Before the football playoffs began, I wrote in this space that I thought that Class L was loaded and was the best of the four divisions. After two rounds of the playoffs, I am convinced that assessment was right.
The final four teams in Class L, Darien, New Canaan, Middletown and North Haven, not only could play, but have played, with anyone, anywhere, anytime. And throw in Hand just for fun. The Middletown vs. Darien game was a battle of high school heavyweights. The game could have gone either way and as is often the case between two talented teams, a little thing here, a little thing there makes the difference and so it was on Saturday.
But the point of this is that L stands for Loaded. Let’s take a look at these Class L teams and what they accomplished over the season.
I voted New Canaan No. 1 for most of the season. The Rams beat Hand 50-21. Beat a seven-win Greenwich team 66-20. Note: Greenwich beat West Haven. Beat a seven-win Staples team 45-7 and remember Xavier opened the season with a 30-22 win over Staples. Beat St. Joseph, the odds-on favorite to win Class M, 62-21 in the regular season, then hammered St. Joe again in the FCIAC title game.
Then on Thanksgiving, Darien, the team that edged Middletown 13-7, beat New Canaan 28-24. Rarified air, folks.
In the playoffs, New Canaan demolished a pretty good Farmington team, then shut out North Haven 17-0.
So let’s take a look at North Haven. The Indians beat Xavier 42-28. Beat Hillhouse 14-0. Beat an 8-3 Foran team 28-14. Lost to …. uhhh, humpty-dumpties like Hand and Darien 36-27, with Darien coming from behind late to do it. In the playoffs, after North Haven dispatched undefeated Platt 35-0, New Canaan shut out the Indians 17-0.
How about Darien? Beat Hillhouse 46-26. Beat Greenwich 42-21. Beat Class LL semifinalist Ridgefield 19-14. Beat North Haven 36-27, beat New Canaan 28-24, beat Hand 31-29 then beat Middletown 13-7, coming from behind to do it..
Darien’s only loss was to St. Joe 28-14, but to repeat, the Blue Wave then knocked off New Canaan which hammered St. Joe — and hammered is exactly the right word — twice.
Heck, Hand, although it lost to Xavier, West Haven and Darien, beat Fairfield Prep 35-27, North Haven 21-6 and Shelton 44-41.
Middletown blasted its way through the CCC, beating two-loss Bristol Eastern 40-0, beating Farmington 21-7, beating last year’s Class L finalist Windsor in the rain 13-6, then dispatching New London, which had a Turkey Day win over Class LL playoff team Norwich Free Academy, 49-14, rendering the regular season 23-21 loss to New London what it was — a fluke. Then the Dragons played Darien even, outgained the Blue Wave 260 to 194 yards, but lost on two-short field touchdowns.
Did Darien deserve to win? Absolutely. But does Middletown belong among the state’s elite teams? Absolutely.
You run through the above resumes of the Class L teams and there are wins over St. Joseph, Fairfield Prep, West Haven, Staples, Greenwich, New London, Ridgefield, Hand, Shelton, Windsor, never mind wins over each other. So at the end of the day, Class L was and is the best division in Connecticut high school football this year.
That’s why the winner of the New Canaan vs. Darien game will get my vote as No. 1 and all four of the L finalists will land among the top 10 vote getters. Body of work against the best competition. Case closed.
BUT WHAT ABOUT ANSONIA?
A very good team, no question. And in Arkeel Newsome, a great running back who is headed to UConn. But it comes down to the body of work. It’s not Ansonia’s fault that it plays in the Naugatuck Valley League. The Chargers played the schedule it was handed. Many years ago, the NVL was a heckuva football league.
Let’s look it up. Class S Ansonia beat Torrington, Sacred Heart, Holy Cross, Wilby, Derby, Masuk, Wolcott, Watertown, Seymour, Crosby and Naugutuck in the regular season. Any Top 10 teams there? Sacred Heart, Watertown and Crosby had exactly two wins. Torrington had three. Only Naugatuck received any serious Top 15 votes, but then Ansonia crushed the Greyhounds on Turkey Day as the Chargers usually do, 66-28.
And remember, the wins most of Ansonia’s opponents had were against the same teams Ansonia beat up on. In the Class S final, Ansonia is playing Woodland, a team it already beat 48-7 in the NVL’s title game. In the playoffs, Ansonia beat Coginchaug and Rocky Hill. Playoff teams yes, but not elite teams.
Again, it’s not Ansonia’s fault as it played the schedule it was given and ran through it. But the body of work cannot compare with the Class L and Class LL teams. Methinks St. Joe in M is better. Fairfield Prep? Southington? The Final Four in Class L? You think Middletown or Xavier go 13-0 against Ansonia’s schedule? Is the Pope Catholic?
A couple of weeks back, a long-time, respected high school coach — not from around here — told me: “No way they match up with the best teams,” he said. “They got beat in scrimmages before the season, and if they are so good, why don’t they have a lot of kids playing in college? They don’t.”
This coach loved New Canaan, thought the Rams the No. 1 team. Then Darien beat them. Oh yeah, he doesn’t coach in either Class S or L, and does not coach in the FCIAC or NVL.
This coach has no axe to grind, his team is terrific, and has won state titles on his own. I’ve known the guy for years. Believe him and trust his judgment.
By the way, I do not for a minute agree with Coginchaug coach John Bozzi, who said that Ansonia without Newsome is a “less than average team.” It’s not the first time Bozzi has said outrageous stuff, but that was just silly. Ansonia, in the first place, DOES have Newsome, and secondly, by any standard is a very good football team. I just don’t think the Chargers are the best.
Again, it’s the body of work.
LOTS OF FUN
Covering area high school football this year — I saw MHS, Xavier and Cromwell multiple times — was a lot of fun. Middletown was such a pleasure and watching Dario Highsmith play was a treat. But MHS was so much more than Highsmith. At the risk of leaving out names, the Bednarz twins, Jeff Woodcock, Jacob Homar, Isaiah Thompkins, Yaamal Jackson, Sal Fazzino (both Fazzino and Jackson were nursing injuries Saturday), Hunter Belzo, Julian Carraway, Cody Carrillo, Rajahn Johnson, Derek Bonaparte, Van Uk, Austin Meeker and more — are very good players.
No team goes 11-2 in Class L/LL without a lot of very good players. That Highsmith made the Blue Dragons special cannot be argued, but as he often said, without his offensive line, things would have been different. He deserved to be Connecticut Gatorade Player of the Year, an award that covers not only football ability — remember, he’s a quarterback who also plays defense — but also academics. The kid is a B student in advanced and AP level classes, and serves his community and is a mentor for younger kids. Those are all criteria for the award.
Yup, the Blue Dragons were great fun and the atmosphere at MHS games with the terrific band — which was tremendous at the semifinal game, too — is as good as you’ll find.
It was also great fun covering Xavier as always. Its Black Hole student section is as good as any you will hear and the band sounds great. Yeah, Xavier, after graduating a ton of excellent players, wasn’t among the state’s elite teams this year, but that’s OK.
The Falcons gave their fans great moments, beating Hand in what was the grudge match of the season, and the last-second win over Shelton was a great high school football game. That Xavier lost to three very good teams in North Haven, Fairfield Prep and West Haven is no disgrace.
And running back Andrew Meoli and quarterback Joe Carbone can play for your or my team any time they want. Terrific players.
WAY TO GO
UConn diving coach John Bransfield — love the name! — is very excited about getting Middletown High divers Dan Kinney and Monica Marcello for his Division I diving program.
“To get divers like that from the same high school is really interesting and unusual,” said Bransfield (no relation, lucky him). “These kids are coming out of high school with skills. They are agile, fast and flexible. Monica has a background in gymnastics, which will help, and Dan is a gamer.
“From the college perspective, they are raw, but their upside is ahead of them. I expect both will make contributions in dual meets in college right away. In time, I expect them to compete in conference and NCAA qualifying meets. The reality is in high school, there are very few prospects that have been well-coached. These kids have been.”
To diving coach Matt Quinn, head swim coach Trevor Charles, and Dan and Monica, this week’s Way To Go Award goes to you.
ALL LEAGUE PERFORMERS
The Southern Connecticut Conference announced its all-league teams over the weekend. They include, girls cross-country, Mercy’s Kaleigh Roberts and Bridgid Selfors and boys cross-country, Xavier’s Zach Williams and John O’Hara.
In football, Xavier’s Andrew Meoli at running back, Will Garrity at linebacker and Nate Gonzalez at defensive back were honored.
In soccer and volleyball, the SCC announced all-division teams. In soccer, All-Quinnipiac division players from Xavier were Brendan Cutuli, Joe Zacchia, Tom Gardner and Ken Callahan. From Mercy, Kendra Landy, Alex Zampini, and Olivia Ozycz were named and in volleyball, from Mercy were Jessica Hoops and Abigail Nagy.
HERE AND THERE
Each year the Portland Youth Services and Portland Food Bank hold their White Dog Christmas Party to benefit needy Portland families. The party this year will be Tuesday, tomorrow, at 5:30 p.m. at the White Dog Café next to Dunkin Donuts in Portland.
The good folks ask you bring a new, unwrapped toy or a non-perishable food item for distribution to local families. Any questions/information call Joe Heffernan at 860-853-8966 … over 1,800 tuned in to hear the Cromwell vs. Coginchaug game on Thanksgiving on wcnxradio,com, the local Internet radio station … spokesman John Clark said it was the best audience yet for a Cromwell game … WMRD, the local AM radio station, also covered many games this fall, including Middletown High’s playoff games.
Judy Clark, the owner of the Internet station, released a 25-game basketball broadcast schedule, starting with Hamden at Xavier on Jan. 3.
Rocky Hill football coach Dave Coyne, 63, is retiring from teaching and coaching … I covered Coyne as both football and swimming coach when Middletown was in the old Northwest Conference and competed against Rocky Hill … classy man all the way … enjoy the grandkids, coach.
Girls basketball starts this week on Wednesday … everything else gets going next week … here are the guaranteed football winners this weekend … well, maybe not guaranteed … Fairfield Prep over Southington in Class LL, New Canaan over Darien in Class L, St. Joseph over Brookfield in Class M and Ansonia over Woodland in Class S .. the games are at Arute Field at CCSU in New Britain … the L and LL games ought to be beauties.
]Middletown Hall of Fame dinner tickets at $50 are available by calling Johanna Bond at the Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce.