Jimmy Zanor: Looking forward to a fun football playoffs

MIDDLETOWN >> After the dust had settled on a another terrific football Thanksgiving – and all the desserts were headed back to the fridge – a few things came to mind:

1. Xavier’s three-year reign as Class LL champions is over.

2. Middletown-New London II is going to be like one of those Ali-Frazier rematches.

3. Who and where is Quinebaug Valley?

4. Coginchaug defense…meet Mr. Newsome.

Connecticut high school football’s second season commences on Tuesday with 16 quarterfinal round games. Yup, there are just 32 teams who still have the privilege of buckling up their chin straps and wearing their school colors as they try to get to Central Connecticut State University for championship weekend (Dec. 13-14).

Unfortunately, Xavier won’t be one of them.

The three-time defending Class LL champion Falcons (7-3) fell just a few points shy of a playoff berth. Xavier simply couldn’t overcome losses against playoff teams North Haven, West Haven and Fairfield Prep. But another yard on a 2-point conversion in the 35-34 overtime loss at West Haven would have been enough to give the Falcons a shot at an unprecedented fourth consecutive Class LL title.

As tough as this year’s Class LL field is, I believe Xavier would have made some serious noise in the tournament.

In Class L, fourth-seed Middletown (10-1) will get a chance to avenge its only loss when the Blue Dragons host No. 5 New London (9-2). The Whalers upset Norwich Free Academy 9-7 on Thanksgiving Day thanks to a fourth quarter field goal from freshman kicker Garrett Burdick, the same Garrett Burdick who drilled a short field goal as time expired to beat Middletown, 23-21.

The Whalers can be dangerous. They’ve won eight straight and have a kicker who thinks he’s Adam Vinatieri. But I have a feeling Middletown is going to relish this rematch. The Blue Dragons had a pair of touchdowns called back at New London’s Canamella Field and committed more penalties than those crazy Oakland Raider teams of the 1970s.

Rosek-Skubel Stadium will be rockin’ as Middletown begins its quest for their first state football title since 1992.

That same night just a few miles south in Deep River, the mighty Valley Regional/Old Lyme Warriors will battle No. 8 Quinebaug Valley (9-2)in a Class M quarterfinal.

OK, I’ll admit I didn’t know much about Quinebaug Valley. They are a tri-op program whose players go to school at Putnam, Thompson and Ellis Tech. They are a nicknamed The Pride. They played mostly Tech schools this season and their two losses were against Class S playoff teams Prince Tech and Capital/Classical/Achievement.

I do know this. That longtime Warriors defensive coordinator Paul Ginter, who is one of the best in the business, won’t sleep this week while watching tape of The Pride’s offense. When Quinebaug’s quarterback steps to the line of scrimmage for the first time Tuesday, Ginter might even know what flavored gum he’ll be chewing.

The top-seeded Warriors (11-0) just completed their second undefeated season in four years – they are 39-6 during that span – and seem to be on a collision course with St. Joseph-Trumbull.

Of course, it’s the playoffs and anything can happen, which might be the perfect mantra for Class S Coginchaug.

The No. 7 Blue Devils (9-2) travel to legendary Ansonia on Tuesday. The No. 2 Chargers (12-0), who are vying for their third straight CIAC state title and 19th overall, have won 40 straight games.

Coginchaug may be the first playoff team in history that gave up 60 points twice in one season. But the Blue Devils aren’t the gang that couldn’t tackle straight anymore. They haven’t been for awhile. Coginchaug reached the playoffs with an impressive eight-game winning streak that featured smash mouth football and a hard-hitting defense. That defense will be put to the test against Ansonia’s Arkeel Newsome, the state’s all-time leading rusher.

The UConn-bound Newsome only had 406 yards rushing in the Chargers 66-28 Thanksgiving Day win against Naugatuck. Newsome has 2,863 yards and 48 touchdowns this season.

The Blue Devils are huge underdogs.

But it’s the playoffs…and anything can happen.

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