NEWTOWN (10-1, Class LL semifinalist)
Thursday, Nov. 21 at Brookfield High School, 7
TEAM BY TEAM CAPSULES (Coming soon)
TOP 5 PLAYERS TO WATCH
- JULIAN DUNN, WR/SS, Newtown — He’s starred for the Hawks since he was a freshman. The big receiver/defensive back is easily one of the league’s best talents. He caught 34 passes for 600 yards and 10 touchdowns last year. Boston College has his eye on him already. He’s only a junior.
- MALIK CUMMINGS, QB, Masuk — The senior quarterback will be a huge part of the new era at Masuk. One SWC coach went as far to call him the league’s best player. He threw for 2,158 yards and 19 TDs last season.
- JOEY PIATNIK, QB/DB, Bethel — The 6-3, 205-pound bruiser is more of a runaway fullback than a quarterback. He’s big and versatile in Bethel’s ‘ground-and-pound’ option, running for 1,700 yards and 23 touchdowns while throwing for nearly 1,000 yards and 13 touchdowns.
- JACK SHABAN, QB/DB, Barlow — He stands at just 5-8, 150 pounds. But his stature belies this senior’s talents. With a combination of breakaway speed and elusiveness, Shaban ran for 1,125 yards and 13 TDs in the Falcons’ option before a separated shoulder ended his season and detailed the team’s playoff hopes.
- CHRIS VAN KAMERIK, WR/DB, Oxford — Perhaps the biggest deep threat in the league, the senior torched the league catching 60 passes for 1,160 yards and 15 touchdowns last year. He’ll be new QB Kyle Chudoba’s best friend as Oxford attempts to claim the school’s first state playoff berth.
KEEP AN EYE ON…
CAL DANIELS, TE/DE, Bethel (Stony Brook); COOPER GOLD, RB/LB, Newtown; PETER MANFREDONIA, OL, Newtown; DREW TARANTINO, QB, Newtown; JOSH KRAPF, DL, Newtown; TIM KRAPF, LB, Newtown; DOM SCARANGELLA, OL, Newtown; NICK LANDAU, DL, Newtown; KYLE CHUDOBA, QB, Oxford; JOE DAMOTA, RB/LB, Masuk; RUSS LILLY, LB, Masuk; DAVID DiGIROLAMO, OL, Masuk; STEVE MILLER, FB/LB, Barlow; HARRY WILSON, RB/SS, Barlow; SAM BREINER, RB/LB, Stratford; MIKE CANNATTA, QB, Stratford; BRAD WESTMARK, QB/DB, Brookfield; LIAM CLANCY, WR/DB, Brookfield; JUSTIN LYONS, DL, Brookfield; LOUIS RODRIGUES, DL, Brookfield; ERIC DAMMEN-BROWER, WR/LB, Weston; PETER LUMMIS, RB/LB, Weston; DEVANTE TEEL, WR/DB, Bunnell; NOLAN AURELIA, QB, Bunnell; JACK YULE, LB, Pomperaug; NICO ROSA, DE, Pomperaug; DARRELL BOWMAN, QB/DB/K, Immaculate; MIKE McCOURT, QB, New Fairfield; JOEY HICKS, WR, New Fairfield; DREW HANSEN, WR, New Milford; RYAN GRENIER, RB/WR/S, New Milford.
- NEWTOWN — The defending champs are, quite simply, loaded. The starting quarterback, tailback, receiver and all five offensive linemen return. The Hawks aren’t as proven on the defensive side. But they’re big and talented with the Krapf brothers manning the front-seven. While Newtown will miss the multi-talented Dan Hebert (now off playing in college), there’s no doubt that this is the most experienced and most talented team in the league. After wresting Masuk’s hold on the SWC title away last year, Newtown wants to take the next step: a deep run in the uber-tough Class LL playoffs. But first things first…
- MASUK — Everything’s new. New uniforms, new system, new coach… new look. By accounts, it’s been quite the culture shock. Contentious public discontent from some parents and players caused a unneeded rift just weeks into the preseason. But Masuk says it’s past its troubles are behind it. Good thing, too. They still have a team worthy of challenging Newtown. Malik Cummings is a player and he has weapons at his side. The New Era begins Week 1 vs. former coach John Murphy and New Milford. Buckle up.
- BETHEL — Joey Piatnik is a star. Cal Daniels is a beast. Bethel has ebbed and flowed in the Jason Gill era. Last year was an ebb. Here comes the flow.
- BARLOW — The Falcons have a tenuous hold on this spot, given that a few of the stars that brought them to the brink of the playoffs are gone. But Jack Shaban, who missed the last couple games of the season, is back and the Falcons have solid options in Steve Miller and Harry Wilson.
- OXFORD — The Wolverines shocked practically everyone by going 8-2 and nearly reaching the state playoffs, now eight starters return on both sides. That’s basically everyone except QB Brennen Diaz, who made the whole thing go. The Wolverines are hoping his replacement, senior Kyle Chudoba can bring some of the moxie he used in pitching the school to the state baseball title to the football field.
- BROOKFIELD — By all accounts, the Bobcats are a year or two away, or at least until its heralded sophomore class grows up. What’s wrong with now? Brad Westmark proved his could lead an offense with 2,427 passing yards and 18 touchdowns. He has weapons. But Bobcats’ two issues are defense, which fell off the map late last year, and, of course, youth. There are a lot of new faces being counted on to do big things.
- NEW MILFORD — Like him or not, John Murphy brings instant respectability, instant attitude and confidence. Just look at what he did for Monroe. His presence has already galvanized the student body into a roster of over 100 kids (including wrestlers) and, yes, they’re going two platoon. If he can find some stars, look out.
- BUNNELL — Gone are the days of polecat formations, squib kicks and rampant 2-point conversions of the Brunoball era. New coach Doug Cotto, fresh from a two-year stint as Newtown’s defensive coordinator, promises a much more traditional way of playing football. That includes defense. Lots and lots of defense. Asked what he’s excited for most in the Cotto era, senior WR Devante Teel says, “Defense. Defense. I can’t wait to play defense.”
- POMPERAUG — Pomperaug. Oh Pomperaug. Where for art thou? Coach Dave Roach says his team has dedicated itself to becoming the behemoth it once was under Chuck Drury. And there are big, if not exceptionally tall, boys on the lines. They’ll be just fine in that department. The Panthers’ biggest concern is finding consistent playmakers and scoring points, a consistent plague last year.
5 CAN’T MISS CONFERENCE GAMES
- MASUK at NEW MILFORD (Week 1, Sept. 12) — Forget the SCC-FCIAC battles going on around the region, none will be as bitter and contentious as this one, pitting Masuk against former coach John Murphy and his new team at New Milford. Both sides have directed subtle, and not-so-subtle signs distaste for the other. Masuk wants to stick it to its former coach. Murphy would love to kick off his new venture with a victory.
- BETHEL at BARLOW (Week 1, Sept. 12) — Options Aweigh! The league’s best triple-option disciples tangle in this critical early-season matchup deep in the woods of Redding. It’s Piatnik vs. Shaban in a quarterback battle that will probably seen about 10 passes thrown — combined. It’s a game whose outcome will separate the SWC contender from the pretender.
- BETHEL at NEWTOWN (Week 2, Sept. 20) — Both teams will be coming off huge Week 1 match ups. But this Week 2 tussle vs. Bethel will show just how large the gap is between the Hawks and the rest of the league. Being its first home game, Newtown will wear special green-and-white Sandy Hook Elementary uniforms.
- MASUK at OXFORD (Week 4, Oct. 4) — During its short SWC history, Oxford has matched up well against every league opponent … except this one. It’s never been close. This is the Wolverines’ first huge matchup of the season and will determine if they’re SWC or state playoff material.
- NEWTOWN at MASUK (Week 12, Nov. 27) — This has served as the SWC championship game for three years running. Newtown finally broke Masuk’s spell in last year’s 21-14 thriller. Who knows where these programs will be come Thanksgiving. But it’s a good bet some playoff intrigue, if not a league title, will be on the line.
Coaching shakeup!: It was quite the year for coaching moves in the SWC. Two officially changed the flavor of the league. John Murphy went from Masuk to New Milford. He was replaced in Monroe by David Brennan. Craig Bruno took his act to Naugatuck and former Newtown defensive coordinator Doug Cotto has taken the reins at Bunnell. Notre Dame-Fairfield dismissed Dawon Dicks after one 1-9 season and longtime assistant Ted Boynton is now in charge. …NVL-Bound: After an active courtship, Oxford is leaving the SWC after just four seasons as a member. The rest of the SWC quietly hopes the door slams the Wolverines on the way out. The NVL-SWC challenge: It’s not as ballyhooed as the clash of the two behemoth leagues down south. But, unlike the SCC-FCIAC challenge, this cooperation between leagues was done quietly and without fuss. The two leagues, which matched up strictly by past strength, will face each other Week 6: Newtown’s at Wolcott; Derby’s at Bethel; Immaculate’s at Crosby; Barlow is at Torrington; Kennedy is at Stratford; New Farifield plays at Sacred Heart; Seymour travels across town lines to face future NVL rival Oxford; Watertown plays New Milford; Woodland’s at Pomperaug; Holy Cross is at Weston; Notre Dame-Fairfield is at St. Paul; Brookfield is at Wilby. The two sexiest match ups are Masuk playing at Ansonia at Jarvis Field and Bunnell facing former coach Craig Bruno at Naugatuck. New Fields: Oxford will debut a gorgeous new athletics complex on the southern end of the high school. …Stratford will finally get a full season on the new turf at Penders Field. …For Sandy Hook: Newtown will wear the green and white colors of Sandy Hook Elementary for its first home game. …
- Champions — Colonial: Newtown; Yankee: Bethel; Patriot: Oxford. SWC Championship: Newtown over Masuk
- Playoff Teams — Newtown (LL), Masuk (L), Bethel (M), Oxford (S)
THE BOTTOM LINE
The SWC boils down to this: Newtown, Newtown, Newtown. Then a gap. Then everyone else. The Hawks are simply loaded for a second-consecutive league championship, something the program hasn’t accomplished in 15 years. And, after last year’s drubbing by NFA in the Class LL quarterfinals, Newtown is hoping it can take a large leap forward. The town has been through a lot since last December’s tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary. This team should give the community something extra to rally around. “We’d like to give the town a nice distraction for a change,” coach Steve George said. As for the rest of the SWC, Oxford has a veteran team, a new field and wants to extend its spring championship pedigree into fall before departing for the NVL. Bethel and Barlow are both strong options (literally and figuratively). Masuk, despite its internal preseason strife, is still talented and anxious to serve notice it’s not going away any time soon. But are there some wildcards in the midst? Don’t be shocked to hear from Bunnell, Pomperaug, Brookfield, Stratford, and, yes, maybe even ‘New Murphy.’