Capital Prep/Achievement First surprised most pundits by edging North Branford 20-13 to capture the Class S-Small state championship Saturday at Arute Field on the campus of Central Connecticut State.
It was the first state title for the Trailblazers, who reached the postseason for the fourth straight year.
Capital Prep had suffered three consecutive quarterfinal losses before posting the program’s first playoff victory by rallying past Canton 28-21 in this year’s semifinals.
The Trailblazers were the No. 1 seed in Class S last season but lost 27-3 to Bloomfield. Capital Prep had its season ended by Woodland (37-35) in 2012 and by Cromwell (23-14) in 2011.
“We thought we were competitive outside of last year,” Capital Prep coach Chris Fulton said about his team’s previous postseason trips. “I think we belong. It’s great that we were able to get this win, so maybe people would say we can win against the better teams.”
This season the Trailblazers finished 12-1, losing only to Class M-Large semifinalist New London 10-0. Capital Prep defeated the Whalers last season.
The Trailblazers became the first team from the lightly regarded Constitution State Conference to win a state title. The CSC is comprised mainly of technical schools, although Capital Prep/Achievement First is not.
“I do think we have some really quality coaches in our league,” Fulton said. “Obviously the talent is a little different, but we have some talented players here, and we have talented players on other teams. I’m glad we were able to do this for the CSC. I don’t know if it changes anything, but it does at least give our program a little more notoriety.”
Junior quarterback Rayshawn Phillips rushed 28 times for 109 yards and two touchdowns against North Branford. Phillips, 6 feet 2 and 205 pounds, scored on touchdown runs of 4 and 3 yards.
“He’s a big kid, as you can see,” Fulton said. “He’s come a long way. We started running him a little more this year. We think he’s a special kid for us.”
Phillips spent his freshman season at Prince Tech, which lost to Ansonia in the 2012 Class S quarterfinals. Phillips transferred the following year. He says the team was disappointed with last year’s playoff result.
“I didn’t feel right sending off my seniors wrong,” Phillips said. “We said we weren’t going to do that this year.”
Phillips also said the Trailblazers sought to silence their critics.
“We just took that as motivation,” Phillips said. “A lot of people were chirping on Twitter — all the social medias — and we just took that as motivation to go out here and get this win. We proved them all wrong. And we’re No. 1 in Class S-Small.”
Windsor capped an unbeaten season by dispatching Notre Dame-West Haven 38-16 to capture the Class L-Small championship. It was the first title for the Warriors (12-0).
Much of the success Windsor enjoyed this season was due to its defense. The Warriors allowed just 80 points and posted a five-game shutout streak during the regular season.
Down the stretch, Windsor defeated playoff teams Glastonbury and Middletown before knocking off Southern Connecticut Conference members North Haven and Notre Dame in the playoffs.
“It was so hard to measure how strong they were all year because they continued to do what they’re taught to do in practice,” Windsor coach Rob Fleeting said about his defense. “We heard a lot of stuff about we don’t play anyone. It just seems to me, whoever we play, our defense does one hell of a job. We do what we have to do to win games.”
Junior Tyler Coyle caught two touchdown passes and scored on a fumble recovery against Notre Dame.
“It proves a lot,” Coyle said. “(Notre Dame is) a great team. We felt like we were better, and we pulled it out.”
In addition to Capital Prep and Windsor, Valley Regional/Old Lyme, a 21-20 winner over Ansonia in Class S-Large, also won its first championship.
Since the implementation of a playoff system in 1976, no season saw multiple finals decided by one point. This year there were three: In addition to the Valley/Ansonia game, Xavier defeated Shelton 28-27 in overtime in Class LL-Small and New Canaan edged Darien 21-20 in Class L-Large.
Southington blanked Norwich Free Academy 49-0 in Class LL-Large and Brookfield defeated Berlin 14-0 in Class M-Large. The last time there were multiple shutouts in championship games was 2009.