WEST HAVEN >> Ed McCarthy is more concerned with getting West Haven prepared to face Hamden tonight than breaking the state record for career wins as a head coach.
McCarthy, halfway through his 31st year as the Westies’ football coach, stands one victory shy of No. 322. He is currently tied with former Ledyard coach Bill Mignault with 321 career wins.
West Haven (5-1), ranked No. 7 in the Register Top 10 Poll, visits Hamden (3-3) at 7 p.m.
“I don’t give that much thought, if any thought,” McCarthy said about the record. “We mentioned it (Tuesday), just to mention that it’s a record game and (Hamden doesn’t) want to be the foils; they don’t want to be the team that gets the record (set against). They’re going to play real hard; they always plays us hard. We’re always everybody’s ‘A’ game, and we’re certainly going to get their ‘A’ game.”
McCarthy previously spent 12 seasons at St. Joseph, where he won 92 games and three state titles (1980-1982). McCarthy took over at West Haven in 1983 and has won four state titles (1986, 1987, 1989, 2002) with the school.
Even if Hamden delays history, it’s likely McCarthy will reach the milestone this season, even with a daunting schedule remaining.
“If and when it happens, it’ll be something I’ll be really proud of down the line, when it’s time to call it quits and put my feet up,” McCarthy said. “I’ll look back and think, quite frankly, that it’s a big achievement.”
Setting the record would be meaningful not only for McCarthy, but also for the athletes that wear the West Haven uniform with pride.
“I think it would be a great honor, not just for him but for everybody who’s a part of the team this year,” West Haven senior captain Jesse Ridgway said. “It would be a great honor for me to help him get it, and I would be happy to see him accomplish that.”
Said senior captain Ervin Philips: “It would be very special. He’s a great guy and a great coach. He coaches us up a lot, teaches us a lot, so it would be good to get this record for him.”
With the return of Philips, one of the state’s top running backs, Ridgeway, a relentless defender, and a slew of other talented playmakers, West Haven had high expectations entering the season.
The Westies, though, suffered a heartbreaking loss to Greenwich in the season opener, a game in which West Haven led in the third quarter before thunderstorms postponed the contest. When play resumed three days later, Greenwich scored with 31 seconds remaining to pull off a dramatic comeback victory, winning 22-21.
West Haven turned the ball over twice on goal-to-go situations and Greenwich returned a missed West Haven field goal for a touchdown.
“I’m not smart enough to figure out how we lost the Greenwich game,” McCarthy quipped.
West Haven has won five straight since, including a 35-34 thriller in overtime against Xavier last week that allowed McCarthy to tie the record.
“We just wanted to work hard and learn from (the loss) so we wouldn’t have to feel that feeling ever again,” Philips said. “That’s what we’re just trying to do.”
While West Haven has a potent offense that is averaging 40 points per game, the Westies’ defense is allowing 24 points a contest.
With a schedule that includes Southern Connecticut Conference powers Hand, Shelton and Fairfield Prep in the coming weeks, McCarthy knows his defense needs to improve if West Haven has hopes of qualifying for the Class LL playoffs.
“We’re playing teams that are pretty good,” McCarthy said. “Foran threw the ball well on us, Xavier did a little bit of both — mostly running — and Guilford, they do a great job with the option. We’re hoping we can improve. It’s difficult in our league because everyone seems to have either a good passing game or an outstanding running game.
“We’re challenged. We’re challenged on both sides of the ball every week, but I’d say particularly on the defensive side. If we really want to achieve anything worthwhile this year, we’re going to have to get better on defense.”
Top 5 winningest connecticut high school football coaches
Coach, Schools, Years: Wins
- Bill Mignault, Ledyard/Waterford 1959-63, 1966-2007: 321
- Ed McCarthy, West Haven/St. Joseph, 1971-present: 321
- Lou Marinelli, New Canaan/Yorktown (N.Y.)/Mamaroneck (N.Y.) 1976, 1979-present: 289
- Jerry McDougall, Trumbull/Central Catholic: 1961-1997: 265
- Rich Albonizio, Greenwich/Trinity Catholic/Port Chester (N.Y.), 1979-present: 254
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