Let’s dispense with the pleasantries shall we?
The first five or six weeks of the Connecticut High School Football season have mostly been one, big massive snooze fest.
Sure, there have been some exciting moments. Any game involving Glastonbury or Conard (or both) we suppose. …There’s been some East Haven theatrics, sure. Thrilling — but heartbreaking — Hamden losses. Awright. …We saw Granby doing groundbreaking things for its program. …We’ve seen Torrington getting all giddy and stuff by beating unbeaten Wolcott and mattering in the NVL. Sure. …We’ve seen Derby give head coach George French weekly heart attacks. Yes, yes.
And, when the league isn’t busy trying to blow itself up, we’ve had some high intrigue in the ECC where there’s seemingly a new flavor of the Week. We started with favorites NFA, Ledyard and New London. Then Bacon Academy became the league’s darlings for a spell. Nowadays, it’s Fitch and Killingly.
But in a season where the ECC, of all leagues, has a virtual monopoly on statewide drama then something’s amiss.
So, yeah. Overall 2015’s been kinda… meh.
We’ve seen injuries to star players in key spots — say hello Shelton, Brookfield, Fairfield Prep, Xavier, Notre Dame, Hand and NFA — and what looked like great games in the preseason turned into duds.
We’ve suffered through incessant weekly byes, compounded by the increasingly silly-looking FCIAC schedule. Doesn’t help that the utter dominance by that league’s top two or three teams has stripped that league of any real drama anyway. You can almost say the same about the SWC, with Newtown in firm control of the proceedings.
The season needs some life.
Now that we’ve reached the season’s midpoint, we here at football central are hitting the reset button.
Let’s try again, everyone.
We’ve arrived at Week 7. And the matchups… they look great. The best they’ve been this year.
Shelton at Xavier in a rematch of last year’s contentious Class LL-Small final. …Mighty No. 6 North Haven vs. Fairfield Prep. …Desperate Notre Dame-WH facing rolling Hand at the Surf Club. …Avon playing for its playoff life vs. Berlin. …Bacon Academy vs. Fitch. …Montville vs. Ledyard. …No. 1 Southington vs. Conard. …Unbeaten Ellington facing unbeaten Granby in the Pequot. … Unbeaten Ansonia vs. unbeaten Torrington.
And then we’ll wrap it all up with the Marinelli Bowl, New Canaan at Greenwich on Saturday.
Whew. And those are just the ones we’re focusing on this week.
Most, if not all, of these games are well-matched and have playoff implications galore. We’re bound to see an upset or two, right? We’ve been curiously due for a few around here, by the way.
This week sounds great, yeah? We hope it’s great. We’re dying for it to be great. There are only five or so weeks left. We need it to be great.
Just about everyone’s had a nice, relaxing week off. Hopefully all of our best stars are a patched up and ready to go.
While we have you here are the 2015 CIAC Playoff Standings:
Now that you have those, let’s get this season kicked into high-gear, shall we?
It’s SHOWDOWN WEEK.
Ansonia (5-0) at Torrington (6-0)
Friday, 7 p.m.
On the Air: WAPJ-FM (89.9)
Following last week’s 37-27 victory over unbeaten Wolcott, Torrington is abuzz and couple thousand fans are expected to descend upon the Frost Complex in Torrington Friday night.
They’ll either witness history or the reaffirmation that Ansonia was, is, and will almost always be boss in the Naugatuck Valley League no matter which flavor-of-the-year shows up to challenge it.
Torrington hasn’t beaten Ansonia since 1987, which, incidentally was in the 1987 NVL championship game and was last time the Raiders won an NVL title. That was also the last time the Raiders were even relevant on the statewide stage.
Torrington: Coaches reflect on 1987 win over Ansonia
They finished 10-1 and ranked No. 8 in the Hartford Courant’s coaches’ poll, but haven’t actually reached the state playoffs since a 1983 state championship loss to New London. The last time Torrington was 6-0 was way back in 1948, when the Raiders finished 8-0 under coach Pete Dranginis.
Ansonia, meanwhile, has been NVL champions for four consecutive years and eight out of the last 10 years (the elimination of the annual league title game meant Ansonia was the de facto champion last season). This is, by many accounts (including ours) the most mortal looking Ansonia team in years. The offensive line is brand new, and new faces are featured at almost every position except two: tailback and running back.
That’s where Ansonia, of course, features the best one-two punch in the state in RB Tajik Bagley and WR Tyler Bailey. The pair’s explosiveness has just about canceled out most of the team’s weaknesses.
And if any of the new players are uncertain about Ansonia’s long history, you can be sure the Ansonia coaching staff has been grilling this group on how to uphold the program’s honor against yet another NVL challenger.
Torrington, meanwhile, features a large senior class that has come of age: QB Connor Quinn, receivers Zak Mancini and Newton Frias. Up front, the Raiders have an experience advantage with a senior-dominated line anchored by Eric Mayerjack, Kobe Covington, Keanu Mendiola and Jake Boccio. But the team will likely be without standout RB Tyler Marens, who injured his arm in the late-stages of the Wolcott victory. That will limit the offense’s effectiveness somewhat, but at RBs Ignacio Reynoso and Dom Phengkaen have been more-than-capable replacements.
Torrington: Standout RBs/WRs help propel Raiders’ offense
But, really, this’ll all come down if Torrington’s defense — headlined by LBs Nate Bresson and Cam Cerruto and Stefan LaForge on the defensive line, can put the breaks on TB2. If Torrington allows Bagley and/or Bailey room to roam, they’ll be in trouble.
As big as much of the state’s media is making it out to be, it won’t likely have much bearing on either team’s state playoff chances. Given their remaining schedules, both teams can almost afford a loss, Torrington in Class L, Ansonia in S. The winner basically will be a shoo-in.
Still, this one should be fun.
Who will win the 2019 Class M girls volleyball championship?
Total Response: 172 Votes
Friday, 7 p.m.
A year ago, on Ellington’s soggy grass field, Granby’s vaunted ground game was all but stuck in the mud. The Bears turned the ball over four times in the first half, three times near the goal line. Despite only surrendering a field goal, the Bears ultimately lost 10-7. Their last attempt to win the game — a fourth-down pass from Dominic Pagano to Jake Hauser at the Ellington/Somers 28, fell incomplete.
“Ellington stole one from us last year,” Granby coach Rick Gadoury said two weeks ago as his team headed into a bye week 5-0. “I believe they stole it from us and we’re going to go after them.”
Granby’s been all fired up about this rematch (just look at its Twitter account) which pits the best-two Pequot teams from the East and West divisions. It will take place on the fast track at Granby Memorial. Granby returns with Pagano (504 yards rushing, 9 TDs) and tailback Connor Field, who is one of the state’s leading rushers with 844 yards and 12 TDs, and a swarming defense, led by LB Logan Strain, that has allowed just 18 points.
Ellington counters with a myriad of weapons surrounding QB Christian Rider, including sterling backs/receivers Mark Hickman, Izaiah Castro-Vega and Tyriek Noel. They all star on defense alongside the appropriately named MLB Zach “Truck” Luginbuhl, who’ll be charged with stopping Granby’s explosive option offense.
With everything that’s going on, this game is as big as any of them with massive Class S playoff implications going forward.
Who will win between Ledyard and Fitch?
Total Response: 70 Votes
ND-West Haven (3-2) at Hand (5-0)
Friday, 7 p.m.
On the Air: CPTV Sports (TV) | GoGreenKnights | LiveStream
While SCC Division I teams like West Haven, Shelton, Xavier and Notre Dame-West Haven have hogged the headlines in the first half of the season, all’s been quiet at the Surf Club where Hand, all but disregarded in the preseason, has put together a solid 5-0 record. But, let’s be honest, as impressive as that is, the Tigers first-half opponents weren’t exactly setting the state aflame and Hand hasn’t exactly been dominant.
But no longer can Nick van Dell, Ryan Kaufmann, Mark Hill and the rest of the gang fly beneath the radar. The focus of the SCC will shift firmly to Madison when the Tigers take on Christian Lupoli, Nico Ragaini and desperate Notre Dame-West Haven in a huge game at the Surf Club.
After a dominant start with convincing victories over Prep and West HAven, Notre Dame hit a speed bump owing much to an injury to Lupoli. The Green Knights looked mortal in getting run over by North Haven in the second half and Lupoli’s presence was sorely missed in a 17-7 loss to Shelton. But when he returned and the Green Knights looked like their preseason press clippings again, rolling Xavier 32-7.
Despite the loss to North Haven, Notre Dame’s defense might be a tad underrated. Of ND’s 84 points allowed, the Green Knight D has only been responsible for 57 of them.
Van Dell, Hand’s quarterback for the last three years, is every bit Lupoli’s equal in his field generalship. He’s already the school’s all-time leading passer (5,238 yards, 46 TDs) and has developed a good rapport with receivers Ryan Kaufmann and Mark Hill. Missing, however, has been senior captain and back Reid Sweitzer, whose preseason shoulder injury has kept him from playing.
His return would significantly help Hand’s prospects as it dives into a brutal second half. After this, Hand plays Xavier, Shelton and West Haven. Winning here would give the Tigers a nice boost in playoff points and confidence going forward. A loss won’t kill them. A loss for Notre Dame, on the other hand, will doom their postseason plans.
Who will win the 2019 Class S girls volleyball championship?
Total Response: 201 Votes
Friday, 7 p.m.
On the Air: WCNX 1710-AM | Ivy Radio
When we last left these two teams, Xavier was jubilantly celebrating an improbably fourth state championship in five years as Shelton’s players were left splayed across the Ken Strong Stadium turf as if their collective hearts had been ripped from their cavities, stomped on and fed to Bluefish in Long Island sound.
Forever will Xavier fans remember the critical fumble at the goal line that enabled them to force overtime and then win it with an extra point block and Andrew Verre’s successful try in still-insane-months-later 28-27 victory in the Class LL-Small final.
Over in Shelton, they still grumble about the fumble. Mark Piccirillo was down. Their title was ripped away by a bad playcall, not some great Xavier defensive stand.
We’ve replayed it thousands of times. Shelton says no, he was down. Xavier says absolutely, it was knocked from his grasp beforehand. The simple fact is, Xavier won the game. There’s nothing anybody can do but accept and move on.
Shelton’s only recourse is, of course, personal redemption. It can’t turn back the clock, so the remaining players from last year’s team can only focus on beating Xavier now on what it believes will be another title run. “Unfinished Business,” is the rallying call, not to mention senior WR Chris Kanios’ post-West Haven declaration that “We’re the team to beat,” in the SCC. “And we’re going to be here for a long time.”
With Hand coming up, Shelton needs this to continue on its course. Though 3-3, wounded and inconsistent, Xavier’s managed to be a tough opponent for anyone. They’ll try to bang away with bruiser Glenn Cunningham while new QB Will Levis continues to learn on the job. The Falcons’ defense overcame a rough game vs. Notre Dame with a seven-turnover effort against NFA last week. “Our secondary was a little iffy coming in, but this game was a good game to show what our coaches can do,” defensive back Owen Gonzalez said.
Bransfield’s Middletown previews: Xavier, Shelton set for rematch
Gonzalez and John Sadak will be charged with trying to put the breaks on Shelton’s stacked roster of receivers, Kanios, the Kirk twins, Kevin Robinson (who’s questionable for this game), Peter Hoff and emerging junior Anthony Schiavo. It would help if Xavier can get pressure on QB Zach Tuskowski, who had all day to throw and picked apart West Haven two weeks ago. So this might come down to three-year starter Matt Zelanin and Gaels’ offensive line to keep Xavier’s pass rush at bay and if its defense — led by LB Ron Hubbard — can make sure Xavier’s struggling O keeps struggling.
“(The NFA win) gives us some momentum,” Gonzalez said. “But they’ll be looking for some payback. So we’re going to have to step it up a lot.”
The game is at Palmer Field, a place where Shelton hasn’t won since 2006. “It’s always a tough place to play up there,” said coach Jeff Roy, whose team has lost by an average score of 17-11 in the last three trips to Palmer. “They have a good atmosphere for high school football up there. Their kids play hard. We’re not used to playing on grass so that kind of worries me. But it’s always tough place to win, everyone knows that.
“The kids are looking forward to this game. They’ve talked about it in trying to finish things off this season. I would say the kids definitely have had this circled on the schedule.”
Who will win the 2019 Class M field hockey championship?
Total Response: 272 Votes
West Haven (3-2) at Foran (5-0)
Friday, 7 p.m.
Every year, it seems, it’s the same thing: Foran has a nice start in its SCC Division II schedule, then gets shown the door by bigger, stronger, faster West Haven in a crossover matchup. It is possible this game could be different? Foran does come in with one of its better teams in recent years. Despite the graduation of longtime QB Jake Kasuba, understudy Lance DiNatale has been just as good with 1,329 yards passing. It helps that Foran has weapons in back R.J. Balado, receiver Colin Firmender and versatile senior Brett Huber, who leads the state with 40 catches for 757 yards and 9 TDs.
But can Foran’s defense, which has been strong against its SCC Division II opponents, slow down West Haven’s stable of backs — Anthony and Kyle Godfrey and Chris Chance, who have combined for over 1,300 yards rushing and all 23 touchdowns? And can Foran’s offensive line stand up to a hard-charging defense front seven, led by end Marquis Lockhart and linebackers Robert Hawkins and Adrian Jaynes?
Foran’s last victory over an SCC Division I team came in 2012, when it wiped out Notre Dame-WH with a barrage of offense in a 50-35 victory. Last year, Foran hung tough, but still found itself down 35-14 after three quarters before scoring two late touchdowns in a 38-28 loss. Coach Jeff Bevino has shown nothing but deference toward West Haven’s strength, but he said this team might be in the best position its ever been to at least make this a game late, if not win. It’ll take a perfect Foran game, that’s for sure. An improbable victory here, however, would all but punch Foran’s ticket to the postseason. West Haven, meanwhile, needs to continue to win out to even have a shot at qualifying in Class LL. Foran’s playoff point potential will help.
Who will win the 2019 Class S field hockey championship?
Total Response: 140 Votes
Fairfield Prep (3-2) at North Haven (5-0)
On the Air: WAVZ 1300-AM (espnradio.com)
Fairfield Prep’s 2015 football team was all but discarded from the state’s memory when it lost — and badly — to Notre Dame-West Haven in the season opener. QB Pat Conte went down with a broken collarbone, adding to a laundry list of injured players. But the Jesuits played tough in the second half vs. Shelton and had chance to pull off that upset late before losing 35-27.
Since then the Jesuits have thrived in their team’s reinvention behind RB/LB Nick Franchuk, who’s all but carried the team to three-consecutive victories, rushing for 600 yards and 5 TDs. Defensively, he’s teamed with fellow LBs Aiden Coyle and Calvin Reed to hold opponents to just 20 points in three games.
But that was against Law, Cheshire and Amity. Now the Jesuits head to Vanacore Field to face No. 6-ranked North Haven in an intriguing SCC crossover game. North Haven, of course, has looked unstoppable behind back Mike Montano and end Jeremy Imperiati in rolling to a 5-0 record — which, by the way, includes a 42-21 victory over SCC Division I’s Notre Dame-West Haven — with over 2,000 yard of offense and 30 touchdowns. So this is anything but your mild-mannered SCC D2 team. This is a legit contender in Class L, especially armed with a defense — led by Dave Mikos, Conner Suraci and Imperiati — that has only allowed 21 points (all to Notre Dame) during the competitive portion of its games.
So this figures to be an old-fashioned (like 1940s) slugfest. Prep, eager to get back into the state’s good graces, going up against one of the strongest Division II teams in recent memory. By no means is this a guaranteed North Haven win. But a victory here would mean the Indians can start making postseason plans well before Halloween and send Prep back into anonymity.
Who will win the 2019 Class L field hockey championship?
Total Response: 164 Votes
Southington (5-0) at Conard (4-1)
It’s been a long time since Conard mattered in the CCC and state playoff scene. But thanks to back Nate Richam-Odoi, who busted loose for 340 yards and six touchdowns last week vs. Manchester, the Chieftains have won three straight since their gutsy comeback effort fell short against Glastonbury in a crushing 50-49 loss.
But can Conard even remotely match up with Southington? The Blue Knights, after all, have won 25 consecutive games and — with the exception of the first three quarters vs. Glastonbury — have minced the rest of CCC Division I behind an uber-fast-paced offense led by QB and UConn commit Jay Rose and backs Vance Upham and Alessio Diana.
Southington’s defense has shown to be vulnerable in spots. The Blue Knights have allowed 105 points already (including 41 to Manchester and 26 to Hall). But it’s offense has been so dominant it’s hardly mattered. Conard’s defense hasn’t exactly been lights out either. It’s allowed 141 points, which doesn’t bode well for this matchup. Rose and his teammates have to be licking their chops.
Even if the Chieftains can somehow get into a shootout, the smart money says they’ll be gassed by the third quarter while Southington continues to burn. Conard will have to hope for turnovers or other Southington mistakes just to stay in the ballpark.
Who will win between Quinebaug Valley at Thames River?
Total Response: 62 Votes
Friday, 6:30 p.m.
Berlin, last year’s Class M-Large runner-up, has essentially rolled through its first half of the schedule relying on yet another strong defense and heavy doses of senior back Owen Taylor, who leads the Redcoats with 12 touchdowns. Senior 6-foot-4, 210-pound linebacker Alex Fleeton and CB Mitchell Maslowski join Taylor on a defense that’s allowed only 32 points in its CCC Division III games, half of which came in their 32-14 victory over Bloomfield in Week 1.
This game, revival of the old Nutmeg League games of 10 years ago, is Berlin’s first big test since then. Avon has playmakers across the roster, especially QB Ian McDonald, TE Geoff Kirk and RB/LB Teddy Almendinger. Mistakes doomed the Falcons in their 42-28 loss to Bloomfield and suddenly look like a cornered animal with their Class L playoff hopes on life support: Two losses isn’t quite a death knell, but three should be. So this road game is essential for Avon if it wants to have any shot at the postseason.
Who will win between Waterford and East Lyme?
Total Response: 80 Votes
New Canaan (4-0) at Greenwich (2-2)
Saturday, 3 p.m.
Where will Fran Marinelli sit? That’s been the most pressing question coming into this anticipated showdown of Marinelli father and son. The second is, can young Johnny’s familiarity with the inner workings and modus operandi of his father’s dominating program help Greenwich somehow keep this one competitive? After all, John Marinelli was the architect of the program’s record-breaking offense which help catapult the team to consecutive Class L championships — the 10th and 11th in his father’s distinguished career.
Now that Johnny has landed the plumb job at Greenwich, dad has promised he and new offensive coordinator Dante Correnty — John’s understudy — have changed just enough to keep John on his toes. Even if it hurts him to play this game.
But the Marinellis aren’t lacing and lining up. The players have a majority of the say in what happens at Cardinal Stadium. Behind the offensive stylings of QB Michael Collins and offensive lineman Lucas Niang, New Canaan has looked every bit the No. 2-ranked team in the state. The Rams average 50 points per game and have allowed a paltry 11, most of which have come in garbage time. Collins had already thrown for 1,000 yards and 23 touchdowns against one measly interception while spreading the ball around to literally dozens of receivers, especially Kyle Smith, Andrew DeFranco, Matt Cognetta and Peter Swindell. Like Southington, New Canaan rings up the scoreboard before opponents even know what hit them.
Of course, with an opponent win-loss record of 4-13, Greenwich will be its first relatively legitimate opponent of the season. The Cardinals have been led by backs Luke Bienstock, Keivn Iobbi and receivers Joey Longo and Tyler Ferris. All four of them have accounted for most of the team’s yardage and touchdowns. But the Cardinals remain an offensive work in progress. Greenwich was routed by No. 3-ranked Darien in Week 3 and, while not name-heavy like Darien’s defense, New Canaan’s defense will present similar issues in this one.
Greenwich’s only hope, perhaps, is its defense somehow slowing down the New Canaan train with leading tackler Mike Giansello at LB while the defensive front, led by linemen Mike Gianesello, Peter Santry and Scooter Harrington somehow bring pressure to bear on Collins. It’s a dream, at least. We’re hoping Greenwich can at least make this interesting. The FCIAC needs it.
Who will win the 157th meeting of New London and NFA?
Total Response: 107 Votes
Bacon Academy (4-1) at Fitch (4-1)
Friday, 6:30 p.m.
A few weeks ago, this game wasn’t even on our radar. Heck, it wasn’t even on Bacon Academy’s radar after consecutive victories over New London and Ledyard back in September. They were all about completing the ECC trifecta by taking out NFA down the road.
But as the Bobcats were run over by Austin Caffery and Killingly — squashed, we should say — Fitch stunned NFA back in Week 5 and, suddenly, the Falcons don’t look like the pushover they’ve been in recent seasons. They’ve won four straight and this game just got a whole lot bigger. For both teams. This is where we find out who’s really boss in ECC Division I.
You can bet Fitch took notice that Bacon looked vulnerable to the run in that game, too and would love to exploit it using RBs Parker Gibson, Cevon Riley and emerging freshman Cleon Mclish, who all had a hand in last week’s win over Guilford. Fitch’s fourth-straight win. Bacon’s offense, which looked unstoppable behind QB Sean Kelly, RB Peter Kazibwe and a cadre of receivers early, looked less-than-mortal against Killingly. It has had two weeks to prepare for what’s been a ballhawking Fitch defense. The Falcons have picked off six passes in their last two games. Bacon will also have to contend with QB Robert Duncan and WR Luke Letellier.
Who will win between Plainfield at Griswold/Wheeler?
Total Response: 66 Votes
Friday, 6:30 p.m.
Ledyard’s reinvented itself over the last few months. Instead of slinging the ball around with senior QB Ty Ebdon, the Colonels look more like their 2011 counterparts, banging away with back Manny Sanabria out of the double wing. He battered New London for 291 yards and three touchdowns two weeks ago. He only ran for 91 last week, but that’s because Ledyard got everybody else involved — Ebdon, Justin Carter and Luc Saccone — and wound up with over 300 yards rushing in a 20-7 victory over Griswold.
Montville, too, has reinvented itself on offense with Cody Calash, a converted receiver, directing the team at quarterback and Austin Glidden now the team’s featured runner. The Indians, however, are 3-1 thanks to their defense, anchored by big lineman Kevin Murtha and safety Tyler Price. Montville has only allowed 40 points this year.
Who will win between Montville and Windham?
Total Response: 54 Votes