MIDDLETOWN >> Last weekend’s local games were billed as the biggest of the season. This weekend’s games are bigger.
Xavier is playing what amounts to a do-or-die playoff game at Palmer Field, Middletown puts its unbeaten season on the line at dangerous New London, and Wesleyan goes for its first undefeated season since 1969.
In other games, powerful Valley Regional visits Cromwell, Coginchaug looks to boost its playoff chances, and Vinal Tech/East Hampton aims to climb over the .500 mark.
Shelton (6-2) vs. Xavier (6-2), Palmer Field, Middletown, Tonight at 7 p.m.
The top eight teams in the CIAC playoff point standings make the postseason playoffs. Shelton is No. 8, Xavier is No. 9. Need any more information?
“It’s a typical Shelton team,” said Xavier coach Sean Marinan. “They haven’t changed much, except they are even bigger up front than usual. Their big running back [Jason Thompson] is very good; he reminds me a lot of Mike Mastroianni [Falcons star back from the 2010 and 2011 title years].”
Marinan said that Shelton prefers to run the ball, but that quarterback Mark Piccirillo can also throw and one of his favorite targets is big tight end Kyle Drost (6-3, 220).
Xavier is healthy, Marinan reported, but will have to play without Nate Gonzalez, a two-way starter, because he was ejected from the Hand game and CIAC rules require a player to sit the next game.
“It’s fair to say Hand and Shelton are about equal,” said Marinan. Hand beat Shelton 44-41 in a shootout two weeks ago.
“When we eliminate our mental mistakes, like we did against Hand, we’re a pretty good football team,” said Marinan.
The pick: Xavier
Middletown (8-0) vs. New London (5-2), Canamella Field, New London, Tonight at 6:30 p.m.
Middletown coach Sal Morello is under no illusions. “This game is a big challenge for us,” he said. “They are fighting for a playoff spot and our kids have to understand we have to match their intensity.”
New London started slowly, but has won four in a row to give itself a shot for the playoffs. Its only losses are to Capital Prep (8-0) and Ledyard (7-1). But the Whalers, No. 11 in Class L, have to win tonight to have a chance.
“New London is fast, very fast,” said Morello. “It’s a big play team and we have to take the big play away. They have two or three guys who are faster than our fastest kids. They have players who can go the distance and we have to stop that by playing solid defense.”
Middletown will play without center Jeff Woodcock, a key player on the Blue Dragons’ offensive line. “But that’s why it’s called a team,” said Morello. “Guys have to step up.”
Morello said he thought the game might well be like the Farmington game, a game that wasn’t decided until the fourth quarter.
The game will be televised live on the Internet at www.theday.com.
The pick: Middletown
Wesleyan (7-0) vs. Trinity (5-2), Jesse/Miller Field, Trinity College, Hartford, Saturday at noon
When Wesleyan takes the field Saturday against Trinity, it will be like looking in the mirror. “They’re a very good team,” said Wesleyan coach Mike Whalen. “They have great team speed on defense, they are very physical and they have two very good running backs. In a lot of ways, we’re pretty similar.”
Whalen said that the Bantams made the decision to go with a freshman quarterback, Sonny Puzzo, and Whalen said he is a “dual threat guy who can make big plays.”
Trinity’s running backs, both of whom ran for more than 100 yards in the 17-16 loss to Amherst – the Trinity kicker missed the tying extra point – are Ben Crick and Evan Bunker. Wesleyan answers with LaDarius Drew and Kyle Gibson. Cardinals quarterback, Jesse Warren, has been spectacular and hasn’t thrown an interception this season.
Trinity hasn’t lost on its home field since 2002.
“But I told the kids that we have only lost once there two years ago,” said Whalen. “It’s 50 other teams who have lost. If we can do what we need to do, if we can play well and execute as we can, then we have a chance to win.”
Last year Trinity beat Wesleyan in overtime. Expect a similar game this time.
The pick: Wesleyan
Valley Regional/Old Lyme (7-0) vs. Cromwell (4-3), Pierson Park, Cromwell, Tonight at 6:30 p.m.
This matches up teams going in different directions. Valley/OL is ranked No. 1 in the Class M playoff ratings and the Panthers have lost two games in a row after a 4-1 start. Cromwell quarterback Mavric Pelletier has the ability to make things interesting, but Valley is loaded.
The pick: Valley Regional
Vinal Tech/East Hampton (4-4) vs. Cheney Tech (6-2), Cheney Tech, Manchester Tonight at 6:30 p.m.
Vinal Tech/East Hampton has had a solid season, but in Cheney Tech the Bellhawks are playing one of the Constitution State Conference’s better clubs. Coach Joe Cefaratti’s team has shown character this season and has won every game it was supposed to win. Maybe done better than some thought.
The pick: Cheney Tech
Granby Memorial (3-4) vs. Coginchaug (5-2), Wally Camp Complex, Durham, Saturday at 1 p.m.
Coginchaug is ranked No. 11 in Class S and can make a move toward the Elite Eight with a win over Granby, a Class M school. The Blue Devils had an unexpected week off when Housatonic Regional forfeited last week’s scheduled game.
The pick: Coginchaug
Haddam-Killingworth (0-8) vs. Avon (5-3), H-K High School, Saturday at 1 p.m.
Avon gave Valley Regional a tough game before losing 21-18. H-K is young and having one of those building for the future years.
The pick: Avon
Last week, 6-1. Season’s record, 45-12.