ANSONIA >> Heading into Monday evening’s Class S semifinal against Ansonia, Cromwell/Portland was well aware it had to stop Chargers star running back Markell Dobbs. Knowing and doing are two completely different things.
Behind 312 yards rushing and 411 combined yards by the junior back, second-seeded Ansonia easily defeated the sixth-seeded Panthers 49-28 at Jarvis Field in Ansonia.
“We worked on our game plan all week,” Dobbs said. “We played Ansonia football tonight. Going back for the seventh straight year means a lot to us. The two losses are motivation to us.”
Ansonia advanced to its seventh straight state title game and will face Rocky Hill, a 42-7 winner over Seymour in the other semifinal, at a site and time to be determined on Saturday.
The Chargers will attempt to pick up their 20th state title in school history as they advanced to the 30th title game in program history since 1976. Ansonia will also look to snap a two-game skid in title contests, having lost to Valley Regional/Old Lyme and Bloomfield the last two seasons.
“Obviously, it is unbelievable to be going back on Saturday,” Ansonia coach Tom Brockett said after his team improved to 12-0. “It starts to hit you with the clock winding down.
“It is hard to get back and we are going back seven years in a row against seven different opponents. That says something. It is real, real hard to get back.”
Dobbs was unstoppable from the start. He gained 202 yards on 18 caries in the opening half and had a pair of receptions for 99 yards to give him 301 yards of total offense in the first half alone.
Dobbs, who ran for three scores in the first two quarters and caught a screen pass from Bryson Cafaro and turned it into a 68-yard score just four minutes in, never gave the Panthers a chance to stop the Ansonia offense.
“They (line) made some big blocks tonight,” Dobbs said. “They hit some key blocks and I was able to get through them.”
The Chargers scored on their second possession, which included a fourth-down conversion, and ended with a Dobbs run of 18 yards for a 13-0 lead with 1:35 to go in the opening quarter.
Cromwell/Portland (10-2) got as close as it would get on the ensuing drive with a 6-play, 53-yard drive that was capped by a 36-yard score from Kristian Sapp. Sapp also ran in the conversion to bring the Panthers within 13-8, but they never got closer.
“We made a bunch of mistakes which did not help us today,” Cromwell/Portland coach Chris Eckert said. “They are a good team. We were able to come back later in the game. That was part of our halftime talk. We just said we did not know what the final score was going to be, but this group, this team and this program was not going to quit.”
Dobbs then took over. After stumbling at the 1-yard line after a 31-yard reception from Cafaro, Dobbs was in on the next play for a 21-8 lead just 2:15 into the second quarter.
After the Chargers sacked Panthers’ quarterback Liam Coleman on two consecutive plays to force a punt, Dobbs needed one play to race 71 yards untouched for a 29-8 lead with 4:34 left in the half.
“I thought we were in control throughout,” Brockett said. “We did what we wanted to do. We were able to get guys out and avoid injuries.”
Ansonia added a score in the final minute of the opening half. A six-play, 70-yard drive included a 33-yard run by Dobbs and ended with a Cafaro to Cody Teodosio 25-yard touchdown pass with 19.4 seconds left for a 35-8 Ansonia lead at the half.
Dobbs had a 37-yard touchdown run and Justin Lopez added a 5-yard score for a 47-8 Ansonia lead through three quarters, but the Panthers fought back using a 59-yard touchdown run by Jon Siena and two touchdown passes from Coleman to Dianta Highsmith of 97 and 21 yards in the fourth quarter to get within 47-28 with 6:16 remaining.
Cafaro finished with 137 yards in the air for the Chargers. Sapp finished with 76 yards on the ground for the Panthers.