By NED X. GRIFFEN
Newtown figured it would be more of a passing team this season because it returned its quarterback and a number of receivers.
The Nighthawks have found out that they can grind out yards on the ground, too.
Junior Cooper Gold ran for 222 yards and two touchdowns behind a young offensive line Wednesday as Newtown beat two-time defending South-West Conference champion Masuk of Monroe, 21-14, in the conference final.
It was the Nighthawks first SWC title since 1997. Their win moved them up three spots to seventh in The Day of New London's Top 10 state coaches poll.
"Four of the five offensive linemen were new," Newtown coach Steve George said. "Lou Fenaroli was the all-time leading rusher at Newtown, and we expected that he'd be tough to replace. We were returning (receiver) Dan Hebert and all of our other skill guys, so we figured we'd rely on our passing game a lot more.
"Going through the season, we found a gem in our new running back, Cooper Gold. He doesn't have big stats, but as the season has progressed, we've seen his rushing yardage increase."
Gold has rushed for over 1,000 yards and 16 touchdowns for the Nighthawks (10-0).
"Cooper is a very dedicated individual," George said. "He quit his other sports to concentrate on football. Coming into the season, we knew that we had a kid that we could rely on as far as speed goes, but we had to see if he could keep up with the varsity because he was really hurt a lot last year. This year, he's held together well."
Senior guard Pat Thornberg was the only holdover from last year's offensive line. He's been joined by juniors Nick Landau (tackle) and Dom Scarangella (center), and sophomores Markus Elken (guard) and Peter Manfredonia (a 6-foot-3, 280 pound tackle).
"Those guys are really experienced now and have gelled really nicely," George said.
Junior Andrew Tarantino is in his second-year at quarterback. He has completed 60.5-percent of his passes for an average of 168 yards with 23 touchdowns and three interceptions.
Sophomore Julian Dunn (6-3, 205) leads the team in receptions (30), yardage (565) and touchdowns. Senior Justin Devellis has 19 catches for 216 yards and five touchdowns.
Newtown lost one of its best receivers, Dan Hebert, to a broken arm on Nov. 9.
The Nighthawks, seeded fourth in Class LL, will play host to No. 5 Norwich Free Academy (10-0) tonight at 6:30 p.m.
George has watched film of the Wildcats and watched them in person during their 28-7 win over New London on Thanksgiving Day.
"Their running game is outstanding," George said. "(Marcus) Outlow is up there as one of the best backs in the state. He's very fast and has good hands. He's the first thing that stands out about them. The quarterback (Joey Paparelli), he finds people when they get open and runs the option well."
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Ledyard has spent most of the last two seasons running the ball as it best suit its personnel.
Colonels coach Jim Buonocore enjoys slinging the ball and, given the performance of freshman Ty Ebdon Thursday, his team may be moving more towards the pass next season.
"We've got two outstanding freshman quarterbacks," Buonocore said after a 28-27 comeback win over Fitch. "Ty Ebdon is one of them you saw today, and we have another freshman by the name of Trevor Bolduc. We're very fortunate right now that we've got two quality kids that I think, with an off-season, not only in the weight room, but also refining their skills as quarterbacks, you could see us change our thought process in terms of our personnel in the future."
Ebdon got the start Thursday when two-year starter John Rainey was benched for a team violation.
"We had to alter the game plan a little bit because obviously we were working on a plan for eight days," Buonocore said. "Now all the sudden things change, and things change fast. So we altered it (Wednesday) in practice. And then what we did (Thursday) was we did something a little bit different. We didn't come here for pregame. We actually did our pregame back home and walked through our game plan for him to slow it down a little bit and obviously not do it on an opponents field. I thought that was a big key. It settled him down a little bit. Took out all of the nerves of being on an opponent's field on Thanksgiving day in front of a couple of thousand people."
Ebdon threw a 25-yard touchdown to Chevy Perry and didn't throw any interceptions.
"What a super job," Buonocore said. "He showed a lot of courage (and) hung in there. He threw a great ball down the sidelines to Chevy Perry on the fullback wheel pass. He just showed a lot of character being able to run down the middle on quarterback trap. I'm just real, real happy for him and the team, too, because they listened. They dug down. They found a little something extra to carry the freshman through. They kept us within striking distance."
Ebdon was replaced by Rainey with the Colonels trailing 27-14 with less than seven minutes remaining in the game.
"We're going to have a young line (next season), but we're going to have some veteran skill guys," Buonocore said. "(Receiver) Joe Carter, (running back) Darnay Gray, our quarterback. All of our receivers — (Jordan) Kowalski, (Evan) August, Khary Childs, the two Thomas brothers (sophomores River and Phyllip).
"We'll have to put a line together, but our young group are doing a nice job. The freshman team went 10-0 this year, their second undefeated season in a row. Our JV team went 7-1. So the future is bright."
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Dave Ruden of the Stamford Advocate broke a real interesting story Monday — that Bridgeport's high schools have talked with the Naugatuck Valley League about membership.
Bassick, Bridgeport Central and Harding have competed in the Fairfield County Interscholastic Athletic Conference since 1993.
"The key word is preliminary," Bridgeport director of athletics Neil Kavey told Ruden. "There were no formal offers, nothing on the table. Their group of athletic directors are going to have to look it over and see if there's any merit going forward.
"If they think we're a good fit there, we would be interested in making a proposal. We're still gauging local interest here."
The three Bridgeport schools are looking at the NVL because they've struggled to compete in most sports.
"If this somehow comes to fruition, in no way are we dissatisfied with the league we're in," Kavey said. "They couldn't be nicer to us. We've had some spotted success outside of boys basketball, but it has been few and far between. From a competitive standpoint, (the NVL) would be a better fit."
It doesn't seem wise to try to gain membership in the NVL while saying that its not as good as the FCIAC, but, hey, it worked for Derby when it wanted out of the Southern Connecticut Conference.
One other thing — Bassick, Bridgeport Central and Harding would unquestionably make the NVL the state's greatest boys' basketball league. Yowzah.
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Xavier has been one of the state's dominant teams again this season, and it's done it while playing the state's toughest schedule.
The Falcons' opponents were a combined 63-37 this season for a state-best .630 winning percentage.
Xavier (9-1) beat Hillhouse of New Haven, Middletown and West Haven, all of which are 8-2 and in the playoffs. Its lone loss was to top-ranked Hand (10-0). It also only played three teams with less than six wins.
The state's top-rated schedule, according to the cold, emotionless computer rankings of Ned Freeman, were: 1. Xavier (9-1), 21.3; 2. Hand (10-0), 20.4; 3. Amity-Woodbridge (4-6), 18.8; 4. Notre Dame-West Haven (4-6), 15.1; 5. West Haven (8-2), 15; 6. Shelton (6-4); 14.3; 7. Fairfield Warde (1-9) 13.5; 8. Hamden (2-8), 13.4; 9. Wilbur Cross-New Haven (2-8) 12.8; 10. Cheshire (6-4), 12.4.
Yes, all but Warde are Southern Connecticut Conference teams. The computer model takes into account past success, and its been producing Connecticut rankings since 2003.
The SCC has won a state-best 13 state titles the last nine years, and seven of its 19 teams have won championships — Hand (four), Xavier (three), Hillhouse (two), and one each by Cheshire, Branford, Notre Dame of West Haven and Shelton.
The FCIAC has won 10 state titles and the NVL nine.
The ECC won three state titles. Only the Constitution State Conference (zero) has less.
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MORE CalPreps fun — every postseason, there's always someone kvetching that teams feasting on schedules in weaker leagues are taking away berths from teams with lesser records playing in tougher league.
That got everyone around Polecat HQ wondering what this year's playoffs would look like if computer rankings were used instead of playoff points.
Here are YOUR imaginary playoff pairings via Ned Freeman's computer model:
CLASS LL: No. 1. Xavier v. No. 8 Glastonbury (9-1); No. 2 Staples (9-0) v. No. 7 Norwich Free Academy; No. 3 Southington (9-1) v. No. 6 Newtown; No. 4 West Haven (8-2) v. No. 5 Greenwich (8-1). All eight qualified for states.
CLASS L: No. 1 Hand (10-0) v. No. 8 Fitch (8-2); No. 2 Masuk (9-1) v. No. 7 Middletown (8-2); No. 3 North Haven (7-3) v. No. 6 New Canaan (8-2); No. 4 Windsor (9-0) v. No. 5 Darien (7-3). Darien and North Haven didn't make the real playoffs. Avon (ranked 12th in the division by CalPreps) and Platt of Meriden (14th) did.
CLASS M: No. 1 Hillhouse (8-2) v. No. 8 Montville (8-2); No. 2 Wolcott (9-1) v. No. 7 Ledyard (7-3); No. 3 St. Joseph (8-2) v. No. 6 Weston (8-2); No. 4 New London (7-3) v. No. 5 Barlow (7-3). Berlin (9-1) was ranked ninth. Barlow, Ledyard and New London didn't qualify in reality. Berlin (ninth), Ellington/Somers (14th) and Bullard-Havens of Bridgeport (21st) did.
CLASS S: No. 1 Ansonia (11-0) v. No. 8 Stonington (8-2); No. 2 Woodland (7-2) v. No. 7 Derby (6-4); No. 3 North Branford (10-0) v. No. 6 Oxford (8-2); and No. 4 Trinity Catholic (8-2) v. No. 5 Rocky Hill (9-1). Derby, Oxford and Stonington didn't make the real playoffs. Hyde of New Haven (10th), unbeaten Hartford Capital/Classical/Achievement (12th) and Prince Tech of Hartford (21st) qualified in reality.
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We encourage you to follow all of tonight's quarterfinal splendor here at this here Day website, or Twitter at #DayFB or #cthsfb.
Here are Saturday's semifinal sites so that YOU can plan ahead — Bunnell of Stratford, Cheshire, Central Connecticut State, Falcon Field in Meriden, Middletown High, Trumbull High, and Ken Strong Stadium in West Haven.
All sites except West Haven will have just one game at 2 p.m.
The always welcoming Jon Capone, Chris Everone, and all of the Westies will play host to games at 2 and 7 p.m.
Who plays where will be decided Wednesday.
The state finals are at Rentschler Field for the third straight year. One will be played Friday, Dec. 7 at 7 p.m. The rest will be played the next day at 10:30 a.m., 2 and 5:30 p.m.
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Brian and Kyle, The NVL Blog: "State quarterfinal preview"
Bob Birge, Norwalk Hour: "Rams ready for another postseason run"
Sean Patrick Bowley of Hearst Inc. previewed each of the four divisions — Class LL, Class L, Class M, and Class S.
Doug Bonjour, Hearst Inc.: "Staples' offensive line key to Wreckers' success"
Jim Bransfield, Middletown Press: "Middletown opens playoff campaign tomorrow with Masuk", and, "Xavier's road to 3-peat starts with Greenwich"
Bryant Carpenter, Meriden Record-Journal: "In Class LL Football, it's Southington/Glastonbury: The Sequel"
Ray Curren, Post-Chronicle: "Jalon White, fellow seniors leave indelible mark on North Haven program", and, "Final SCC power rankings"
Rich DePreta, Hearst Inc.: "Trinity Catholic embracing Class S football playoff challenge"
Mike DiMauro, TEAM DAY: "Home is where the Falcs are"
Tom Evans, Norwalk Hour: "No. 1 Staples gets tough challenge in Class LL quarterfinals Tuesday"
David Fierro, Greenwich Time: "Tough draw for GHS in quarterfinals"
Vickie Fulkerson, TEAM DAY: "For Montville's Jeremiah Crowley, an overnight success"
Steve Geoghegan, Norwalk Hour: "Weston ready for state tourney challenge"
Nick Greene, Hartford Courant: "Southington Hopes To Have Its Balanced Attack In Playoffs Against Glastonbury Tuesday"
Mark Jaffee, Waterbury Republican-American: (takes deep breath) "Ansonia seeking its 26th straight victory", "Blue Knights expect a close rematch", "Wolcott begins state title quest", and, "Woodland taking nothing for granted". Busy man, that Mark.
Carl Josephson, New Britain Herald: "Familiar foe on tap for Southington football", and, "Southington seniors out to defend home turf"
Matt McDonough, Hartford Courant: "Prince Tech Looks To Rahkeem Jordan"
Chris McLaughlin, New Britain Herald: "Berlin hopes to tame Tigers in quarterfinal showdown", and, "Berlin excited about team's playoff experience"
John Pettit, Meriden Record-Journal: "Platt faces uphill battle at No. 1 Hand"
Mike Pucci, New Haven Register: "Hillhouse hoping to duplicate 2010 run to Class M title", and previews for Class LL, Class L, Class M, and Class S.
Dave Ruden, Stamford Advocate: "New Canaan using loss to Darien as state playoff motivation"
Joe Ryan, Norwalk Hour: "Trinty is a primed and ready small school prepared to face the best of the small schools"
Ken Shabby, TEAM DAY: "Not just your average Joe"
Tom Yantz, Hartford Courant: "Another Highsmith Leads Middletown Football In Playoff Game Tuesday"
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The Day of New London's Top 10 state coaches poll
First-place votes in parentheses, record through Saturday, points tabulated on a 30-28- 26-24-22-20-18-16-14-12-11-10-9-8-7 basis, and last week's ranking:
1. Hand-Madison (9) 10-0 380 1
KNOW THIS: The defending CIAC Class L champions have won a school-record 23 successive games. NEXT: Class L quarterfinals vs. Platt-Meriden, today, 6:30 p.m.
2. Staples (2) 9-0 352 3
KNOW THIS: Joey Zelkowitz ran for an FCIAC championship record 317 yards with three touchdowns as the Wreckers ran down then unbeaten Greenwich Thursday, 48-30. NEXT: Class LL quarterfinals vs. West Haven, today, 6:30 p.m.
3. Ansonia (2) 11-0 350 2
KNOW THIS: The Chargers are tied with New Britain for the most wins in state history (742). They'll have that record to themselves after tonight. NEXT: Class S quarterfinals vs. Prince Tech-Hartford, today, 6:30 p.m.
4. Windsor 9-0 296 4
KNOW THIS: The Warriors wasted a 17-point lead in last season's Class L semifinals and lost on a last-second field goal to New Canaan, 27-24. Consider this season their screaming for vengeance tour. NEXT: Class L quarterfinals vs. Fitch, today, 6:30 p.m.
5. Xavier 9-1 277 6
KNOW THIS: Chew on this — the Falcons concluded the regular season by bludgeoning West Haven and Middletown by a combined score of 83-21. And those two teams are 8-2 and in the playoffs. Zoinks. NEXT: Class LL quarterfinals vs. Greenwich (Palmer Field), today, 6:30 p.m.
6. Southington 10-0 248 8
KNOW THIS: The Blue Knights' reward for an unbeaten season is a rematch with Glastonbury. The two played one of the best games of the regular season with Southington winning in the closing seconds, 28-21. NEXT: Class LL quarterfinals vs. Glastonbury, today, 6:30 p.m.
7. Newtown 10-0 232 10
KNOW THIS: If you believe in the power of The Day state coaches poll. .... NEXT: Class LL quarterfinals vs. Norwich Free Academy, today, 6:30 p.m.
8. Norwich Free Academy 10-0 183 9
KNOW THIS: ….then NFA at Newtown will be one of the best quarterfinals. NEXT: Class LL quarterfinals at Newtown, today, 6:30 p.m.
T9. Glastonbury 9-1 154 NR
KNOW THIS: We're sure that the Tomahawks are happy to get another shot at Southington. NEXT: Class LL quarterfinals at Southington, today, 6:30 p.m.
T9. Greenwich 8-1 154 7
KNOW THIS: Greenwich vs. Xavier is a really nasty quarterfinal. NEXT: Class LL quarterfinals at Xavier (Palmer Field), today, 6:30 p.m.
Dropped out: Masuk-Monroe (5).
Also receiving votes: Hillhouse-New Haven (8-2), 138 points; Masuk (9-1), 105; West Haven (8-2), 76; Wolcott (9-1), 74; Middletown (8-2), 58; Avon (10-0), 55; St. Joseph-Trumbull (8-2), 48; Berlin (9-1), 45; North Branford (10-0), 37; New Canaan (8-2), 31; Hartford Capital/Classical/Achievement (10-0), 15; Fitch (8-2), 7.
The following coaches voted: Tom Brockett, Ansonia; Jim Buonocore, Ledyard; Craig Bruno, Bunnell; Dave Cadelina, Bridgeport Central; Steve Filippone, Hand; Rob Fleeting, Windsor; Tanner Grove, Montville; Jude Kelly, St. Paul; Tim King, Valley Regional; Sean Marinan, Xavier; John Murphy, Masuk; Marce Petroccio, Staples; Bob Zito, Maloney.
The New Haven Register Top 10 media poll with first-place votes in parentheses: 1. Hand (18); 2. Staples (8); 3. Ansonia; 4. Xavier; 5. Windsor; 6. Southington; 7. Newtown; 8. Greenwich; 9. NFA; and, 10. Glastonbury.
Ned Freeman's cold, emotionless computer rankings for CalPreps.com and MaxPreps.com: 1. Hand; 2. Xavier; 3. Ansonia; 4. Staples; 5. Southington; 6. West Haven; 7. Greenwich; 8. Newtown; 9. Hillhouse; and, 10. Masuk.
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A low-ranking employee at Polecat HQ was graciously invited by WFSB-3's John Holt and Joe Zone to discuss the playoffs on Friday's 11 o'clock news. He's not that bright, but he's easy on the eyes. We hope Rosario Dawson was watching.
The Class LL preview is HERE.
The Class L preview is HERE.
The Class M preview is HERE.
The Class S preview is HERE.
Mike at laxworm.com was also nice enough to have said employee on his Sunday podcast, "The Show". They talked playoffs along with regular guests/affable chaps Sean Patrick Bowley of Hearst Inc. and Kyle Brennan of the Waterbury Republican-American, the Citizen's News, the Bloom Picayune, WATR, and Grand Ole Opry (choreographer).
Windsor coach/former Southern Connecticut State Chase Hall resident Rob Fleeting also appeared on the podcast. He was the only sensible one.
You may recoil at the podcast HERE.
Enjoy the playoffs. Get to as many games as possible because you'll miss it when it's gone.
Bring it on, snow. We ain't afraid of you. Besides snow is FOOTBALL WEATHER.
Vaya con dios....