NEW HAVEN >> It’s been four years, but Hillhouse is back in the CIAC Class M football championship game.
The 2nd-seeded Academics, who beat Berlin in 2012 for the Class M title, downed 3rd-seeded Killingly 49-28 Monday night at Bowen Field.
Hillhouse (11-1) will play 5th-seeded St. Joseph, which defeated Valley/Old Lyme, 28-7, in the other Class M semifinal Monday night. The Class M final is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Saturday at Ken Strong Stadium in West Haven.
“It’s beautiful,” said Hillhouse coach Reggie Lytle, who coached the receivers and defensive backs in 2012 when the Academics beat Berlin for their last title under Tom Dyer. “We believe in the kids and they believe in the coaching staff. It’s exciting to play for a state championship.”
On the field, the difference was Hillhouse’s speed. The Academics scored three long touchdowns of 57 or more yards, and if not for a pair of holding penalties, would have had five.
“They have a lot of speed and weapons and they are a well-coached team,” Killingly coach Chad Neal said. “At times, they needed a big play and they got it. It came down to the team making the fewest mistakes won the game.”
Hillhouse seemed to have everything going its way in the first half as it scored on each of its four possessions. But despite taking a 15-0 lead in the first 10 minutes on a Shawn Ogarro 10-yard run and a Damian Henderson Jr. to Chase Linzly 13-yard TD pass, it was 28-21 at intermission.
That’s because Hillhouse had to contend with Killingly junior running back Spencer Lockwood, who carried the ball 38 times for 209 yards.
That came after he had 305 yards in the quarterfinals against Bunnell.
Lockwood scored three times in the second quarter, those coming from 3, 2 and 1 yard out. In between Matt Brehon (13 carries for 246 yards) scored from 15 yards and Corey Pollard from a yard out to give Hillhouse the 7-point lead at the break.
Killingly had a big chance to tie things late in the third quarter, but the Redmen were stopped by the Hillhouse defense at the Academics’ 11-yard line on three straight incomplete passes by Kyle Derosier.
On the very first play from scrimmage after that, Brehon raced 89 yards to make it 35-21.
The back-breaker for Killingly came when Ogarro stripped the ball from Kelsey Rhines on a running play at the Killingly 34-yard line just over a minute into the fourth quarter. Ogarro took the ball all the way back for a touchdown to give Hillhouse a 42-21 lead.
Killingly closed it to 42-28 when Derosier found Jake Gauthier for a 52-yard touchdown pass play three minutes later.
However, Brehon put things on ice with 5:37 remaining with a 57-0yard jaunt for a touchdown.
“I came here trying to fulfill my dream of going to a state championship game and I get to do that Saturday,” Brehon said.
Lockwood was kept out of the end zone in the second half as Hillhouse made a halftime adjustment to contain him.
“He’s a good running back, but he had a great fullback (Jake Gauthier) blocking for him,” Lytle said. “We went strong to his side and shut him down.”
Killingly, which last appeared in the Class M final in 1996 when it beat New Canaan 27-13, finished its season at 10-2.
“We’re happy at 10-2, but we’re not satisfied.” Neal said. “We wanted to get to the next step which is a state championship game.”