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Saturday's CIAC Class L final will be pretty difficult for New Canaan coach Lou Marinelli and Steve Filippone, his counterpart at Hand of Madison.
New Canaan and the Tigers present challenges for both coaches. They're among the state's best coaches. And they're the closest of friends.
Saturday's game will be the fourth playoff game between the two.
"I'm 0-3," Filippone said. "Maybe the fourth's the charm, I don't know.
"Honestly, neither one of us is looking forward to it. He's in my mind the icon for high school coaches, and I can honestly say I love him. He's like a brother to me."
Marinelli said, "He really is a motivation for some of the things were doing now. And if you look at the two teams, they're very similar scheme-wise. He's just a great guy. If my son didn't play for me, I'd want him to play for a guy like Steve."
Marinelli has won a state-record eight CIAC titles, tying him with Jack Cochran. Filippone has coached five state championship teams.
Marinelli said the friendship evolved when the two played for the 1993 Class M title (the Rams won, 35-14).
"I was so impressed with Xs and Os that he was doing on the field that I actually started to use a lot of his stuff," Marinelli said. "I got to talking to him, and he answered every question and gave me so much.
"Then we started talking. We started going to clinics and conventions together. I got to know him pretty well. We'd go out socially."
The two have influenced one another offensively. Filippone started using the spread and taught it to Marinelli.
Marinelli began using the "Tony Franklin System," an offensive system that's used nationally. It helped New Canaan rally for a 34-30 win over Hand in the 2007 MM final. The Rams trailed by 17 points after three quarters, but went on to score 21 unanswered points in the fourth.
Filippone then adopted the Franklin system.
"I know when he beats us, he feels miserable," Filippone said. "And I know if we're fortunate for once to beat him, I'll feel lousy. I'll feel great about the championship, but feel lousy about beating my best friend. It'll be a tremendous game, no matter what."
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Staples of Westport has used an unusual recipe for success this season — it's started mostly juniors and sophomores with the senior class encouraging them on.
The formula has worked for the Wreckers. They won the FCIAC title and play defending champion Xavier of Middletown Saturday for the Class LL championship.
"I love my seniors," Staples coach Marce Petroccio said. "Way back in their freshman year, they had a bunch of kids that wound up jumping ship. This group of seniors, although not of them play, they've been very, very good about having the young kids step in and do what they've done for this program.
"They just want to win. They really do."
The Wreckers have also been fearless. They've trailed five times this year, including an early 14-point deficit in last Saturday's semifinal against Newtown.
Staples scored 30 answered points and won, 44-20.
"Nothing really fazes them," Petroccio said. "It just says a lot about our kids having tremendous character. I don't think they believe they can lose.
"I'm just proud of the job the seniors have done and the job every kid has done on this team."
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Holy Cross of Waterbury was looking for something to energize it early in the year.
The Crusaders found their catalyst in their Sept. 30 game against Torrington. They trailed by 12 points at halftime after a first-half that was delayed by over two hours due to lightning.
Holy Cross scored on its first play of the second half and won, 19-12.
The Crusaders play Cromwell Friday night for the Class S title.
"We had a rough preseason," Holy Cross coach Mike Giampetruzzi. "We moved some kids into different spots. We were looking for a spark.
"That game kind of said, 'Hey, we're for real. We can play.'"
Brenden Lytton ran for 212 yards and two touchdowns to give the Red Raiders a 12-0 lead.
"We were saying (at halftime), 'It could've been a lot worse,'" Giampetruzzi said. "We challenged the kids at halftime. We said, 'You've got an opportunity to do something. Let's start playing because we had a few mistakes in the game early defensively which cost us. Let's do something. Let's get better today and get the win. And they did that."
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Lou Marinelli is a great coach. He's an even better storyteller.
Current New Britain coach and former New England Patriot Tebucky Jones was the speaker at Tuesday's CIAC football championship luncheon. Marinelli told a story about Jones' senior year at New Britain. The Hurricanes played Greenwich in that season for the 1992 Class LL title.
"(Greenwich coach) Mike Ornato was a very stubborn guy," Marinelli said. "He ran what he ran. He didn't care. He didn't need to watch film. He was going to do what he was going to do.
"A few of the coaches around said (to him), 'You know, this kid Tebucky Jones is good.'
"(Ornato would) say, 'How good could he be?'
"Somebody else comes to him and says, 'Coach, we can get some film on him, you think we should...'
"'He says, 'How good can he possibly be? Really? Seriously? How good could he be? We play in the FCIAC. It's supposed to be a good league. We don't need the film.'
"(Someone) else comes and says, 'You know...
"'Look, I'm telling you — no more,' (Ornato said). We're going to beat them anyways.'"
Jones ran 28 times for 225 yards to lead New Britain to a 31-15 win. Jones ran for touchdowns of 20 and 60 yards, and scored on a 41-yard interception return and a 74-yard kickoff return.
Three of Jones' touchdowns were in the first half.
"Mike Ornato is standing on the sidelines (during that final)," Marinelli said. "His assistants, who tried to convince him to prepare for this Tebucky Jones, said, 'So, coach, what do you think of Tebucky Jones?"
"(Ornato said), 'I didn't know he was going to be that good.'"
To be fair to Ornato, he was one of the most successful coaches in state high school football history. He led the Cardinals from 1972-96 and had a record of 205-55-6, including four state titles.
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It could be a record-breaking weekend for Ansonia's Arkeel Newsome and Cromwell's Anthony Morales.
Newsome needs to run for 198 yards against Ledyard Saturday to set Connecticut's single-season rushing record. Ansonia's Alex Thomas ran for a state-record 3,596 yards in 2007.
Newsome has already set state-records this year for single-season touchdowns (59) and points (370).
Morales could set two records Friday. He's thrown for 42 touchdowns and needs one more for the state-record. He's tied with New Canaan's Matt Milano, who threw for 42 last year.
Morales has also thrown for 3,365 yards. Southington's Matt Kelleher threw for a state-record 3,558 in 2005.
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All four state title games will be televised on tape delay. MSG Network will broadcast the Class LL and L championships. CPTV will broadcast Class M and S. YOU can listen to the games live, however, in several ways. The first is the smooth, dulcet tones of George DeMaio at WELI-960. You can also listen to broadcasts via Sporting News Connecticut, ciacsports.com, and ciacmobile.com.
The number of state titles for each of this weekend's participants — Ansonia (state-record 16), Hand (nine), New Canaan (eight), Ledyard (four), Staples (three), Xavier (two), and Cromwell and Holy Cross (one each).
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Polecat HQ will provide you with game previews prior to Friday's Class S final. Promise.
Vaya con dios.
East Lyme returned just five players with any varsity experience and lost its first four games. It's made gradual improvement and downed Woodstock Academy last Friday, 42-7, its second-straight victory.