urry, hurry, hurry! Step right up! Step right up, ladies and gents, to witness the greatest high school football show on earth!
Thrills, chill, spills! Feats of daring do! The pride of young men, grown men, women of all ages from two rivaling Connecticut’s counties is on the line this week!Welcome back to countywide fight between two leagues that have dominated the state for 20 years and two leagues whose fans endlessly debate over which is the biggest, toughest, baddest strongest group of high school football teams in the state!
On one side of the Housatonic River, hugging the glitz of New York City, is the Fairfield Interscholastic Athletic Conference: the Fairfield County league (est. 1961) whose claim to fame is its popular league championship game and alumni like Steve Young, Bobby Valentine, Pete Demmerle and John Sullivan.
On the other side of the Housatonic (plus Fairfield County expat Shelton), is the Southern Connecticut Conference: a confederation of football powers formed in 1994 from the merger of the old Housatonic League, District League, Coastal and All-Connecticut Conferences. Its notable alumni include Dan Orlovsky, Rob Jackson, Amarie Spievey and Antaj Hawthorne.
For the past 20 years, the two powers have battled in the state playoffs and fought for state championships. Typically, the league with the most medals gets bragging rights for the year. In the mid-to-late 2000s, the FCIAC could puff out its chest.
Earlier this decade, the SCC came back with a vengeance. Xavier won three titles and was No. 1 for two consecutive years. The SCC won all but one of the state championships in 2012. Hand emerged as the No. 1 team.
But rarely did these behemoths ever line up in the regular season. Then — miracle of miracles! — with the addition of an 11th week of games a year ago, leaders from both sides came together and agreed to stage a league-wide showdown.
It was nip-and-tuck for awhile, but the FCIAC won last year’s Challenge Week, 9-7. Then it took five more regular-season matchups to take a commanding 14-10 season-wide victory. Bragging rights: Secured.
No doubt the SCC lifers were perturbed by those developments. If not, then they certainly were dismayed when the FCIAC won a pair of state titles while the SCC won a grand total of zero in December.
Ah, but this was a two-year deal. Today starts the rematch.
Will the pendulum swing the other way in 2014?
Let’s find out, shall we?
Here’s a look at each individual game, including history (if any) and the game’s top story line. Like last year, Amity (vs. Seymour) and Branford will not participate. Neither will Westhill and Norwalk. Those two will play each other in a non-conference game.
The SCC’s schools hold a 33-30 overall record against the FCIAC since 1994, including a 16-12 edge in the postseason. (All town figures taken from the 2010 United States Census).
Since the CIAC is eliminating 11-game schedules next year, this is the last time we’re doing this for a very, very, very long time. Savor every moment. Here we go:
Wednesday, September 10
When — 7 p.m.
Where — Law Field, Milford
On the Air — WELI 960-AM
League –– Law(SCC); Harding(FCIAC)
Class/School type — Law: M (Public); Harding: M (Public)
Towns — Law: Milford (Population: 52,859; Median Household Income: $79,526);Harding: Bridgeport (Pop: 144,229; Median household income: $41,047).
Last year — Harding 32, Law 20
Player to watch — Law: Sr. WR/QB/DB Giovanni Marzullo; Harding: Sr. QB/CB Christian Hopkins.
The Storyline —Last year saw the beginning of the short-lived Jack Cochran era at Harding with what was a pretty stunning 34-14 victory in Bridgeport. He didn’t last more than three games and the reins were handed to assistant Eddie Santago, who was named head coach at the end of the year. Law also has a new head coach, Derek Lewis, who came over from Bassick and still works in the Bridgeport school system and is familiar with Harding and everything the Presidents will bring.
SPB’s Pick — Law
Final: Harding 38, Law 10
Who will win Seymour at Woodland?
Total Response: 126 Votes
When — 6 p.m.
Where — The Maclary Complex, Cheshire
On the Air — CPTVSports | HAN Online Radio
League — Cheshire: SCC; Ridgefield: FCIAC
Class/School type — Cheshire: LL (Public); Ridgefield: LL (Public)
Towns — Cheshire: Cheshire (Pop: 29,261; Median household income: $107,936); Ridgefield: (Pop: 24,638; Median household income: $132,907)
Last year — Ridgefield 17, Cheshire 14
Player to watch — Cheshire: Sr. RB/DB Andrew Yamin; Ridgefield: Sr. QB Ryan Dunn.
The story lines — Injuries and graduation have tarnished the edges of this matchup, won by Ridgefield (barely) last season. That narrow victory turned out crucial in getting the Tigers into the Class LL playoffs as the No. 8 seed. But Ridgefield lost James Turner to a torn ACL and have just four returning starters. Similarly, Cheshire lost QB Tucker Ecke and Jack Cunningham to injuries and are just as much of a mystery as its counterpart heading into 2014.
SPB’s Pick — Ridgefield
Final: Cheshire 41, Ridgefield 14
Who will win Wilby at Sacred Heart/Kaynor Tech?
Sacred Heart/Kaynor Tech
Total Response: 30 Votes
Thursday, September 11
When — 6:30 p.m.
Where — Kennedy Stadium, Bridgeport
League — Bassick: FCIAC; East Haven: SCC
Class/School type — Bassick: L (Public); East Haven: M (Public)
Towns — Bassick: Bridgeport (Pop: 144,229; Median household income: $41,047); East Haven: East Haven (Pop: 29,257; Median household income: $59,918)
Last Year — East Haven 38, Bassick 28
Player to watch — Bassick: Sr. QB/WR/DB Kenny Rene; East Haven: Sr. WR/SS Joe Cima
The story lines — Both programs had the dubious distinction of holding the state’s longest losing streak at one time over the past 11 years. While evenly matched a year ago, Bassick graduated a bunch of talent and lost its head coach, Derrick Lewis, to Law. Mike Rodrigues is in charge at Bassick now. East Haven coach Anthony Lucibello, meanwhile, has a year under his belt.
SPB’s Pick — East Haven.
Final: East Haven 24, Bassick 6
Who will win the Route 17 Bowl?
Total Response: 95 Votes
When — 7 p.m.
Where — Vanacore Field, North Haven
On the air — WELI.com
League — North Haven: SCC; Central: FCIAC
Class/School type — North Haven: L (Public); Central: LL (Public)
Towns — North Haven (Pop: 24,093; Median household income: $83,588); Central: Bridgeport (Pop: 144,229; Median household income: $41,047).
Last Year — North Haven 42, Central 8
Player to watch — North Haven: Sr. QB Cole Pecora; Central: Jr. QB Mykel Morris.
The story lines — Though the FCIAC/SCC challenge is rife with unfamiliarity (which makes it great) these vastly different programs are actually meeting for the third time in four years. North Haven crushed the Hilltoppers last season, and bulled its way to the Class L semifinals. Despite having Mykel Morris on its side, Central didn’t win a game until Thanksgiving. Morris, who’s a more frightening nightmare than Freddie Krueger for defensive coordinators, might not play due to an early injury. Though North Haven lost studs like Ethan Suraci and Zach Kastenhuber, they still intend on hammering away the single wing. Central knows what’s coming, but can the Hilltoppers stop it?
SPB’s Pick — North Haven
Final: North Haven 42, Bridgeport Central 6
Who will win OSW at Morgan?
Total Response: 80 Votes
When — 7 p.m.
Where — Taft Field, Fairfield Ludlowe
League — Fairfield Prep: SCC; Stamford: FCIAC
Class/School type — Fairfield Prep: LL (Private-Jesuit; Tuition $17,500); Stamford: LL (public)
Towns — Fairfield Prep: Fairfield (draws primarily from both NH and Fairfield County); Stamford:(Pop: 125,109; Median household income: $72,315)
Player to watch — Fairfield Prep: Sr. QB/DB Colton Smith; Stamford: Sr. QB Jalen Brown
Last Year — Fairfield Prep 28, Stamford 0
The story lines — Fairfield Prep barreled its way to its first state championship game appearance since 1988 and — guess what? — give or take a college-bound stud, they’re all back to finish the job denied by Southington last year. Electric QB Colton Smith: back. Massive lineman and BC recruit Anthony Palazzolo: Back. Receiver John DeliSanti: Back. And so on. Stamford, meanwhile, brings back a few experience players and QB Jalen Brown sounds serious about leading the Black Knights to a few more victories than last year. They didn’t look too shabby in this game last season. But this year…? Well, seeing this is Prep’s first game since the Class LL championship loss, the Jesuits should be well motivated. These schools used to meet regularly from 1942-1977. Stamford leads the series 16-15-3.
SPB’s Pick — Fairfield Prep
Final: Fairfield Prep 59, Stamford 40
Who will win the Battle of Route 83?
Total Response: 38 Votes
When — 4 p.m.
Where — Wilbur Cross Athletic Complex, New Haven
League — Cross: SCC; McMahon: FCIAC
Class/School type — Cross: L (Public); McMahon: LL (Public)
Towns — Cross: New Haven (Pop: 129,779; Median household income: $38,963); McMahon: Norwalk (Pop: 85,603; Median household income: $76,161)
Player to watch — Cross: Sr. RB Stevie Swinson; McMahon: Sr. RB Timmy Hinton
The story lines — It’s another battle between the namesakes of Connecticut’s two most-prominent 20th-century politicians: Wilbur Cross, a 1930s governor; McMahon a Norwalk judge appointed by Cross who went on to help create the Atomic Energy Commission as a U.S. Senator. Here’s another history lesson: McMahon was the surprise of the 2013 FCIAC season. It won eight games for the first time since 2004 and narrowly missed qualifying for the state playoffs for the first time since 1994. Save for backs Timmy Hinton and JuJu Snider and a couple others, however, this is a much younger group than it was last year. Cross, meanwhile was an unremarkable 4-6 in 2013. So the Governors are hoping Stevie Swinson will get this year pointed in the right direction.
SPB’s Pick — Wilbur Cross
Final: Wilbur Cross 29, McMahon 14
Who will win St. Paul at Oxford?
Total Response: 86 Votes
When — 7 p.m.
Where — Fujitani Field, Wilton
League — Wilton: FCIAC; Guilford: SCC
Class/School Type: Wilton: L (public); Guilford: L (public)
Towns — Wilton (Pop: 18,062; Median household income: $153,770); Guilford: (Pop: 10,389; Median household income: $98,411)
Last Year — Wilton 21, Guilford 20
Player to watch — Wilton: Sr. FB T.J. Savvaides; Guilford: Sr. WR/DB Tony Pensa
The story lines — Both teams lost some star power from last season. Wilton no longer can rely on Brett Phillips. Guilford no longer has Joey Nault or David Knapp. If anyone has an advantage, it might be Guilford with the more experienced line? Or maybe it’s Wilton and its more experience defense? Something’s gotta give and maybe some new stars will step forward to prove 2014 is they’re year. Fans might be in for another barn-burner like last year’s one-point Wilton victory. To be quite honest, we really have no idea about this one.
SPB’s Pick — (puts on blindfold, throws dart) … Wilton
Final: Wilton 20, Guilford 6
Who will win the Old Red Milk Jug?
Total Response: 37 Votes
When — 7 p.m.
Where — Veterans Stadium, West Haven
On the air: GoGreenKnights.com
League — Notre Dame: SCC; St. Joseph: FCIAC
Class/School type: Notre Dame: L (Private-Catholic; Tuition: $10,200); St. Joseph: M (Private-Catholic; Tuition $13,300)
Towns — Notre Dame: West Haven (draws from NH County); St. Joseph: Trumbull (draws from Fairfield, NH Counties)
Last Year — St. Joseph 47, Notre Dame-WH 28
Player to watch — Notre Dame: Soph. WR Nico Ragaini; St. Joseph: Sr. RB Mufasha Abdul-Basir
The story lines — Last year, in the schools’ first meeting since they joined their current leagues in 1994, St. Joseph and its record-breaking offense bolted out to a big lead en route to a relatively easy 47-28 victory. But the Hogs were hit hard by graduation and the Green Knights brings just about everyone back, including sophomore WR Nico Ragiani and QB Christian Lupoli. ND’s vast network of fans and alumni hope is a run at another championship. Then again, St. Joseph hasn’t been just neutered yet. It does have a pair of all-staters, WR Lars Pedersen and RB Mufasha Abdul-Basir on board, not to mention a few up-and-comers anxious to prove themselves worthy of being Hogs. This tell-all game will show how far NDWH has come and how far, if at all, St. Joseph has dropped.
SPB’s Pick — St. Joseph
Final: St. Joseph 17, Notre Dame-WH 6
Who will win W.Locks/Suff./E.Gran. at Staf./E.Wind./Som.?
Total Response: 33 Votes
Friday, September 12
When — 4 p.m.
Where — at Wilbur Cross Athletic Complex, New Haven
League — Hillhouse: SCC; Darien: FCIAC
Class/School type — Hillhouse: M (Public); Darien: L (Public)
Towns — Hillhouse: New Haven (Pop: 129,779; Median household income: $38,963); Darien: Darien (Pop: 20,732; Median household income: $160,274)
Last year — Darien 46, Hillhouse 26
Player to watch — Hillhouse: Sr. QB Corey Maddox; Darien: Sr. DL Mark Evanchick
The storyline — Hillhouse is just a season removed from its last state championship, but fell on hard times as a last-second coaching change put Reggie Lytle at the helm. Darien, despite all of its great successes under Rob Trifone, hasn’t won a state championship since 1996. The Wave return the majority of its team this season, especially pancake-making ends Mark Evanchick and George Reed, and is the consensus FCIAC favorite heading into the season. Hillhouse, which graduated record-breaking back Harold Cooper, is a mystery. But never discount the effect those Friday afternoon games in New Haven historically has had on opponents headed to New Haven — especially one braving hours of Fairfield County’s brutal northbound traffic just to get there. (Hint, Darien: Slip out the door during morning announcements and maybe we’ll see you at kickoff.)
SPB’s Pick — Darien
Final: Darien 47, Hillhouse 25
Who will win Guilford at Hand?
Total Response: 153 Votes
When — 7 p.m.
Where — Tetreau/Davis Field, Fairfield
League — Warde: FCIAC; Foran: SCC
Class/School Type: — Warde: L (Public); Foran: M (Public)
Towns — Warde: Fairfield (Pop: 59,404; Median household income: $113,248); Foran: Milford (Pop: 52,859; Median household income: $79,526)
Player to watch — Warde: Sr. QB Brandon Bisack; Foran: Sr. QB Jake Kasuba
Last year — Foran 36, Warde 20
The Storyline — The two programs bring back two of the state’s better quarterbacks in Warde’s Brendan Bisack and Foran’s Jake Kasuba, who threw for 4,200 yards combined last season. But the two couldn’t be more different. Kasuba loves to run and find targets (though most of them have graduated) and had nearly 3,000 yards passing last season. Bisack is more of a drop-back who had almost 1,400 yards passing. A few of his targets are back. Plus, the Mustangs have back T.J Gallagher, who’s good in a pinch.
SPB’s Pick — Warde
Final: Fairfield Warde 24, Foran 21
Who will win Masuk at Newtown?
Total Response: 104 Votes
When — 7 p.m.
Where — Crotty Stadium at Clapboard Ridge, Danbury
League — Danbury: FCIAC; Hamden: SCC
Class/School type — Danbury: LL (Public); Hamden: LL (Public)
Towns — Danbury (Pop: 80,893; Median household income: $65,275); Hamden: (Pop: 60,960; Median household income: $79,943).
Last Year — Hamden 26, Danbury 10
Player to watch — Danbury: Sr. QB Anfernee Ith; Hamden: Sr. RB/SS Maliek Williamson
The story lines — Like New Canaan and Hand, these programs are mirror images, but of the dubious sort. Hamden and Danbury are two of the state’s biggest schools, yet haven’t sniffed statewide prominence for many moons. Hamden heads to Clapboard Ridge just itching to get back on top under second-year coach Todd Dowty. Danbury’s desperate to get there, too… So much, in fact, the Hatters brought Cheshire’s former four-time championship coach Mark Ecke to town. Ecke, who was being considered for the Hamden job this offseason, knows the Green Dragons well. Maybe too well.
SPB’s Pick — Danbury
Final: Danbury 35, Hamden 15
Who will win Notre-Dame Fairfield at Pomperaug?
Total Response: 77 Votes
When — 7 p.m.
Where — Taft Field, Fairfield
League — Ludlowe: FCIAC; Lyman Hall: SCC
Class — Ludlowe: LL (Public); Lyman Hall: M (Public)
Towns — Ludlowe: Fairfield (Pop: 59,404; Median household income: $113,248); Lyman Hall:Wallingford (Pop: 45,135; Median household income: $71,317).
Last Year — Fairfield Ludlowe 24, Lyman Hall 20
Player to watch — Ludlowe: Sr. OLB Cole Gottlieb; Lyman Hall: Sr. RB Koby Mensah
The story lines — Ludlowe had a wild season under first-year coach Vin Camera and wound up with its first winning record since 2009. They graduated a few stars, including top passer Matt White. Lyman Hall improved with a pair of victories a year ago, but suddenly had to deal with the transfer of QB Kyle Smith to Hamden Hall.
SPB’s Pick — Fairfield Ludlowe
Final: Ludlowe 43, Lyman Hall 0
Who will win Bacon Academy at RHAM?
Total Response: 40 Votes
When — 7 p.m.
Where — Staples Field, Westport
League — Staples: FCIAC; Xavier: SCC
Class/School type: — Staples: LL (public); Xavier: LL (Private-Xavierian Brothers; Tuition $11,450)
Town — Staples: Westport (Pop: 26,391; Median household income: $150,000) ; Xavier: Middletown/Middlesex County
Last Year — Xavier 30, Staples 22
Player to watch — Staples: Sr. QB Teddy Coogan Xavier: Sr. OL/DLs Tanner Kern & Chidi Broderick
The Storyline — Two of the state’s best programs or the last decade (or so) come into 2014 as virtual mysteries and (funny enough) dark horse candidates in their respective leagues. That’s because you’d be hard-pressed to name more than one or two current players on both sides. Go ahead, try it. We’ll wait… (Awright, *Aside* from the players listed above, wiseguys. Also: Team parents don’t count). You couldn’t. Maybe that’s why neither team was ranked in the preseason Top 10. Many pegged this matchup as an overwhelming Xavier victory last season, but Staples hung around and had a chance to win late. This year… who knows? We’ll be better informed when the final whistle blows.
SPB’s Pick — (flips coin) Er… Staples
Final: Xavier 3, Staples 0
Who will win the Battle of the Bell?
Total Response: 32 Votes
When — 7 p.m.
Where — Strong Field at The Surf Club, Madison
League — Hand: SCC; New Canaan: FCIAC
Class/School type: — Hand: L (Public); New Canaan: L (Public)
Towns — Hand: Madison (Pop: 18,269; Median household income: $108,175); New Canaan: New Canaan (Pop: 19,738; Median household income: $141,788).
Last year — New Canaan 50, Hand 20
Player to watch — Hand: Sr. QB Nick van Dell; New Canaan: Sr. DE Zach Allen.
The Storyline — You won’t find any two programs in Connecticut as identical as these. Take New Canaan’s and transplant it into Madison or vice versa, and it’s citizens would hardly notice. They’re proud football teams led by universally respected coaches, hard working players and a nearly identical championship pedigree. Hand has won 11 titles, including five in six appearances since 2003. New Canaan has won nine titles, including five in seven appearances since 2006. New Canaan obliterated Hand, 50-20, to kick off a Class L championship campaign last season. And the game wasn’t even that close. A year later and the script is flipped as we head to what should be a pack-to-the-gills Surf Club for the rematch. (Get there early. Like, leave now). New Canaan lost 28 seniors and all of its all-state players with the exception of Zach Allen. Hand brings just about everybody back, including Nick van Dell, Cory Walsh, Jack Driscoll and Tommy Wil… Well, actually, senior Tommy Wilson (ankle) is out indefinitely, which took some luster off Hand’s prospects. But New Canaan also will be without RB Frank Cognetta (foot) and kicker Peter Swindell, which diminishes the Rams’ prospects somewhat. Though Hand is ranked No. 2 and New Canaan No. 9, nobody should be stunned by whatever transpires here.
SPB’s Pick — Hand
Final: New Canaan 21, Hand 14
Who will win East Catholic at Northwest Catholic?
Total Response: 29 Votes
When — 7 p.m.
Where — McDougall Stadium, Trumbull
League — Trumbull: FCIAC; Shelton: SCC
Class/School type — Trumbull: LL (public); Shelton: LL (public)
Towns — Trumbull: (Pop: 36,018; Median household income: $102,059); Shelton: (Pop: 39,559; Median household income: $80,656).
Player to watch — Trumbull: Sr. LB Jack Kelly; Shelton: Sr. QB Mark Piccirillo
The story lines — Shelton seems to be everybody’s sleeper pick in the SCC in 2014. And why not? The Gaels last season came oh-so-close to knocking off the league’s other heavyweights — Hand, Prep, Xavier and West Haven — but lost to them all. Shelton does have some work to do to get back its swagger. It graduated a few stars, but still has QB Mark Piccirillo, linebacker Troy Vasilescu and a good core surrounding them. Hal Haller, a 6-foot-5 lineman who transferred from Florida, has piqued everybody’s interest. Border rival Trumbull, on the other hand, graduated just about everybody from it’s school-record-setting offense with the exception of the line. Shelton eviscerated Trumbull on the first day of last year’s matchup and turned it over to its JVs on Day 2. The Gaels might be salivating for a second helping.
SPB’s Pick — Shelton
Final: Shelton 40, Trumbull 10
Who will win the Shunpike Showdown?
Total Response: 39 Votes
When — 7 p.m.
Where — Ken Strong Stadium, West Haven
League — West Haven: SCC; Greenwich: FCIAC
Class/School type — West Haven: LL (Public); Greenwich: LL (Public)
Towns — West Haven: (Pop: 55,564; Median household income: $51,854); Greenwich: 61,171; Median household income: $124,958)
Last Year — Greenwich 22, West Haven 21
Player to watch — West Haven: Sr. RB Marshont Little; Greenwich: Sr. RB Austin Longi
The storylines — West Haven, quite frankly, booted this game, played over two days due to thunderstorms. They were leading 14-7 and driving when lightning struck, both literally and figuratively. Greenwich’s Austin Longi returned a missed field goal 95 yards when play resumed three days later and then tacked on the winning touchdown with minute left in a 22-21 victory. West Haven coach Ed McCarthy, the state’s all-time coaching leader who is retiring at season’s end, later said it was “the worst loss in the history of football.” The Westies were killed by graduation except for Marshont Little and WR Zatrell Lyons. Greenwich brings back most of its stars, including Longi and Division I prospect Scooter Harrington. The Cardinals, ranked No. 6 in the preseason poll, believe they can contend. Does West Haven pull off the wacky win, this time around? We’re sure Eddie Mac would take it.
SPB’s Pick — Greenwich
Final: West Haven 35, Greenwich 22
Who will win the Manning E. Harvey Trophy?
Total Response: 82 Votes
Saturday, September 13
When — 2 p.m.
Where — Alumni Field, Trinity Catholic, Stamford
League — Trinity Catholic: FCIAC; Sheehan: SCC
Class/School type — Trinity Catholic: Private-Catholic (Tuition: $11,500): S; Sheehan: M (Public)
Towns — Trinity: Stamford (draws from Stamford, Fairfield County); Sheehan: Wallingford (Pop: 45,135; Median household income: $71,317)
Last Year — Sheehan 63, Trinity Catholic 26
Player to watch — Trinity Catholic: Sr. RB/LB Thomas Costigan; Sheehan: Sr. DE Trevor Angeletti
The story lines — Sheehan slam-dunked Trinity Catholic in this meeting last year, which propelled the Titans to a winning season. The injury-riddled Crusaders never put it together in coach Donny Panapada’s first year as coach. The roles are slightly reversed this year. Sheehan graduated more than its share of playmakers while Trinity has a few coming back, particularly Bryant commit and linebacker terror Thomas Costigan and Courtlyn Victrum, who showed flashes of brilliance as a freshman.
SPB’s Pick — Trinity Catholic
Final: Trinity Catholic 33, Sheehan 3
Who will win the Stoddard Bowl?
Total Response: 46 Votes