommy Wilson ran for 166 yards and three touchdowns against Guilford last week. Junior kicker Tyler Phan could be an asset here. He kicked game-winning field goals against Hillhouse and Shelton this season.

The Tigers’ defense, which starts several underclassmen, hasn’t been as dominant as in past years and will be tested by the potent Darien offense. How well the Hand defense plays could be the deciding factor in this contest.

The Blue Wave are coming off an emotional 28-24 victory over then unbeaten New Canaan, who was ranked No. 1 in the Register Top 10 Poll at the time, on Thanksgiving. That allowed Darien to earn the No. 1 seed in this class. If the Blue Wave, who also defeated North Haven during the regular season, can play on the level they did against New Canaan, Darien may be tough to beat. The Blue Wave lost only to Class M quarterfinalist St. Joseph.

Wyper is one of the state’s most underrated quarterbacks, who can both pass and run. Wyper has dangerous targets in Lombardo and Ross. Lombardo is one of the state’s best players on both sides of the ball. Defensively, Darien’s front seven is as good as any unit in the state. Mark Evanchick, a sophomore, and junior George Reed, both ends, have been particularly dominant this season.

  • Pooch’s pick: Darien.
  • SPB’s Pick: Hand 29-28

No. 7 NORTH HAVEN (9-2) at No. 2 PLATT (11-0)

QF L NoHaven Platt• Where: Falcon Field, Meriden
• Players to watch: North Haven: Ethan Suraci, Sr., RB/LB; Mike Halloran, Sr., QB/LB; Pat Mikos, Sr., RB/LB; Platt: Andrew McBride, Sr., QB; Creme Watford, Sr., WR; Tyzhan Leatherwood, Jr.. RB.
• You should know: This is an intriguing contest between two teams who thrive on running the ball.

North Haven, which lost only to fellow Class L quarterfinalists Hand and Darien, runs a methodical single-wing offense known for chewing up the clock. The Indians’ offensive line is slightly undersized but very physical. North Haven has rushed for 3,723 yards and 49 touchdowns this season. Suraci leads the way with 145 carries for 1,003 yards and 21 touchdowns. Sophomore Mike Montano has added 682 yards and six touchdowns, while Halloran has gained 762 yards rushing and 10 scores.

Platt rolled through an unbeaten regular season, although its schedule was less daunting than the Indians. The Panthers, though, did defeat Class S quarterfinalists Bloomfield and Rocky Hill. Platt is led by McBride, a dual-threat quarterback, who has weapons in receivers Watford and junior Olajuwon McLeod.

Leatherwood is in the midst of an incredible break-through season. He’s one of the state’s best running backs, but has been slowed of late with a nagging ankle injury. When he’s healthy, he’s difficult to contain since he often gets lost behind one of the state’s biggest and most physical offensive lines.

North Haven, because of it’s style of play, isn’t a team that has much success of playing from behind. But if the Indians can get a lead, they will be tough to beat.

  • Pooch’s pick: North Haven.
  • SPB’s Pick: North Haven 28-14

No. 6 FARMINGTON (9-2) at No. 3 NEW CANAAN (11-1)

2013 QF L Farmington NC Where: Dunning Field, New Canaan
• Players to watch: Farmington: Ivan Guadalupe, Sr., RB/S/P; Kenny Jones, Sr., WR/CB; Jayson Martin, Sr., OL/DE; New Canaan: Cole Harris, Sr., RB/LB; Connor Buck, Sr., DL; Nick Cascione, Sr., QB.
• You should know: New Canaan, the FCIAC champion, saw its 11-game winning streak end in a 28-24 loss to Darien on Thanksgiving. The Rams. though, are, arguably, still the favorite to win the title in this class. New Canaan defeated fellow Class L quarterfinalist Hand in the season opener and earned two wins over Class M participant St. Joseph this year. The Rams have advanced to the postseason for the ninth straight time.

New Canaan runs an effective spread offense, led by Cascione and receivers Jack Gilio, Alec LaPolice and Cole Turpin. The Rams also have one of the most physical and aggressive defenses led by Harris and Buck.

Farmington likes to run the ball. Guadalupe is a triple-threat. He can run, play defense and he’s one of the state’s best punters. Jones is both a threat out of the backfield and in the flat.

  • Pooch’s pick: New Canaan.
  • SPB’s pick: New Canaan 62-21

No. 5 NEW LONDON (9-2) at No. 4 MIDDLETOWN (10-1)

2013 QF L NL Middletown• Where:  Rosek-Skubel Stadium, Middletown
• Players to watch: New London: Jose Garcia, Sr., WR/DB; Danny Maranda, Jr., QB/DB; Orinn Parke, Sr., RB/DB; Middletown: Dario Highsmith, Jr., QB; Jacob Homar, Sr., WR; Cody Carrillo, Sr., LB; Isiah Thompkins, Jr. RB/LB
• You should know: A rematch from a regular-season contest won by New London.

Middletown junior quarterback Dario Highsmith cuts through the Farmington defense in a 21-7 Middletown win earlier this season. Catherine Avalone - The Middletown Press

Middletown junior quarterback Dario Highsmith cuts through the Farmington defense in a 21-7 Middletown win earlier this season. Catherine Avalone – The Middletown Press

New London started the season at 1-2, losing to Class S quarterfinalist Capital Prep/Classical Magnet/Achievement First and Class M participant Ledyard. Since, the Whalers have been on a roll. New London has won eight games in a row, including a 23-21 victory over Middletown on Nov. 8 and a 9-7 win over Class LL quarterfinalist NFA on Thanksgiving.

The Whalers are balanced offensively. Maranda has passed for 1.943 yards and 26 touchdowns, while Parke has rushed for 1,206 yards and 13 touchdowns. Garcia is one of the team’s top two-way players. He’s caught 45 passes for 797 yards and 14 touchdowns and has made four interceptions.

Middletown has had much success running the ball. Highsmith, one of the state’s best players, is a running back playing the quarterback position and runs behind a big and physical offensive line. Twin brothers Anthony and David Bednarz, both 6-foot-7 and over 250 pounds, are two of the best linemen in the state.

Give the edge to Middletown at home, but this contest could be just as competitive as the first. New London freshman Garrett Burdick kicked the game-winning field goal the last time these teams played, and he also kicked the game-winner against NFA. He could impact the game once again.

  • Pooch pick: Middletown
  • SPB’s Pick: Middletown 21-16

Comments

    • Sean Patrick BowleySean Patrick Bowley says

      @bubba – we shall see. The best is when a team not only defies the score pick, but wins. Or, in the case of Tolland in 2007, makes me look the fool even without winning.

      “Seymour 49, Tolland 0″

      Final: Seymour 44, Tolland 34… and it was closer than that. Boy, was that Tolland coach mad at me. They showed me, too.

      At least I picked the winner.

      Good. Times.

      • JB says

        Sean was one kick away from a perfect call on Hand vs Darien! Watched game on TV and Hand really has improved over the year. Great high school football game. Two, battle-tested worthy state playoff teams. Contrast that to Platt vs New Haven. We need a better way to determine our playoff teams to get more round 1 games like Hand vs Darien. Platt should never have qualified with all of those small school wins. Just a shame, IMO. How does this happen every year and the CIAC just turns a blind eye. Need to give 50% reduction for playoff points for wins from lower level opponents – REGARDLESS OF CONFERENCE. That would wake up the CCC.

  1. Kahona says

    How well will Ethan and the single wing do? As i have said before as E goes so goes NH and i will tell all this YOU AINT SEEN NOTHING YET

    • bubba says

      I know you may think I’m crazy and a lot of football has to be played, but I say Hand and NH play each other in the final

      • Tom says

        Bubba have you been to a football game this season? New Canaan is going to walk into the finals with their easy schedule. These games were all obvious and this is what happens when horrible teams make the playoffs after playing nobody all year. Hand put up a good game and you knew that was coming- they actually play good teams during the year. North Haven will loose by at least 30 points to New Canaan

  2. jeb says

    Dear Bubba,

    If North Haven gets ahead in the game then they can win but if they trail by more than a touchdown in any game then it’s lights out. Their offensive schemes are not made for comebacks pure and simple.

  3. The Dude says

    Darien vs. Hand- Darien- I know everyone loves Hand. But in the two games I’ve seen them this year their defense has been shredded.
    Middletown vs. New London- Middletown-Just like the first game between the two a tossup. But Highsmith pulls Middletown through late.
    New Canaan vs. Farmington- New Canaan-Good luck Farmington. The Rams are ticked off.
    Platt vs. North Haven-Platt- Platt is probably the least respected team in the state.

    Darien vs. Middletown- Darien-Could be a barnburner. Darien wins close with a FG late.
    New Canaan vs. Platt-New Canaan- Leatherwood is good enough to where Platt might hang around for a half. But too many weapons for the Rams.

    Darien vs. New Canaan- New Canaan- Turkey Bowl rematch will be wild and a classic.

      • Tom says

        It will be a good game but your very wrong. New Canaan has a better defense and run game than Middletown (Not even close). NH probably has a better run game then Middletown (worst passing game i’ve ever seen- their coach needs to hire an offense coordinator or coach at the junior level.)

        • JonnF says

          TOM I think Darien Middletown will be a great game, and if Middletown pulls away with a win, I do agree with you that Mtown will have a tough time running the ball like they have against NC, however I think NC won’t be ready for the level aggresive play from Middletown and their numerous attempts to rush the ball. I think it will be a Mtown vs NC final, and a hell of a game

          • D Money says

            JonnF is right on D Money.

            During the last two seasons, Xavier (2012) was the only team able to slow down Middeltown’s running game. During these two years, Middletown was not only effective running the ball, they rushed for at least 300 yards each game.

            In 2013, no team effectively ran the ball against Middletown’s defense. Also, Middletown’s defensive physicality is not isolated to their front seven (with depth to keep them fresh), the secondary punishes receives and backs with vicious hitting.

            Darien and NC may be balanced on offense, but Middletown will make them one dimentional passing teams, with punishing blows to skilled position players throughtout the game.

        • UBilly says

          Like D, I agree Darien has not seen a running game like Middletown’s,…no they have seen better. I think Middletown will be able to hang around with Darien for a half.
          Middletown has played a modulated CCC schedule, and we are all seeing what that means in the playoffs. Top seeds, home games, short walks home. Exceptions do happen and I like Southington and Rocky Hill to compete well, but I do not see the CCC bringing home a title this year.

          • D Money says

            UBilly

            NC and Darien do not have a player like Dario Highsmith on their rosters.

            Dario’s father was a great back at Middletown in the 80s and was a D-1 back in colleage. His son, is big, elusive and fast and no team has contained him ithe last two seasons.

            In know the NC and Darien are quality teams, but even in their wins they give up points. Middletown has only had one team (NL in November) score more that 20 points in a game.

            Good luck!

          • JonnF says

            UBilly This is the semifinals, even if Middletown does lose it won’t be a blowout. All the teams still alive are obviously worthy of the spot they are in, so I must say I disagree with you when you say Middletown will only hang around for a half

  4. says

    If you don’t have the ball you can’t score. The best defense is slow, successful offense. I have seen North Haven chug along on 12-13 play drives for over 80 yards that eat an an entire period. One game in recent memory I recall them taking the opening kickoff, and scoring a 1 yard TD on the first play of the second quarter. Also while some of you are predicting a Platt high scoring game/win, check out how many turnovers the Indians had this year….

      • Tom says

        Kevin, big surprise. North Haven doesn’t deserve the top ten with their offense. Platt is horrible and would have a losing record in the FCIAC. North Haven is good but they are going to be destroyed by New Canaan.

      • JB says

        The CCC is a conference that hides its pretenders … stayed tuned stats coming tomorrow. Another year of this b-s should not be tolerated for our state playoffs. Better teams are not being allowed to compete. CIAC please wake up … social media like this blog is making you look foolish.

  5. JB says

    Game predictions:

    Darien vs. Hand:
    Jack Casagrande is a field for upsets. Hand 35 Darien 31

    Middletown vs. New London
    NL is for real – brawn over finesse in states. NL 21 Middletown 10

    Platt vs. North Haven
    See comments above for NL. NH 28 Platt 7

    New Canaan vs. Farmington
    NC was playing possum to avoid Hand. NC 49 Farmington 14

    • D Money says

      Like Ii have been saying all year. Middletown is the team to beat in Class L. They have put up 300 rushing years against every team they have faced in 2012 and 2012 (except against Xaiver in 2012). No team has been able to rum the ball against Middletown in 2013.

      New London had no chance of winning tonight. Barring penalties, I like Middletown to win Class L.

    • D Money says

      The Truth is, Middletown overlooked NL the first meeting. NL was also helped by lopsied officiating. However, even in a loss, Middletown out classed NL in November racking up almost 400 yards running.

      Last night was a dose of reality for NL and the remaining Class L competitors. Middletown is physical, talented and deep.

      We are not a finess team, anyone here like Roberto Duran?

  6. JonnF says

    Darien will be a true test for Middletown, but I think it will be a very close game. Most people are overlooking Middletown as a competitor in this matchup, and saying they will maybe compete for only a half as UBilly said, but from why I’ve seen Darien could be in trouble.

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