Life’s about overcoming objects that are being thrown at you.
— Zion Setal (@ZionSetal) September 3, 2016
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It was August 27, just a week into full practice, when Zion Setal’s thoughts turned to just how far his Wilbur Cross team could go this, his senior, season.
They were 2-8 a year ago, but the Governors were bigger, stronger, and wiser, him included. And going from Division I to Division II meant the weekly grind of playing the likes of Shelton, West Haven, and Notre Dame were eased.
The Governors haven’t been to the CIAC playoffs since 1984, when coach John Acquavita was on the field instead of yelling from the sideline and Setal dreamed of being part of the squad to break that streak.
Setal was going through shell drills, specifically a “Q (quarterback) draw”, a play he hoped would be called a lot this season, when – without any contact – his knee buckled and he was on the ground.
His high school football career was over.
“It was a simple routine cut,” Setal said. “As soon as I felt it, I had a really awkward feeling in my leg. Someone told me on the sideline that they heard a snap. So I kind of knew it was bad.”
Tests the next day confirmed what he already knew: three torn ligaments in his right leg, including an ACL and MCL, as well as a partially torn meniscus. Recovery time anywhere from six to nine months.
There are no redshirt seasons in high school athletics, meaning serious injuries can be especially cruel for student-athletes in their senior campaigns, the highlight and most enjoyable part of many athletic careers that begin in early childhood.
Not playing football is the worst feeling…
— Zion Setal (@ZionSetal) September 16, 2016
Setal’s situation is doubly difficult because he does not even attend Wilbur Cross with most of his teammates, instead going to interdistrict magnet school New Haven Academy (but still eligible for Cross because it doesn’t have varsity athletic programs). He tries to get to practice when he can, and obviously attends all the games as he did last Friday night against Creed.
But the Governors have not just survived without Setal, they’ve thrived, thanks to a big, physical defense, junior lineman Travis Jones – who should be hearing from the highest reaches of FBS schools fairly soon, and new quarterback Terrell Watts.
“It’s hard watching my teammates play,” Setal said. “It’s kind of heartbreaking because it’s your senior year, but you just have to keep that right mindset and focus, stay good in school, and help the team in any way you can,” Setal said. “Terrell is doing really well, I’ve worked with him in the offseason and now. I try to talk to him on the sidelines during games every time he comes off the field.”
This process really has humbled me a lot.
— Zion Setal (@ZionSetal) October 1, 2016
The Governors are 4-1 at the halfway mark of their campaign, with their only loss a tight one to Fairfield Prep. After a game against Amity Friday, things stand to get significantly more difficult for Cross with undefeated New London, Hamden, Xavier, and (of course) Hillhouse to finish the season. It’s likely they will have to finish at 8-2 or better to end their 32-year playoff drought.
Ironically, the place where Setal is missed the most is the very play he was practicing when he was injured. He was expected to be much more of a running threat this season.
“He’s a good spirited kid,” Acquavita said. “Terrell has done a really amazing job, but we would be frighteningly good offensively, but we don’t have much of a Q (quarterback) run game now. That’s like a third of the offense, when he’s pulling the ball and taking off with it. We’re happy to be 4-1, but we think there’s still room for improvement.”
Thank God that im walking again. Man life’s a blessing.
— Zion Setal (@ZionSetal) October 6, 2016
Meanwhile, Setal’s high school career is over, but he’s already on the road to recovery, having had the stitches from his recent surgery out last week and begun rehab. He still hopes to play in college and will likely end up at a prep school next fall, with his top choice being Trinity-Pawling and local schools like Cheshire Academy still in the running.
“I keep telling myself you’re going to be walking again, you’re going to be fine, even better than you were before,” Setal said. “I keep that mindset and things get a little better every day even though won’t be playing for Cross any more. I’m here to help them as much as I can.”
The road in high school athletics will lead to championships for a select few, but hopefully will point to lessons that can be used for the rest of life for many, many others. Zion Setal won’t suit up again in a Cross uniform, but that doesn’t mean he’s not appreciative of the opportunity.
“My mother really helped me a lot,” Setal said. “She has helped me a lot through this process, keep my head up, keep me motivated.”
— Zion Setal (@ZionSetal) October 22, 2016
Winning and Winning and Winning…
On Nov. 15, 2013, Shelton lost to West Haven 35-26 at Ken Strong Stadium, a game the Gaels were in until the end. It was the the fourth defeat of 10 points or less in that season, one that saw Shelton finish a somewhat disappointing 7-4.
The Gaels haven’t lost a regular season game since. They captured their 28th straight Friday night 35-34 over North Haven in a riveting affair at Vanacore Field that saw the visiting team down a touchdown without the ball midway through the fourth quarter, but find a way. Again. It was the eighth win in the current streak with a margin of victory of 10 or less and the third this season.
As has been pointed out in the space a couple of times already this season, it’s not like Shelton has beaten up on struggling teams. Even prior to the 2016 arrangement, Division I was still quite the gauntlet. Now it’s just ridiculous, as North Haven could surely attest to. The Indians fell to 3-3 with tough losses to Cheshire, Notre Dame, and now Shelton, all of whom should be in consideration for Top 10 spots in the state poll. And they have to go to West Haven next week.
“We’ve been down in games, our kids don’t panic,” said Roy, who was given the game ball after recording his 100th career victory Friday. “We just play the next play and execute the plays we call, and try to make a play. At the end, we made a couple of plays to win the football game.”
Of course, there is one thing that has eluded the Gaels in their recent run of dominance: a state championship. They lost to Xavier in overtime of the Class LL-Small title game in 2014 and, after being riddled with injuries, were blown out by Darien in last season’s Class LL championship.
Although it would be a surprise for the Gaels not to be in the playoffs, finishing unbeaten with Cheshire, Fairfield Prep, and West Haven coming in the next three weeks won’t be easy. While it was defense that carried the Gaels for much of last season, they have scored at least 33 points in each game in 2016 behind David Wells and his cast of excellent receivers.
Sean Marinan returned to the sidelines Friday for Xavier after a game’s absence. The Falcons beat Hand 20-13 in overtime. The Tigers are 1-5 in Steve Filippone’s final season in charge, but this was their second overtime loss. Alas, they have Notre Dame, West Haven, and Cheshire coming up in the next three weeks.
It won’t help Filippone this year, but there are strong rumors that Hand will play in Division II next season, although some of the details still need to be worked out (including possible non-conference games). The three-division setup does provide a little more flexibility in that regard.
… Aidan Lynch was absent from Saturday’s Lyman Hall win over CREC Co-op. Lyman Hall would not comment if Lynch was suspended, calling it a “personnel matter.” Despite Saturday’s win, the Trojans have lost 25 straight conference games and have not won one since firing Rob Marone in midseason back in 2014. Ironically, they’ll be playing two programs that have seemed to turn it around a little in Guilford and Jonathan Law the next two weeks.
… Speaking of, Hamden topped East Haven 30-24 in a battle of two teams that seem more organized than in years past. The Yellowjackets nearly made it two straight wins over the Dragons after beating them in triple overtime last season. Hamden still hasn’t beaten anyone other than Division III teams this season, but baby steps.
… If the season ended today, five (?!?) SCC teams would be in the Class LL playoffs (West Haven, Shelton, Wilbur Cross, Fairfield Prep, Cheshire). Obviously, Hillhouse has a chance in Class M, but another team with an outside shot? Branford, who moved to 4-2 by holding off Amity Friday. The Spartans scored late to make it 28-27 and elected to go for the win, but was stopped. Branford finishes with Creed, Foran, Law, and East Haven and is currently 11th in the Class M standings.
…Patrick Conte still did not return (although he was dressed) for Friday’s game against Cheshire and the Jesuits fell 10-0 in another outstanding performance by the Rams defense. If Cheshire can end Shelton’s streak this week, they can really start thinking playoffs.
… West Haven can start thinking playoffs after knocking off Notre Dame 36-16 with a dominant second-half performance. But they can’t look too far ahead with North Haven waiting on Friday night The Blue Devils lead the SCC in both points scored (251) and points conceded (61).
Player of the Week
Colin Beaulieu, Amity
We seem to be a sucker for players on losing teams this season, but Beaulieu — now moved to quarterback for the Spartans — ran for 214 yards and four touchdowns as Amity lost a heartbreaker to Branford 28-27 Friday.
Because Amity has not had too many wins over the last couple of seasons, Beaulieu has not gotten the same amount of attention as some others, but other coaches in the league certainly know how talented he is.
Inside the Numbers
68 Number of points North Haven has scored in the last two games, and have an 0-2 record to show for it, having fallen to Notre Dame 49-34 and Shelton 35-34. The Indians are throwing more, but the real difference in the move to Division I appears to be on the defensive end.
Game of the Week
Cheshire at Shelton, Friday, 7 p.m.
The Gaels remain No. 3 in the state, but have looked a bit vulnerable against some Division I teams this season. Meanwhile, many picked this as the point where the Rams might fall out of Class LL playoff contention, but the way their defense is playing, they have to go in fairly confident.
1) West Haven (6-0; Last Week 1) — Wasn’t as easy as final indicated, but an impressive win over ND nonetheless.
2) Shelton (6-0; LW 2) — Survive and advance as Gaels somehow find a way again to knock off North Haven.
3) Cheshire (5-1; LW 4) — Just keep on winning, but face a very difficult task in Shelton Friday. Should be ready.
4) Notre Dame (3-3; LW 3) — With all due respect, I think ND and North Haven might be best 3-3 teams in state.
5) North Haven (3-3; LW 6) — Sagnella clearly frustrated after Friday’s loss, probably game Indians should have won.
6) Xavier (3-3; LW 5) — Falcons are pretty good 3-3 team as well, although not a vintage performance vs. Hand.
7) Fairfield Prep (4-2; LW 7) — If Conte is coming back, it’s probably going to have to be this week for playoff race.
8) Wilbur Cross (4-1; LW 8) — Things will get tougher for Governors, but they have the size to match up with anyone.
9) Hillhouse (5-1; LW 9) — Acs can’t go and overlook Hamden this week even with schedule remaining.
10) Hand (1-5; LW 10) — Gave a pretty gutsy performance for a team that came in 1-4 and reeling mightily.
11) Foran (2-3; LW 11) — Return to action against East Haven Friday after three weeks off. Should be healthy anyway.
12) Sheehan (3-3; LW 12) — Zach Davis gets a lot of credit, but Titans have conceded just 21 points in 3 games.
13) Branford (4-2; LW 13) — Been a strange season for Hornets, but they won’t complain about record right now.
14) Hamden (2-4; LW 14) — Would love to get another win or two this season to build momentum for the future.
15) Amity (1-5; LW 16) — Tough loss for Spartans, especially with the schedule they have remaining to play.
16) East Haven (2-3; LW 15) — Had a chance to knock off Hamden, have to think they have one to beat Foran, too.
17) Jonathan Law (2-3; LW 17) — Like Foran, three weeks off in between games, taking on Sheehan this week.
18) Guilford (2-4; LW 18) — Had a few moments defensively against Hillhouse before things got away from them.
19) Creed (1-5; LW 19) — Getting a bit healthier and that should help be competitive in final month of season.
20) Lyman Hall (1-5; LW 20) — Seems to be another mess in Wallingford that will need cleaning up.