MIDDLETOWN >> There are big games all over the place this weekend.
Xavier versus West Haven, Windsor Locks versus Cromwell, Valley Regional versus North Branford. Middletown versus Bristol Central. Wesleyan versus Amherst. It’s a football lovers’ dream weekend.
For the high school teams, playoff positions could be solidified – or lost – and for Wesleyan, it is the ultimate test for a program on the make. So here’s the guide for planning your football weekend.
Xavier (4-1) vs. West Haven (4-1). Ken Strong Stadium, West Haven High School, Tonight at 7.
No way around it, this is Xavier’s biggest game of the season. The Falcons have had their way with the Westies in recent years, but that was then and this is now.
West Haven is just one point from being undefeated as the Blue Devils lost their season opener, 22-21 to Greenwich. Since then they have ripped off four in a row including an emotional 38-29 win over city rival Notre Dame last weekend.
There is more emotion on tap tonight as legendary West Haven coach Ed McCarthy has 320 wins and needs just one more to tie former Ledyard High coach Bill Mignault for the all-time Connecticut record. That and other things have Xavier coach Sean Marinan worried. As in seriously worried.
“West Haven has one of the best backs in the state in Ervin Philips [Syracuse] and they have a good running quarterback, which is something they haven’t had in a while,” said Marinan. “Their fullback is almost as quick as Philips, and if he gets through the line, he’s gone. They are hard to contain and are fantastic in the open field.”
“We didn’t play well against Amity,” he said. “We make too many mental mistakes on both sides of the ball. I don’t think we ran a single play in the second half in which somebody didn’t make a blocking mistake. I thought we played well against Hillhouse, but we took a step back against Amity.
“I can’t put a finger on why we’re not playing well. I know we’re capable of so much more.”
But Xavier is not exactly unarmed. In Andrew Meoli the Falcons have one of the state’s top echelon backs and quarterback Joe Carbone can run and throw.
This is a potential season-turning game for both teams. Xavier is ranked No. 5 in the Class LL playoff ratings and West Haven is No. 6. The winner solidifies a hold on a playoff spot; the loser is in trouble. This ought to be a beauty that comes down to the fourth quarter. Toss a coin.
The pick: WEST HAVEN
Middletown (5-0) vs. Bristol Central (2-2), Muzzy Field, Bristol, Tonight at 7.
This isn’t a big game because it’s expected to be competitive. It’s not as Middletown is a big favorite. It’s big because every Middletown game from here on out is big as the Blue Dragons look to grab not only a playoff spot, but a home game in the opening round of the playoffs. Right now MHS is No. 2 in the Class L ratings. The top four teams get home games.
But that’s a ways off as Farmington, New London, Simsbury and Windsor are waiting down the road.
“This is one of those games in which we are concerned with what we’re going to do,” said coach Sal Morello. “We have things to work on to get better and get to where we want to be. Our goal is to outhustle, outhit and outwork Central. We are worried about ourselves; that’s where our focus is.”
Morello said his team is healthy, but is still waiting the return of London Highsmith and Cody Carrillo, two projected starters who have yet to play a down this season because of injuries.
“I know that Central’s coach, Sal Cinterino, is an excellent coach,” Morello said. Cinterino is the former head coach of Central Connecticut State University. “Nothing we do will surprise him.”
The pick: MIDDLETOWN
Wesleyan (4-0) vs. Amherst (4-0), Pratt Field, Amherst (Mass.), Saturday at 1 p.m.
Amherst has wins over Hamilton, Bowdoin, Middlebury and last week, a 14-10 squeaker over Colby. Wesleyan has four lopsided wins.
The Lord Jeffs haven’t rushed the ball particularly well with just over 100 yards per game, but quarterback Max Lippe has thrown well, completing 72 of 120 passes for an average of 176 yards per game. But there is one stat that jumps off the page.
“Amherst has 14 interceptions in four games; they turn the other team over,” said Wesleyan coach Mike Whalen. “We haven’t turned the ball over, so we hope to keep doing that. They have great speed on defense and are very well-coached. Offensively they have been up-and-down, but they looked great against Middlebury [a 37-16 win].”
Whalen said that his quarterback, Jesse Warren (56 of 78, 174 yards per game) and running back LaDarius Drew (404 rushing yards) are recovering from relatively minor injuries and had their practice time limited this week.
“But we think they’ll be ready to go Saturday,” said Whalen. “I expect we’ll use all four backs because we expect this to be a physical game.”
Kyle Gibson is the Cardinals leading rusher with 422 yards on 49 carries.
Is this the year the Cardinals break through? Wesleyan’s last win over Amherst came in 2002. Amherst won last year, handing Wesleyan its first loss, 17-9. Amherst leads in the series 67-42-9.
The pick: WESLEYAN.
Valley Regional (4-0) vs. North Branford (4-1), Colafati Field, North Branford, Tonight at 6:30.
This is a big one for both teams, but a crucial one for North Branford’s playoff hopes. The Thunderbirds are No. 9 in the Class S ratings, one spot out of a berth. A loss, which would be their second in a row after a 41-38 stunner at the hands of Avon last week, would make a playoff run very tough.
For Valley, ranked No. 2 in Class M, a win would tighten the Warriors grip on a playoff spot, and perhaps a home game. Valley played Avon and won 21-18, so there’s not much difference in comparative scores. But if Valley is the club it thinks it is, it needs to win road games like this.
The pick: VALLEY REGIONAL
Morgan (4-0) vs. Haddam-Killingworth (0-5), H-K High School, Tonight at 6:30.
Morgan has outscored its opponents 171-56. H-K has been outscored 172-44. The Huskies have playoff hopes after years on the outside looking in. Tough night for the Cougars.
The pick: MORGAN.
Windsor Locks (4-1) vs. Cromwell (3-1), Pierson Park, Cromwell, Saturday at 1:35 p.m.
The cooperative team of Windsor Locks/Suffield/East Granby has lost just once, 43-6, to Morgan. After an opening loss to Gilbert/Northwestern, Cromwell has won three in a row and had last week off to prepare. Giving coach Chris Eckert an extra week to get ready to play a good team is not a good thing for Windsor Locks.
Both teams need wins to stay in playoff contention. Locks is No. 12 in Class L, Cromwell is No. 11 in Class S.
The pick: CROMWELL
Vinal Tech/E. Hampton (3-2) vs. O’Brien Tech (3-1), O’Brien Tech Athletic Complex, Ansonia. Saturday at 11 a.m.
Vinal/East Hampton has won two in a row, the latest a 13-6 overtime win over Platt Tech. No question the Bellhawks are getting better, but going into Ansonia to take on O’Brien, which holds a 47-22 win over Abbott Tech, is a tough assignment. Expect a competitive game.
The pick: O’BRIEN TECH.
Old Saybrook/Westbrook (1-3) vs. Coginchaug (2-2), Wally Camp Athletic Complex, Durham. Saturday at 2:30 p.m.
Old Saybrook/Westbrook has played some good teams tough. The Rams lost to Windsor Locks 20-6 and to North Branford 29-22. Coginchaug has given up a lot of points, but last week scored a bunch of its own in a 40-7 win over Lewis Mills.
Just might be that home field is the difference.
The pick: COGINCHAUG.
Last week: 6-1. Season record: 25-9.