Try picking the state champion out of this group. Just try it.
It is, quite possibly, the most mysterious and unpredictable of all the state playoff brackets.
Who’s the best of this bunch? Who has the toughest or easiest road? Is Newtown for real? The the CCC teams legit? Have the SCC teams been properly battle tested for a playoff run? What about the lone FCIAC representative?
Who will come out on top?
Do you go with the two SCC teams, West Haven or Fairfield Prep, who have emerged battered from a brutal gauntlet of games vs. the likes of Hand, Xavier, Shelton and others. West Haven won nine in a row before being upended by the Jesuits on Thanksgiving. Prep, despite early losses to St. Joseph and Hand, is on a major roll.
Do you go with the CCC schools? Southington upended Glastonbury in Week 1 and looked to be a favorite until Hall — which lost to Glastonbury — felled the Blue Knights. All three teams are led by talented quarterbacks and strong defenses.
Do you go with suddenly suspect Norwich Free Academy, which scored just six points in losses to Glastonbury and, on Thanksgiving, to New London. The Wildcats are loaded with stars back from last year’s runner-up, but have few 2013 trophies on their mantle.
Do yo go with the unbeaten and overwhelming sentimental favorites from Newtown? The Nighthawks are young across the board but led by senior stars RB Cooper Gold and Drew Tarantino. They were rarely challenged in the SWC, and now get a shot at winning what would be a glorious first state title since coach Steve George wore a uniform in 1992.
Or to you take the upstarts from the FCIAC? The Tigers’ only losses are to playoff squads St. Joseph and Darien. Perhaps their might is underestimated behind stars like RB Will Bonaparte, QB Ryan Dunn and Andrew Chuma (among many others).
Who’s your team? Who do you like? You’ll be asked to pick lottery numbers if you can successfully predict this bracket. It’s a doozy.
–SEAN PATRICK BOWLEY
CLASS LL QUARTERFINAL PREVIEW CAPSULES
All games at 6:30 p.m.
Capsules compiled and written by Mike Pucci.
No. 8 RIDGEFIELD (9-2) at No. 1 NEWTOWN (12-0)
• Where: Blue and Gold Stadium, Newtown
• Players to watch: Ridgefield: Andrew Chuma, Sr., WR/SS; Ryan Dunn, Jr., QB/DB; Will Bonaparte, Sr., RB/DB; Newtown: Andrew Tarantino, Sr., QB; Cooper Gold, Sr., RB/LB; Julian Dunn, Jr., WR/DB.
• You should know: Newtown is making its third straight trip to the playoffs. It lost to NFA in the quarterfinals last season despite entering unbeaten. The Nighthawks have defeated three teams (Brookfield, Barlow, Bethel) that also advanced to the postseason this year, including Brookfield twice, once in the regular season and again in the SWC championship game.
Newtown has threats in both the backfield in Gold and in the flat with receiver Julian Dunn, who is one of the top receivers in the state having caught 43 passes for 953 yards and 21 touchdowns. … Gold has rushed for 1,564 yards and 17 touchdowns.
Tarantino has thrown for 2,414 yards and 32 touchdowns against just 8 interceptions. Defensively, Newtown has started a majority of underclassmen. Junior Jaret DeVellis and sophomore Ryan Shaw lead with six sacks apiece. Dunn has made four interceptions.
Ridgefield has won four straight entering the playoffs. The Tigers lost only to St. Joseph and Darien, both of which qualified for the postseason. Ridgefield defeated a pair of SCC schools (Cheshire and Notre Dame-West Haven) and handed McMahon its first loss on Nov. 8.
The Tigers are also balanced offensively. Ryan Dunn has thrown for 2,066 and 26 touchdowns, while Bonaparte has rushed for 1,524 yards and 14 touchdowns. Chuma, who has made 54 receptions, has also made 54 tackles. Senior Noah Broder (four interceptions) and senior Patrick Weston (six sacks) also contribute defensively for Ridgefield.
- Pooch’s pick: Newtown.
- SPB’s Pick: Newtown 28-24
No. 7 FAIRFIELD PREP (9-2) at No. 2 GLASTONBURY (10-1)
• Where: Glastonbury High
• Players to watch: Fairfield Prep: Nick Crowle, Sr., RB/LB; Colton Smith, Jr., QB/DB; John DelliSanti, Jr., WR/S; Glastonbury: Jalen Ollie, Sr., QB; Kyran McKinney-Crudden, Sr., RB/LB; Donevin O’Reilly, Jr., RB/DB.
• You should know: Fairfield Prep may be playing as well as any team entering the CIAC playoffs. The Jesuits have won five straight and defeated Xavier and West Haven in consecutive games to reach the postseason for the first time since 2006.
Smith is a dual-threat quarterback who is dangerous with both his arm and feet. DelliSanti is one of the top receivers in the state, while Crowle is a bruising fullback that has been utilized more heavily in recent weeks. Prep’s offense isn’t fancy, but it can be difficult to stop. The Jesuits’ skill players benefit from playing behind a huge offensive line.
Their strength up front could be a deciding factor in this game. Crowle and seniors Max Trudeau and Tony Fox lead a tenacious defense, which is also huge, but that unit lacks speed.
Glastonbury has won 10 straight since losing to Southington in the season opener. During the winning streak, the Tomahawks defeated fellow Class LL participants Hall and NFA. Glastonbury has reached the postseason for the sixth straight time.
The Tomahawks like to run the ball but Ollie is a capable and intelligent passer. He has weapons in McKinney-Crudden and O’Reilly. The stout defense, which is allowing just 11 points per game, is led by senior Justin Kretzmer, a linebacker, and McKinney-Crudden.
This has the potential to be one of the more competitive games of the quarterfinal round.
- Pooch’s pick: Fairfield Prep.
- SPB’s Pick: Fairfield Prep 35-21
No. 6 WEST HAVEN (9-2) AT No. 3 HALL (9-1)
• Where: Hall High, West Hartford
• Players to watch: West Haven: Ervin Philips, Sr., RB; Duane Gary, Sr., QB; Marshont Little, Jr., RB; Hall: Tom Honyotski, Sr., QB; Joe Farrah, Sr., OL/LB; Rob Parra, Jr., WR/CB.
• You should know: West Haven just may be the most talented team in this class. The Westies have one of the state’s best running backs in Philips, who is headed to Syracuse next fall. Philips can almost single-handily take over a game, and Hall must do everything in its power to contain him.
The Warriors then must also worry about Gary, a dual-threat quarterback, Little and the plethora of other skill players on the West Haven roster.
West Haven, which is making its second straight trip to the postseason, lost its season opener to Greenwich but then won nine straight before losing to fellow Class LL participant Fairfield Prep on Thanksgiving. During the winning streak, the Westies defeated Class L quarterfinalist Hand. The improving West Haven defense is led by seniors Jesse Ridgway and Eli Gaskins.
Hall primarily likes to throw the ball. Honyotski has passed for 2,182 yards and 21 touchdowns. Parra has made 44 receptions for 846 yards and 11 touchdowns. Parra, who has made three interceptions, is one of the team’s top defenders.
The Warriors have won nine straight since losing to fellow Class LL quarterfinalist Glastonbury in the season opener. Hall defeated another Class LL participant, Southington, on Oct. 19.
- Pooch’s pick: West Haven
- SPB’s pick: West Haven 34-20
No. 5 NFA (8-2) at No. 4 SOUTHINGTON (9-1)
• Where: Fontana Field, Southington
• Players to watch: NFA: Alex Beaudreault, Sr., QB/DB; Khaleed Exum-Strong, Jr., RB/LB; Marcus Outlow, Sr., RB/DB; Southington: Stephen Barmore, Sr., QB; Alex Jamele, Jr., WR; Zach Maxwell, Sr., WR/DE.
• You should know: This will be a game of contrasting styles.
Southington, led by the Yale-bound Barmore, likes to move the ball down field through the air. Barmore has thrown for 2,382 yards and 35 touchdowns. Jamele has caught 59 passes for 1.263 yards and 22 scores.
NFA, meanwhile, prefers to pound teams into submission. They have two talented running backs in Outlow, who’s headed to Boston College, and Exum-Strong, who run behind a big offensive line. Outlow has rushed for 1,357 yards and 20 touchdowns, while Exum-Strong has chipped in with 832 yards and 10 scores. Beaudreault has a strong and accurate arm when the Wildcats do choose to throw.
NFA has been slightly inconsistent this season, scoring just seven points combined in losses to Glastonbury and New London. The Wildcats, though, have performed better offensively in recent weeks now that Outlow has recovered from a nagging ankle injury that affected his performance early in the season. Senior Ramel Williams has been seven interceptions for the Wildcats.
Southington defeated fellow Class LL participant Glastonbury 16-9 in the season opener, while NFA lost to the Tomahawks 6-0 on Oct. 4. Both Southington and NFA qualified in this class last season, with NFA advancing all the way to the championship game before losing to Xavier.
- Pooch’s pick: Southington.
- SPB’s pick: Southington 21-14