NEW HAVEN – Hillhouse has won five football state championships, three in the last decade, but it will do something in 2016 the program has never done in its long history: host a CIAC playoff game.
The Academics dug themselves an early hole, but climbed out nicely in the second quarter to beat city rival Wilbur Cross, 33-20. It will be the second seed and host No. 7 New Fairfield Tuesday night at 6:30 p.m. in the Class M quarterfinals.
“It’s cold out and it took us a while to get our motor running, I guess,” Hillhouse coach Reggie Lytle said. “It stalled, but once we got the car warmed up, we did well and we’re looking to take it for a long ride all the way to the state championship.”
Hillhouse had only nine total yards in the first quarter and trailed 6-0 when Kwane Taylor caught a 20-yard touchdown pass from Terrell Watts. The Governors’ defense will still standing tall midway through the second quarter when the Academics (9-1) put together a 13-play drive — extended by a Cross roughing the passer penalty — that was finished off by a Shawn Ogarro 1-yard run that put Hillhouse up 7-6 with 5:15 left in the half.
The Acs scored twice more before halftime, with David Harris breaking free for a 48-yard run followed by a 5-yard pass from Quintus Reid to Matthew Brehon with 27 seconds remaining to put Hillhouse up 21-6.
After a couple of promising drives to start the game, Cross (5-5) could not muster much offense until the dying minutes of the contest. Chaze Kinsley had two of Hillhouse’s four interceptions to win Dan Casey Defensive MVP honors for Hillhouse, and caught a touchdown pass. Brehon won the Tim Jennings Hillhouse Offensive MVP.
“Home field advantage in the playoffs is going to be huge, our fans are going to be here behind us, so is all of New Haven” Kinzley said. “It’s going to be great.”
Harris, last year’s MVP, ran for an 86-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter to make it 33-6 and finished with 180 yards on just 10 carries.
“I think we dominated three quarters and lost one quarter, but you can’t be inside the 10-yard line and not get in the end zone like we were a couple times,” Wilbur Cross coach John Acquavita said. “That’s a different ballgame we could have scored those. We took a little bit of a sad break, and they’re scoring. That’s what happens against good teams like Hillhouse.”
Taylor caught a touchdown pass and two-point conversion to grab Horace Marone Offensive MVP honors, while Daequan Nicholson captured the Peter Barbarito Defensive MVP for Wilbur Cross. Hillhouse now leads the overall Elm City Bowl series 57-32-6 over Cross, and has dominated recently, winning six of the last seven, 10 of 12, and 15 of 18.
Hillhouse has won six straight CIAC playoff games since losing to Darien 35-32 in the 2008 Class MM semifinals, and won state titles in 2006, 2010, and 2012. New Fairfield was a Class M finalist last season and will bring an eight-game winning streak to Bowen FIeld Tuesday.
“We wanted to stay focused on Cross because they have a good team, but now that this game is over, we can see where we stand and make sure we’re ready Tuesday,” Lytle said. “It’s big not only for our school but for New Haven. Hopefully, the community comes out and supports us, it should be a great night.”