MIDDLETOWN — No one is kidding anyone when they suggest tonight’s New Canaan at Middletown Class L quarterfinal round game is a traditional No. 1 vs. No. 8 matchup.
Sure, New Canaan (8-2) comes in at No. 8, but that’s the CIAC point system at work. New Canaan lost two games, 38-35 to unbeaten St. Joseph and 34-21 to unbeaten Greenwich, but capped its season with a 27-0 win over previously unbeaten — but dramatically depleted by key players’ absences — Darien.
On top of that, New Canaan has won the Class L title four years in a row.
“We expected to be a really good team,” New Canaan coach Lou Marinelli said. “Then we lost to St. Joseph to start the season. We have been shooting ourselves in the foot by committing a lot of penalties. I think we’ve been getting better in that category, though.”
In its win over Darien, New Canaan scored just one offensive touchdown, but returned two interceptions for TDs and got two field goals — one from 24 yards and the other from 44 yards — by Grant Morse.
Owen Shin, who picked up 120 yards on 27 carries against Darien, is the Rams’ feature back and Drew Pine is the quarterback
Middletown (10-0) earned its No. 1 rating, clinching that spot with its 24-7 win over previously unbeaten Windsor Thanksgiving Eve. Like New Canaan, Middletown has a strong kicking game led by state field goal record holder Mike Aresco, who is 23-of-27 for his career.
Also like New Canaan, the Blue Dragons have a feature back in Xzavier Reyes, who picked up 103 yards against Windsor. But there is little doubt that quarterback Stone Belzo makes the Dragons go and he leads a multi-dimensional, balanced attack.
“They’re good,” Middletown coach Sal Morello said of New Canaan. “It’s a solid team that doesn’t hurt itself. I see no glaring weaknesses. They are very balanced with a very good quarterback. They are sound on both sides of the ball and their defense is very good.”
Morello went on to say that his team is healthy.
“We’re ready to go,” he said. “We’ve had very good practices and we want to use the Windsor win as a springboard. It will come down to our defense, our ability to run the ball and play solid football. In the end, as always, it comes down to blocking and tackling.”
The undefeated regular season is the third for Middletown since the city’s two public high schools were consolidated in 1984. That year, Middletown ran the table through the state championship, beating Ledyard 35-12 in the title game.
The Dragons put together another unbeaten regular season in 1985, but lost the Class M title game to Lyman Hall 28-18.
Over the next seven years, Middletown went to three more title games, winning twice. In 1987 MHS shut out Bristol Central 27-0 for the MM title and in 1992 beat Berlin 36-18 for the M crown. MHS lost to St. Joseph 26-0 in 1990’s M title game.
As the school has grown, MHS moved up to Class L. This is the sixth consecutive year Middletown has qualified for the playoffs in Class L. Since moving up in class, MHS under Morello is 2-5 in the postseason, posting wins over New London 49-14 in 2013 and over Platt 56-36 last year.
MHS has lost some very close games, losing to Masuk 21-14 in 2012, to Notre Dame-West Haven 13-10 in the 2014 semifinals and Darien in the 2013 semifinals, 13-7.
The winner of the Middletown/New Canaan game will play the winner of the Masuk vs. Fitch game Sunday at 12:30 p.m. If Middletown wins, it will be a home game for the Dragons.
The game will be carried on WVNXRadio.com, the local Internet station.
Valley/Old Lyme (9-1) vs. Rocky Hill (10-0)
This is an interesting Shoreline Conference vs. Central Connecticut Conference matchup.
Rocky Hill doesn’t play in the Class L or LL divisions of the CCC, but has on its schedule Class M qualifier Berlin, which it beat 26-10 and Bloomfield, the 2015 Class S champion, which it beat 24-16.
The only common opponent is Cromwell/Portland. Rocky Hill hammered C/P 35-7 on Thanksgiving Eve and Valley needed overtime to beat the Panthers 34-28. But it’s interesting that both teams put up a lot of points against Cromwell/Portland, so defense will likely be the key.
Valley is led by quarterback Mike Cullina and he has a talented group of receivers led by Earnest Jean-Pierre.
Rocky Hill, which has a reputation as a run-heavy team, went to the air in beating C/P. Quarterback Dan Cavallaro threw two touchdown passes to Matt Osgood — and a third to Jack Hansen — and Osgood threw another off a fake field goal attempt.
“Rocky Hill is one of best teams I’ve seen,” Valley/Old Lyme coach Tim King said. “They are very good defensively and control the ball on offense. You better put points on the board when you get a chance, because their offense is very balanced and they can score out of different formations.”
Rocky Hill lost to Ansonia 28-21 last year in the Class S title game while Valley knocked off Ansonia 21-20 to win the Class S-Large crown in 2014.