WHERE/WHEN – McDougall Stadium, Trumbull High School, 3 p.m.
TICKETS – $10 Everyone
ON THE AIR/WEB – NFHS Network (Subscription required)
SEEDS/RECORDS – No. 1 Newtown 12-0; No. 3 Darien 11-1
COACHES – Newtown: Bobby Pattison, 3rd year (30-4); Darien: Rob Trifone, 13th year (130-25)
PROGRAM ROSTERS | LIVE STATS (TBA)
1978-L lost to Wilton 17-7; 1980-L lost to Rippowam 12-7; 1981-MM def. Branford 20-7; 1990-MM def. Ledyard 14-6 (OT); 1991-MM lost to Ledyard 33-26; 1992-MM def. Windham 18-0.
1979-L def. Bristol Central 27-16; 1987-M lost to East Catholic 14-0; 1989-MM lost to Hand 34-28; 1991-M def. Berlin 35-22; 1992-SS def. Stratford 30-0; 1996-S def. Bloomfield 21-16; 1997-S lost to Bloomfield 39-21; 1998-M lost to Seymour 14-6; 1999-M lost to Weaver 69-26; 2008-MM lost to New Canaan 26-7; 2013-L lost to New Canaan 44-12; 2014-L-Large lost to New Canaan 21-20; 2015-LL def. Shelton 39-7; 2016-LL def. Ridgefield 28-7; 2017-LL def. Greenwich 31-22.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Sr. DL James Knox (6-4, 245); Sr. OL/DL Kyle Good (6-4, 275); LB/FB Jared Dunn (6-3, 220); Sr. RB/DB Miles Ricks; Sr. QB Brandon Lombardo; Jr. QB Jack Street; Sr. WR/DB Riley Ward.
Sr. OLB Sam Wilson; Sr. QB Peter Graham; Sr. WR/DB Jackson Peters; Sr. RB Will Kirby; Sr. DE Will Bothwell (6-0, 197); Soph. DE David Evanchick (5-10, 192); Sr. WR/DB Michael Minicus
Which defense wins this championship?
Newtown’s, which earned its seventh shutout this season and second in a row in Monday’s semifinal win over Simsbury? Or Darien’s, which stifled Southington’s passing game on both ends Monday night in the second half?
One of them will, two teams that have spent the season in the high end-to-middle of the GameTimeCT top 10 poll. Newtown finished the regular season third in the poll after going unbeaten. Darien dropped to sixth after a loss to New Canaan on Thanksgiving but rebounded with playoff wins over Greenwich (the second this season) and Southington.
If a state final needs any more juice, this is a rematch of last year’s Class LL quarterfinals. Darien had won three championships in a row. Newtown ended its bid for four swiftly. There are a lot of different faces on the field, but a lot of those new Blue Wave faces remember.
That 2018 win got Newtown to a semifinal for the fourth time in eight years, and for the fourth time, it failed to make the championship game. This year’s team got over that hump, ending a 27-year finals drought for the Nighthawks.
Newtown has been tested. The Nighthawks played four games outside the SWC under the state’s scheduling alliance, one against FCIAC neighbor Danbury, and three against SCC Tier I teams, Fairfield Prep, West Haven and Shelton. The Nighthawks won them all, beginning with an emotional 21-14 battle in Fairfield that came down to the last play of Week 2.
The Shelton win, 34-24 on the road, cost them running back/defensive back Miles Ricks for five games with a hand injury. Others picked up the slack before he returned for the playoffs. The Nighthawks have used both senior Brandon Lombardo and junior Jack Street at quarterback, often rotating series by series, throwing to targets like Riley Ward, Jack Zingaro, Jeffrey Garrity and C.J. Cuomo, with lineman Kyle Good offering protection.
Defensive lineman James Knox leads a pass rush that amassed 10 sacks in the quarterfinals against Norwich Free Academy. Jared Dunn, youngest of four brothers to play for the Nighthawks, is a tackle-for-loss factory (and an old-school fullback as well). Zingaro picked off two passes in the semifinal win. In the four alliance games, the Nighthawks allowed 66 points. In their eight non-alliance games, they’ve allowed 12.
None of those opponents were quite Darien, though.
Linebacker Sam Wilson, like Knox named one of the state’s top 26 players by the state’s coaches, is the heart of a defense that made big stops when necessary, hanging on to beat Greenwich and Danbury in back-to-back regular-season games (though the Greenwich game ended on an inadvertent fourth-down spike). Against Southington on Monday, Will Bothwell and David Evanchick led a pass rush while Jackson Peters and company covered Blue Knights receivers, bottling up any chance at a comeback.
The Blue Wave reloaded on offense, too, with Peter Graham taking over at quarterback and having an all-state season, one of a few players stepping into bigger roles and contributing to this run. Running back Will Kirby had a huge clock-eating second half Monday night.
Darien’s kicking game has had ups and downs. Meanwhile, senior kicker Devin O’Connell has been near-perfect for Newtown, 49-for-51 on PATs and 6-for-6 on field goals, all within 27 yards.
SPB’S PICK – Newtown
PETE’S PICK – Newtown
FORNO’S PICK – Darien
CALPREPS PROJECTION – Darien 19-17