Video above from WTNH’s SportzEdge.com
SOUTHINGTON >> Joe DellaVecchia and his St. Joseph squad are becoming quite familiar with the annual CIAC football tournament press conference, held Wednesday at the Aqua Turf.
The Hogs were guests of honor at the event for the third time in five seasons. During that span, DellaVecchia has led St. Joseph back to relevancy.
“I hope it means we’re back,” DellaVecchia said. “That was my goal when I took over. It took a little longer than I wanted it to.”
DellaVecchia began his tenure at one of the state’s most dominant programs in 1998. Although DellaVecchia’s early teams were consistent, they were unable to duplicate the success the program enjoyed for nearly two decades prior.
That changed in 2009, when DellaVecchia guided the Hogs to their first state title since 1990. Another championship followed the next season. After going 4-6 in 2011, the Hogs reached the state quarterfinals last year.
Now, St. Joseph will play for the Class M state championship when it faces Brookfield on Saturday at 10:05 p.m. at CCSU’s Arute Field. The Hogs will attempt to win their 11th title in 13 championship game appearances.
“In 2009, we broke through,” DellaVecchia said. “I think that was the boost we needed. It gave the kids a lot of confidence, and a lot of kids started coming to the school again. We think we’re where we want to be; that we’re going to have a chance to compete, and have a shot at the playoffs. That’s our goal every year. Hopefully we can stay here.”
DellaVeccia said this senior class is reminiscent of the seniors from the 2010 team that included DellaVecchia’s son Joe, a quarterback who just finished his junior year at Stonehill, and Temple sophomore Tyler Matakevich, who led the Owls in tackles for the second straight season.
“That (2010) was an unbelievable class,” DellaVecchia, the coach, said. “Having those kids helped bring other kids into the school. We’re starting to get more players; we’re building our numbers back up. This senior class I have now is kind of similar. They played as sophomores, and they kind of built themselves up to get to this position.”
The great debate
Ansonia entered the postseason as the No. 1 team in the Register Top 10 Poll. The Chargers (14-0), who have won 42 straight games, are the state’s only remaining unbeaten team.
But will a victory, and even a convincing one, over Woodland be enough to keep Ansonia in the top spot?
Many pundits feel the winner of the Class L final, a rematch between New Canaan and Darien, is more deserving.
Darien (12-1) handed New Canaan (13-1), the FCIAC champion, its only loss, a 28-24 decision on Thanksgiving. Darien’s only loss is to Class M finalist St. Joseph.
New Canaan was ranked No. 1 before losing to the Blue Wave. Ansonia was ranked No. 2 in the preseason poll, jumped to No. 1 the following week and then was bumped from its perch when New Canaan defeated St. Joseph on Nov. 1.
“I have not seen Ansonia play this year,” Darien coach Rob Trifone said. “I know they’re a great program, but I don’t know much about them, and I don’t know much about their league.
“I do know that the best team I’ve seen this year is New Canaan. In my opinion, if you beat a No. 1 team twice in the same year, you deserve at least some share of No. 1, but we have to get there first.”
Darien, like New Canaan, has an impressive resume. The Blue Wave defeated Class L semifinalist North Haven on the road in the regular season before knocking off New Canaan on Thanksgiving.
Then Darien earned comeback victories over Hand and Middletown during the first two rounds of the playoffs to set up another meeting with the rival Rams.
“In our last four games, we had to come from behind,” Trifone said. “There’s no question this team has a lot of character and grit. We’ll see if we can do it again. But, once again, we’re facing, in my opinion, the best team in the state of Connecticut.”
According to the CIAC by-laws, the state finals must be completed by Sunday, “or there’s no championship,” executive director Paul Hoey said.
Although the finals were on as scheduled as of Wednesday night, the threat of inclement weather looming for this weekend may force the CIAC to come up with alternative plans.
Those plans could include moving the start time of the Class LL final up to earlier in the day on Saturday and playing the Class L final at another site, possibly Fairfield University, on Sunday, although this was not confirmed by the CIAC.
A possible switch could help Darien and New Canaan. Parties from both schools have been outspoken about wanting to move their state championship game to a site closer to their hometowns.
The CIAC said it will make an official decision by noon Thursday.
Ansonia’s Arkeel Newsome, Southington’s Stephen Barmore and New Canaan’s Teddy Bossidy will all be playing for a state championship this weekend.
But the three also have something else in common: they played together in the Football University Youth All-American Bowl while in the eighth grade. They were participants for the East team against the West team in the event held at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas. Northwest Catholic quarterback Christian Flynn also played for the East team.
Ansonia will face Woodland for the Class S title on Friday at 7:05 p.m., New Canaan battles Darien for the Class L title on Saturday at 2:05 p.m. and Southington squares off against Fairfield Prep for the Class LL title on Saturday at 6:05 p.m.
“It’s crazy,” said the UConn-bound Newsome, “that we all played together in eighth grade and now were back as seniors trying to win a state title.”
Said Barmore: “It’s kind of cool to see us all back here. I’ve kept in contact with them, especially with Arkeel and Christian, over the years. It’s really nice to see them having such successful seasons, too.”
Barmore remembers how Newsome returned a kickoff for a touchdown during the East’s victory, an early indication of Newsome’s potential. Newsome, already the state’s all-time leading rusher, will attempt to win his third straight title.
“Just watching him play, looking at him from the sideline, I thought he was going to be something special,” said Barmore, who will attend Yale. “He’s had one of, if not the greatest, Connecticut high school football careers. You could really see (the talent) with him at that age.”