Some days Czepiga looks out at the field on a nice fall afternoon and sees the past, when he led the Spartans to their finest hour of the last 15 years: a 10-2 season and a playoff berth in 2002 and somehow missing the playoffs despite going 10-1 in his senior campaign a year later. Along the way, Czepiga shattered records on both sides of the ball and went on to play at Florida Atlantic, where unfortunately injuries limited his on-field production.
Alas, despite the best work of quantum physics, the SCC football world looks a little different than it did more than a decade ago.
Upon divisional realignment in 2004, the Spartans’ high enrollment put them in Division I, and while Amity has won at least three games every season, it hasn’t returned to the playoffs since and had six straight losing seasons entering 2015.
Enter prodigal son Czepiga, who is charged with the seemingly Herculean task of making Amity a winner in the current SCC (at least until the district model envelops us all).
Czepiga’s Spartans gave Hand a big scare before falling in its opener, followed with a loss to Xavier at Palmer Field and a difficult blown lead at Cheshire. Then perhaps the hardest loss to date came Saturday morning: Amity played a mistake-filled first half at Johnson Field against Wilbur Cross that was punctuated by conceding a Hail Mary on the final play.
Down 28-7, Amity dominated the second half. But, despite three touchdown connections from Mike DeVito to Colin Beaulieu, the Spartans could not get the winning score. They missed a field goal in the final seconds to fall 28-26.
— Ray Curren (@currenscc) October 10, 2015
At 0-4, the rest of Amity’s schedule is, well, Division I tough. With crossovers down to one this season, the Spartans play Branford, but the rest of the slate: at Fairfield Prep, Hamden, at Shelton, Notre Dame, and North Haven on Thanksgiving. Needless to say, breaking the string of losing records is going to be an uphill climb in Woodbridge. While Czepiga is well-aware that building the program will take time, he also knows that using terms like “rebuilding” denigrates the efforts of the current seniors and players who continue to work hard every day to get better.
“It’s not a rebuilding year, we’re not using that excuse,” Czepiga said. “We’re just making some mental mistakes and some physical ones that have cost us the opportunity to win football games and our goal every week is to go 1-0 every week. Come tomorrow we’ll be back to 0-0 and we’ll be back to do it again.”
The coach that picked up a much-needed victory at Czepiga’s expense — Wilbur Cross’ John Acquavita — could relate a little, although he is quick to point out that Cross has not been the playoffs in three decades. Acquavita led the Governors to a 7-4 record last season, just their third as a member of the SCC. Now 2-3 this season, Cross closes with Cheshire, West Haven, Fairfield Prep, Notre Dame, and Hillhouse.
“I was 0-10 my first year at Hyde,” Acquavita said. “I look at it as the team (Amity) is still playing hard. A losing team, down 28-7 at half of this game would have been like, ‘Take it easy, everybody, we’ll see you next week.’ They came back and had a shot to win this game and that’s a good thing. The schedule is tough but they’ll get better.”
Czepiga, as any coach would be, was upset at the tough loss immediately after the game. A decade seems like an eternity for some of us, like an instant for others. But one thing Czepiga clearly understands is that just the ability to come out and coach every day is pretty darn fun and rewarding, especially at your alma mater. As has been mentioned many times in this column before, winning is great, but should never be paramount at the high school level.
“It’s been a blast coming back to Amity where I’ve played and where I’ve coached before,” Czepiga said. “I’m working in the school now. I love the people in the community. They’re really helping me developing this football program to where it’s going and what it’s going to become. We’re working very hard here and the kids are doing an excellent job.”
And no matter how the quantum physicists look at it, the future looks bright for the Amity football program.
WELCOME BACKChristian Lupoli and Notre Dame had a little desperation with them Saturday night at Palmer Field and that was bad news for a banged up Xavier team as Notre Dame walked away with a relatively easy 33-7 win.
Lupoli completed just 10 passes, but they accounted for 232 yards, 109 of which went to Nico Ragaini, who had also been in a little early-season slump albeit against some of the best defenses in the state.
It’s never too early to think about the playoffs, and third loss in a 10-game schedule could prove fatal. The Green Knights should qualify at 8-2, especially with their schedule, but 7-3 will be extremely difficult. After taking on unbeaten Hand at the Surf Club in two weeks, Notre Dame does not meet another team currently with a winning record and will be heavily favored to run the table, which is why this was such a huge victory for them going forward.
“Our kids came ready to play tonight,” Notre Dame coach Tom Marcucci said. “We played great teams the first five weeks. Now we’re 3-2 going into the bye week and we’ll see what happens after that.”
Meanwhile, defending state champion Xavier is obviously in big playoff trouble. Down to its third-string quarterback — and even Collin McCarthy was limited running due to an injury — the Falcons are 2-3 and must maneuver a minefield of Norwich Free Academy, Shelton, Hand, Cheshire and Fairfield Prep to have any chance of going to the playoffs. Xavier last lost more than three games in a season in 2008.
While everyone played last Friday, the mention of thunderstorms made everyone panic this week, and it’s hard to argue when several other games around the state were delayed because of said storms. Many teams also had a bye week upcoming, so it made the decision relatively easy. However, Shelton and West Haven playing on Monday means it took place too late to appear in this week’s column, unfortunately …
…The one game that did get played Friday was Fairfield Prep shaking off Cheshire to prevail 30-13. The Rams were actually able to throw the ball effectively in the first half, grabbing a 13-8 lead before Prep scored all 22 points that were scored after halftime led by running back Nick Franchuk. It’s a longshot, but remember the Jesuits have already played Notre Dame and Shelton …
…There was actually one SCC game on Thursday, with Hillhouse obliterating the first-year CREC Co-op 48-0. CREC does have a win (and 10 points for Hillhouse) under its belt against Canton …
…Sheehan decided to go to the air and got its first win of the season, beating Guilford 48-33. Nolan Cloutier completed 15-of-21 passes for a school-record 377 yards for the Titans, while Zach Davis scored five touchdowns. Amazingly, the game was scoreless after the first quarter …
…Hand was down early but eventually pulled away from Hamden 33-7 to move to 5-0 on the season. Nick van Dell played a part in all five Tigers touchdowns (running for one, throwing for four). Hand’s schedule gets much tougher after the bye with Notre Dame coming to the Surf Club …
…Foran is very quietly 4-0 after crushing Lyman Hall 55-18, a game they led 42-0 in the second quarter. The Lions have never been to the postseason as a member of the SCC and the way the schedule breaks down, there might be four Division II teams in the postseason if things go correctly. One of them will surely be North Haven, who beat up on Branford, 49-7 …
…Next week is a bye for many teams, which is annoying, yes, but safety comes first and we’ll get used to it.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Nick Franchuk, Fairfield Prep – With Prep in need of an offensive boost, Franchuk provided it, running for 265 yards and two touchdowns on just 15 carries. He would have had a third score, but he was tackled on the Cheshire 1-yard line after an 88-yard run (his other two scores were 56 and 67 yards).
INSIDE THE NUMBERS
1 Number of losses combined Branford’s first four opponents have this season (Hillhouse lost to West Haven, while North Haven, Foran, and Hand remain unbeaten). The good news for Branford is that of their final six opponents, only traditional Thanksgiving rival East Haven has a winning record currently.
GAME OF THE WEEK
New London at Foran, Friday, 7 p.m. – The menu this week is obviously smaller than usual, but this is a very intriguing game that was added late. The Whalers are somewhat surprisingly 1-4 and have not scored more than eight points in any of its last three games, meaning Foran is likely a favorite to be 5-0 before the schedule gets a little rougher.
1) North Haven (5-0; Last Week 1) – Delayed game + overmatched opponent = zzzzzz. But such is life for them.
2) Shelton (4-0; LW 2) – Game probably never would have been moved to Monday if it weren’t for bye week.
3) Notre Dame (3-2; LW 4) – No matter how banged up they were, we do not see Xavier get beat at home often.
4) West Haven (3-1; LW 3) – Hard to say much without knowing how Monday went, but not much we can do.
5) Hand (5-0; LW 5) – Tigers have already clinched not finishing with a losing record for the second straight year.
6) Fairfield Prep (2-2; LW 7) – Still hard to read whether Jesuits are capable of upsetting someone at top of list.
7) Xavier (2-3; LW 6) – Still some hope they can get healthy and surprise people, but have to regroup first.
8) Hillhouse (4-1; LW 8) – One more game against Law before things will get real for them against North Haven.
9) Foran (4-0; LW 9) – Would not have guessed when game was made that they would be heavy favorite Friday.
10) Cheshire (2-3; LW 10) – Showed some first-half offense, but couldn’t back it up in the second half vs. Prep.
11) East Haven (3-1; LW 13) – Probably a good week to take the bye the way the weather turned out Friday.
12) Hamden (1-4; LW 11) – Hope to be home soon, but can’t like staring at schedule that awaits when there.
13) Wilbur Cross (2-3; LW 14) – As Acquavita said, big win for the young Governors Saturday going forward.
14) Amity (0-4; LW 12) – Wins will come eventually, but not sure how many of them will come this season.
15) Sheehan (1-3; LW 18) – So where was that Titans team in the first couple of weeks? Offensive explosion.
16) Guilford (1-4; LW 15) – Playing Fitch this week, who went and beat NFA last week, so we shall see.
17) Lyman Hall (1-3; LW 16) – Still struggling to keep games competitive in SCC. East Haven, Branford upcoming.
18) Jonathan Law (0-4; LW 17) – This was about the time that Law turned things around last season.
19) Branford (0-4; LW 19) – Hornets just glad that part of the schedule is over and can go to work.