East Hartford - It was a late October afternoon and Xavier coach Sean Marinan was imploring his team to channel their inner-bully.
The Falcons were getting embarrassed by Hillhouse on Oct. 26. They trailed by 28 points early in the fourth quarter. This kind of thing did not happen to Xavier — two-time Class LL champion Xavier
"You're a big guy - play like a big guy," Marinan said to his many behemoths. "Go out there and be a bully. Push him around. Get physical.
"Let him know where we are."
The Falcons stormed back with 29 unanswered points in that fourth quarter against the Class M finalist. They won, 50-49, tying a state record for the largest comeback.
Xavier has been on a path of destruction ever since, leveling five teams in succession on its way back to the Class LL final.
The third-seeded Falcons will try to win a CIAC record third-straight LL title Friday when they play unbeaten Norwich Free Academy, the No. 5 seed, at Rentschler Field in East Hartford (7:05 p.m.).
"We learned that if we kept playing that we could overcome a lot of adversity," Marinan said. "I think we learned that's why we condition, all those things that pay off, and not give up. Not quit."
The Falcons trailed 48-21 with more than 11 minutes left in the game.
DeAngelo Berry ran for a 1-yard touchdown, followed by a two-point conversion run, to give Xavier the lead with 51 seconds remaining.
"That was an emotional win," Falcons senior quarterback Tim Boyle said. "I was tearing up a little bit, not because we almost lost, but that my team was able to do that and came together and gelled as a unit and came back down 28 points with 11 minutes to go in the fourth quarter. That's crazy.
"We found that 'it' factor and we became a family that day. We haven't looked back since."
Xavier had lost at home two weeks before the Hillhouse game to Class L finalist Hand, 40-20. Marinan referenced that game at halftime of the Hillhouse game.
"We knew that emptiness, that regret that we felt after Hand," said Boyle, who's given a verbal commitment to Boston College.
"Coach talked to us (about that). 'I want you to remember that feeling after the Hand game.' I don't want to ever feel that again."
"Just play physical, fundamental football," Marinan said of his speech to his team. "We've gotten a lot more consistent in our level of play and how hard we're playing."
The Falcons (11-1), ranked fifth in The Day's Top 10 state coaches' poll, have thumped five winning teams in a row. That included wins over Class LL quarterfinalist West Haven (42-7), Class L quarterfinalist Middletown (41-14), ninth-ranked Greenwich (55-14), and Glastonbury (30-13), which was tied with the latter for ninth.
Xavier has only played three losing teams. Its opponents have a combined record of 85-43, and CalPreps.com rates its schedule as the state's toughest.
NFA (12-0) is ranked eighth in The Day's poll.
"They're always well-coached," Hillhouse coach Tom Dyer said of Xavier. "They always have a very strong offensive line. Their line is very physical. They're able to protect the quarterback and really run the ball when they want to, and defensively they bring a lot of heat. They're very good at it. They're very aggressive."