On Friday morning the CIAC football committee met and made the points official. We finally have ourselves four state playoff brackets. No more eight champions or any of that nonsense. Beginning Tuesday night, our hard-working 32 participants will start on the journey toward becoming a state champion.
It’s been a rough season, one fraught with two coaching suspensions — one from a hazing scandal, and another because his kids were burned by field rubber — coaches leaving a team in disgust over their treatment, forfeits due to ineligible players, forfeits due to a sexting scandal (h/t Rep-Am’s Kyle Brennan for reminding us) investigations into more ineligible players, unprecedented CIAC sanctions, more forfeits, and then outrage over that investigation and its forfeits. Berlin is out. Bloomfield, which, apparently was investigated and cleared by CIAC (It has never announced anything, but Bloomfield’s still here. So, we’ll assume yes) is in.
But with all of that (kinda) behind us, here’s hoping the kids can restore our faith in good ol’ competition and great theater over the next two weeks.
For more information, including tickets, visit the CIAC’s Tournament page here.
Here’s the (not-so) quick breakdown:
We do not have eight champions this year. We have four. (Yes, people still ask).
The quarterfinals begin Tuesday, Dec. 1 at the sites of the higher seeds at 6:30 p.m.
The semifinals are actually all on Monday night this year, also at the sites of the highest seeds.
The state championship games will be played Saturday at times and sites to be determined.
The CCC qualified the most teams (8). The Pequot the least (two). The FCIAC brings five. The SCC and SWC four apiece. The ECC, CSC and NVL three apiece.
All but two of last year’s eight state champions have returned to defend their titles. Xavier (Class LL Small) and Valley Regional/Old Lyme (Class S Large) did not qualify this season.
Of last year’s eight runners-up, North Branford (S-Small), Berlin (M-Large) and NFA (LL-Large) have not returned.
There are three teams making their first state playoff appearance: Harding (L), Abbott Tech/Immaculate (M, though Immaculate’s been here before) and Granby Memorial.
There are 15 new teams in this year’s field and 17 returning from last year’s tournament. The team with the longest layoff since it’s last appearance is Torrington, which last played in the postseason in 1983.
The seedings didn’t quite go as many hoped in the anticipated Class LL playoffs. Unfortunately, it’s rematch central when the state quarterfinals begin Tuesday night.
Three of the four quarterfinal games were played in the regular season. No. 3 Southington hosts No. 6 Conard in a game Southington won 53-25 on Oct. 24. No. 1 Shelton plays host to No. 8 West Haven in a game Shelton won 48-27 back in October. And No. 2 Darien, a Class LL newcomer, faces No. 8-seeded Staples at McMahon in a rematch of a 27-0 Darien victory played two weeks ago.
The matchup most fans were waiting for — No. 1-ranked Southington vs. No. 2-ranked Darien — can only happen in the state semifinals since they finished seeded No. 3 and No. 2, respectively. Should both teams win, the game would be at McMahon High School’s Casagrande Field (Darien doesn’t have lights).
Should it happen (and we say it will), it would pit the state’s best offense (Southington) vs. the state’s best defense (Darien). And it would put QB Tim Graham, Colin Minicus, Hudson Hamill and Shelby Grant up against a Southington defense that’s been iffy, at best, all year.
The only non-conference quarterfinal is No. 5 Glastonbury at No. 4 Newtown at Blue and Gold Stadium. It’s a rematch of the 2008 state semifinal won by Glastonbury 42-28. It features at least two Division I-caliber players, Glastonbury quarterback Keyion Dixon (UConn) and Newtown junior all-state linebacker Ben Mason.
Strongest high seed: No. 2 Darien. With Shelton banged up, having lost two of its best players to injury, and two-time defending champion Southington’s aura dispelled somewhat by Cheshire’s near-upset on Thanksgiving, the Blue Wave come in with one of the state’s most explosive offenses and perhaps, the state’s best defense. They haven’t won a title since 1996.
Dangerous low seed: No. 5 Glastonbury. Yeah, they’re only No. 5 but the remaining three lost to the teams they faced in the regular season. The Tomahawks to go Newtown, which is making its fifth-straight appearance, but hasn’t won a playoff game since its 2011 quarterfinal victory over Hall.
Our Final: No. 1 Shelton vs. No. 2 Darien.
Our Champion: Darien.
Sorry, there are no polls available at the moment.
The Class L field was turned sideways and weighted to one side of the bracket when Darien defeated New Canaan. The loss dropped the third-ranked Rams to a No. 6 seed and loaded up that side of the bracket. New Canaan hits the road to face fourth-ranked and No. 3 seed Windsor in a matchup of last year’s Class L champions. It’s also the third time the programs have faced in the playoffs since 2011.
Also on that side of the L bracket is an intriguing game between No. 7-seeded Notre Dame-WH traveling to face No. 3-seeded Harding. The Presidents, who were 5-6 in the FCIAC last year, moved to the CSC this season and rolled through the league to earn their first unbeaten season since 1963.
Harding is talented and has a legit QB in sophomore Taisun Phommachanh and great backs Xavier Bass and Jahzaar Mullings, but how will they fare against one of the power teams of one of the state’s most powerful leagues? Despite Harding’s success, there’s no doubt most will predict a Notre Dame victory. That would set up an anticipated showdown between either Windsor (which defeated NDWH in last year’s Class L-Small final) or New Canaan.
You couldn’t have asked for a more favorable road to the state final than No. 1-seed North Haven. The Indians, who completed their first 10-0 season, face No. 8 Middletown in the first round. Should Mike Montano and the Indians win, they’ll face the winner of No. 5 Wethersfield/No. 4 Torrington.
Strongest High Seed: No. 1 North Haven. This is a tough, tough call. Windsor has a stocked roster of stars — all-staters Bennie Fulse, Tyler Coyle, etc — and one of the state’s best defenses. But North Haven and its single wing has basically run over everybody this year. With a decidedly weaker team, North Haven gave Windsor all kinds of trouble in last year’s semifinals.
Dangerous Low Seed: No. 6 New Canaan. If the last two state playoffs have taught us anything, its that hell hath no fury like New Canaan scorned. The Rams have rallied to win the last two titles after losing on Thanksgiving Day. No, Darien’s not here for a rematch, but New Canaan loves redemption stories. Besides, this is one of the most loaded teams in the bracket.
Can we also pick No. 7 Notre Dame-WH here? Let’s be honest, the Green Knights aren’t a true No. 7 seed. Their schedule was a rid-DONK-ulous this season and it didn’t help they were missing their QB Christian Lupoli for six quarters. They also have one of the state’s best players (Nico Ragaini) and the most underrated defense.
Our Final: No. 1 North Haven vs. No. 6 New Canaan.
Our Champion: New Canaan.
Sorry, there are no polls available at the moment.
This bracket came down to a streak-busting victory and a spoiled Turkey. St. Joseph defeated Trumbull 17-10 to punch its ticket. But East Haven, which needed to win to get in, lost 10-7 to Branford. That allowed Stratford, which beat Bunnell for its first series win since 2006, to clinch its first playoff berth since that same year.
These quarterfinals are some of the best in the playoffs, although — like Class L — the bracket is weighted to one side.
Stratford, the No. 8 seed, must take a 2-hour bus ride to Killingly to face all-stater Austin Caffrey and the top-seeded Redmen.
Thanks to a points discrepancy, Ledyard actually dropped a seed to No. 3 and will now host No. 6 Bacon Academy in a rematch of a 25-22 Bacon victory in September. It also meant defending champion St. Joseph would head up to New Fairfield to face the second-seeded SWC champions in a state championship-caliber final, with two great defenses duking it out. Good luck picking that one. Whomever wins that should reach the state final.
Brookfield, Class M’s other defending champion, secured the No. 5 seed. The Bobcats’ reward is a short trip to WestConn to face Abbott Tech/Immaculate of Danbury.
Potential semifinal showdowns include the winner of St. Joseph/New Fairfield vs. Ledyard/Bacon. Should it be St. Joseph and Ledyard, it would be the third consecutive year they’ve faced in the state playoffs. The teams were scheduled to open the season together until the FCIAC’s contraction to nine games nixed the agreement.
Dangerous High Seed: Tough to call. We like New Fairfield and its cadre of senior stars, especially on defense. But we’ll go with Ledyard, which is a playoff veteran and has reinvented itself to become a wrecking ball heading into the postseason.
Dangerous Low Seed: Hrm, lessee… A two-time defending champion Catholic school with a chip on its shoulder? We’ll go with St. Joseph. New Fairfield will be in for a war. We’re torn on picking this game, frankly. But we’ll go out on a limb and say…
Our Final: No. 2 New Fairfield vs. No. 5 Brookfield. (Rematch of Week 1, won by Brookfield, 27-13).
Our Champion: New Fairfield.
(But if St. Joseph wins, then St. Joseph. :) )
As expected, the final spots in Class S came down to a tight bonus race. Rocky Hill beat Cromwell on a last-minute safety (yes), but fell percentage points behind defending champion Capital Prep/Achievement first, sending Rocky Hill home and Capital Prep to Jarvis Stadium to face No. 1-seed Ansonia.
No. 7-seeded East Catholic got a rematch with QB Rayshawn Phillips — who won a state title with Capital Prep last year — and No. 2 Bloomfield in a game from a few weeks ago, won by Bloomfield 38-33 after holding off an East Catholic rally in the fourth quarter. Pound-for-pound, one Class S coach says Bloomfield might have the most talent in the entire bracket.
The 6/3 game is an delicious game between Seymour and Granby. The Wildcats are making their first state playoff appearance since 2008, when it lost to New London in the Class SS final.
Granby, which didn’t even exist as a football program back then, completed its first 10-0 season. The Bears and their ebullient coach Rick Gadoury, have one of the best one-two punches in the state (next to Windsor and Ansonia) in QB Dom Pagano and RB Connor Field running out of the tricky flexbone offense.
The 4/5 game features No. 5-seeded Morgan, the second-best Pequot team after Granby, traveling to Boyle Stadium in Stamford to play QB Anthony Lombardi and Trinity Catholic. The Crusaders are playing in their first state playoff since 2012 when it lost to North Branford in the quarterfinals.
Potential semifinal matchups in this round include Trinity Catholic at Ansonia — a game that’ll pit a mighty FCIAC school vs. Ansonia, everybody’s favorite “strength-of-schedule” target, at Jarvis Stadium. A Seymour or Granby at Bloomfield semifinal would be equally intriguing.
Dangerous High Seed: Ansonia. Tajik Bagley & Tyler Bailey. Duh. Though we’re intrigued about Granby and it’s flexbone offense prospects. And Trinity Catholic’s. But Ansonia is the best coached team in the state. The job they’ve done with this group only solidifies it.
Dangerous Low Seed: No. 6 Seymour. Junior QB Jaylen Kelley is a star in the making, and his senior receivers Mike Burns and Jake Bleau are top-notch. And they have a very underrated defense. They’re the only team to actually make Ansonia sweat this year, after all.
Our Final: No. 1 Ansonia vs. No. 6 Seymour (rematch of the Week 4 game won by Ansonia, 35-14).
Our Champion: Ansonia.