Ansonia will try and make it right.
That has not sat well with the Ansonia coaches and players, nor with its passionate but fickle fan base.
“We’re just going to try to make it right this year,” Ansonia senior quarterback Bryson Cafaro said. “Looking back on the past few years, it kind of left a sour taste in our mouth. From the beginning of the year we worked hard enough to get back here and we’re going to try and win it.”
The second-seeded and unbeaten Chargers (12-0) face No. 4 Rocky Hill (11-1) for the Class S title on Saturday at 10:30 a.m. at Willow Brook Park in New Britain.
The Chargers are in search of state title No. 20. Ansonia is playing in its 30th state championship game. The Chargers have a 19-10 record in state finals.
Ansonia has been a postseason fixture since the CIAC playoff system began in 1976. Ansonia has qualified for the playoffs in 11 consecutive seasons, covering the entire tenure of head coach Tom Brockett.
Although expectations are always high in Ansonia, even Brockett admitted it’s very difficult to reach seven straight state finals. That mark is two shy of the state record of nine, shared by Bloomfield from 1993-2001 and Ansonia from 1976-1984.
“It’s not very typical. It’s atypical, actually,” Brockett said. “People always say we take it for granted, but we’re going to play our seventh different opponent in seven years. There’s no one that takes it for granted within the walls of our program. It’s hard, but it’s a credit to our kids, it really is, that seven different classes have found a way to get back to this game.”
Brockett has won five titles in nine previous trips to a state championship game since taking over in 2006. When coaching in a football-crazed town like Ansonia, pressure comes with the territory.
“Every state final, it’s so hard to get there so, when you get there, you have to find a way to win them,” Brockett said. “For the seniors that are leaving the program, it doesn’t matter if you won last year or lost it, you have to find a way to win that last one.
“I think anytime you coach in a state championship, at least with me personally, I put a tremendous amount of pressure on myself to find a way to win it. I think back to the first one, the second one, the third one, every one of them is great pressure.”
Cafaro was the staring quarterback in the state final loss to Bloomfield last season.
Like Brockett, Cafaro agreed there is pressure. But Cafaro and his teammates are looking forward to the challenge.
“There’s always pressure just being part of the Ansonia football team,” Cafaro said. “From the town itself, the media, everything. There’s a lot of pressure being on the team but we kind of feed off that. We like playing in big games and we’re just going to try and make it right.”
Cafaro and senior fullback/linebacker Malcolm Martin were the only two skill players that saw significant action last season. Many pundits thought the Chargers would be in rebuilding mode, but less experienced players, including juniors Markell Dobbs, Justin Lopez and Cody Teodosio, developed quicker than expected.
Dobbs has been a revelation this season and he’s emerged as one of the state’s top running backs. Dobbs has rushed 166 times for 2,213 yards and 30 touchdowns.
“Throughout the summer a lot of people stepped up, like (Dobbs), Cody, Justin, and a couple of guys on the line,” Cafaro said. “They stepped up and played well this year. From the beginning of the season we always had that thought that we could go all the way and win it.”
Ansonia opened the season with a 62-21 victory over Wolcott, a team that advanced to the Class M quarterfinals. But it wasn’t until a 41-20 win over preseason NVL favorite Seymour on Oct. 28 that Brockett entertained the thought that this team might be special.
“It took awhile, then all of a sudden we were saying, ‘Wow, maybe this team is coming together a little better than we could have possibly seen happening,’” Brockett said.
“I think this year more than ever, and I know it’s kind of cliche to say it, but we tried not to think about it (winning a state title). We just had so much work that had to be done, and we still have so much work to be done this week to possibly even give ourselves a chance to compete in that game.”
The Chargers face a Rocky Hill team in search of its first state title. The Terriers run a deception double wing offense led by junior quarterback Dan Cavallaro, senior running back Grant Nieves and junior running back Joe Catania. Rocky Hill’s defense has allowed just 15 points through two rounds in the playoffs, including a 42-7 win over Seymour in the semifinals.
“It’s very rare that we line up with someone we think we can argue has maybe the best rushing game in Connecticut this year,” Brockett said. “They’re tremendous the way they run the ball, and their quarterback makes so many plays for them. And nobody has been able to move the ball with any consistency on them. They challenge you in every phase of the game.”