SOUTHINGTON — Disappointed not to get a chance to see both the CIAC Class L football championship, pitting No. 1 Hand against No. 2 St. Joseph, and the Class LL title game, with No. 3 Newtown and No. 6 Darien?
Gregg Simon, the CIAC’s associate executive director, walked through the logic of having both games on Saturday at 3 p.m., Class L at Veterans Stadium in New Britain, Class LL at McDougall Stadium in Trumbull.
“We knew this year we had two games in Trumbull and two games in New Britain,” Simon said Tuesday morning at the CIAC’s luncheon for the state finalists at the Aqua Turf Club.
“When you look at it, there was no possibility of playing St. Joe’s at Trumbull High School. The school is in Trumbull. They played a quarterfinal there (last week). They played quarters and semis there the year before. So they were automatically at New Britain. It wasn’t even a consideration.
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Your eight state championship coaches share a cordial moment at today’s CIAC state championship luncheon. Clockwise from top left: Class LL’s Rob Trifone (Darien) and Bobby Pattison (Newtown); Class L’s Dave Mastroianni (Hand) and Joe Della Vecchia (St. Joseph); Class S: Ty Outlaw (Bloomfield) and John Ferrazzi (Sheehan); Class M: Chad Neal (Killingly) and Dan Hassett (Weston) #cthsfb
“So there’s only one (other) slot in New Britain, and into the equation comes Killingly.”
The Class M finalists from the northeast corner of the state will meet Weston on Saturday morning at 11, the same time Bloomfield and Sheehan play in Trumbull for the Class S title.
“It was really very easy: We had to play Killingly at New Britain, because we weren’t going to get them on a bus two hours all the way (to Trumbull),” Simon said. “So once Killingly won, we knew Killingly was our other matchup at New Britain.”
The last consideration is that bigger schools usually draw bigger crowds, and afternoon games do better than morning games.
“We felt the best way to do things were to have the L and LL games in the afternoons,” Simon said. “We felt they’d get the best crowds, bigger crowds from bigger schools.”
Since the beginning of the CIAC playoffs in 1976, 39 teams have won two championships in a row, including St. Joseph and Hand, each of the past two seasons.
Only a dozen have made it to three or more in a row. Either the Hogs or the Tigers will make it 13 on Saturday.
“It’s a testament to the kids, and the kids who’ve come before them. A standard’s been set, just like at St. Joe’s, and our kids want to live up to the standard,” Hand coach Dave Mastroianni said.
“They each want to leave their own little legacy here.”
Of those 12 programs, only three won championships in more than one CIAC division. St. Joseph could become a fourth. Its run started in Class S in 2017 (and that a year after playing Hillhouse for the Class M championship). The Hogs were moved up to Class M in 2018 and won.
And now they were pushed up to L to create this mega-matchup.
“I’d say Ansonia is the only team we’ve played that’s been there before during this run,” Hogs coach Joe Della Vecchia said. “You speak about football tradition in Connecticut, you’re talking Hand, Ansonia and St. Joe’s, going back to the ’70s to now doing this. I think that’s quite a thing.”
Della Vecchia was a senior on the 1980 St. Joseph team that began a run of five straight CIAC titles, tied for second with the turn-of-the-century Bloomfield teams behind the six in a row that Cheshire won from 1992 to 1997.
“It’s something I think every kid, every coach dreams about that if they win every game, they could be No. 1,” Della Vecchia said. “As an assistant coach, I came close once. I don’t know if the reality of it has sunk in. Winning the game would get us that. I’m sure they’ll start thinking about it, but it’s a big deal. It really is.”
Mastroianni, who had surgery for cancer of the appendix earlier this season, said he plans to be on the sideline for the first time since Week 1.
Bloomfield’s offensive firepower is obvious. But the Warhawks don’t give much up, either. Question their schedule if you’d like, but they’ve allowed 29 points in 12 games. And that’s not an average.
“It definitely comes down to the coaching, teaching us technique,” defensive end Kyle Davis said. “They were once in our position, so being able to relate to it this way makes it easier.”
He said he was a little raw early in the year, but he has made progress.
“I finally figured out how to use my hands,” he said, learning to use hand swipes and club rips. “It’s played a big factor in how many sacks I have.”
Bloomfield’s official stats from Monday’s semifinal win over Plainville aren’t up yet. Davis went in with 14.5 sacks and 34 tackles for a loss; he was one of five Warhawks with at least 10 TFLs.
The defense’s next challenge is another explosive offense. Sheehan has scored 50 points or more in seven of its 10 wins.
“They’re definitely a great offense,” Davis said. “They pound the ball up the middle. You have to come up underneath them to stop the run game.”
That run game starts with Terrence Bogan, Sheehan’s all-time leading rusher, 50 yards away from his second consecutive 2,000-yard season despite missing a game, who’s got respect for what Bloomfield brings, too.
“I just think they’re athletes,” Bogan said about what stands out when he looks at his opponent. “They’re pretty physical. They’ve got some big kids, but their athleticism, really.”