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Another football season is upon us. It's that magical time of year where millions everywhere are brimming with optimism and delight about their favorite team, unless you root for Savannah State or the Oakland Raiders.
The 2012 high school season started Wednesday night, and you require knowledge.
You're aware, good reader, that we here at Polecat HQ love you unconditionally and are your football provider. It's with that in mind that we gift you with a quick rundown of teams that you need to know about this season.
We're going to use the New Haven Register's preseason media poll as a template. What you see below is the order in which the press ranked the teams.
(NOTE: The Day's Top 10 state coaches poll debuts next week – we like to get one week of games in before we make assumptions. The Top 10 will be announced every week on WFSB-3's six o'clock news.)
Don't forget to print this and either stick it on your refrigerator, fold it in your pocket, or staple it to your forehead.
1. Xavier-Middletown (13-0, Class LL champion): The two-time, two-time defending Class LL kings probably won't maul opponents as badly as last season, but they're going to maul teams nonetheless. Quarterback Tim Boyle starts his third season and told Boston College he'll be hanging at Chestnut Hill next fall (settle down, DiMauro). The offensive line has gone from jumbo size to ogre-sized. Linebacker Max Tylki will provide stability to a defense that graduated nine starters. Don't make plans for the night of Oct. 12 – Class L champ Hand of Madison plays at Xavier that evening. WHEE-EEEE.
2. Staples-Westport (11-1, Class LL runner-up): The Wreckers started a lot of juniors and sophomores last season and didn't lose until the state final so, yeah, be afraid FCIAC and potential Class LL playoff opponents. Senior tailbacks Nick Kelly and Joe Zelkowitz are back. Junior quarterback Jack Massie (1,617 passing yards, 14 TDs, seven rushing TDs) is back. Seniors James Frusciante (receiver-defensive back) and Peter Hoets (defensive end) are back. Four of the five offensive lineman weigh a combined 1,120 pounds. You get the drift.
3. Hand-Madison (13-0, Class L champion): The Tigers graduated 16 starters, but it ain't going to be easy to wrest the Class L title away from them. UConn has secured the services of fullback-linebacker-terror Matt Walsh. Defensive end Peter Gerson is headed to Yale to do more than earn a really boss degree. Steve Filippone told the New Haven Register that those two are the best defensive duo he's ever coached, which is kind of like Hugh Hefner singling out a girlfriend as the prettiest he's ever dated. The offense lost more than the defense, but this staff proved long ago that they're as good as anyone in the state at coaching up their players.
4. Ansonia (14-0, Class S champion): Abandon all hope, opposing defenders – junior tailback Arkeel Newsome returns after zig-zagging for a state-record 3,762 yards (or 2.1 miles) and 58 touchdowns last season. We'd be concerned about the Chargers breaking in a new offensive line if it weren't for the fact that five of the state's top 16 single-season rushing performances were accomplished under this coaching staff. They know how to teach run blocking. The defense lost some key contributors and likely won't be as vicious as last season's, but it's still restaurant quality. Depth and quarterback are of concern. Senior Tyler Lester was supposed to be start at quarterback, but broke his leg during the summer.
5. Windsor (11-1, Class L semifinalist): It blew a 17-point lead in last December's state semis and lost to New Canaan, 27-24. Many of those players are back and will be screaming for vengeance. Quinn Fleeting threw for 2,802 yards and 30 touchdowns last season and ran for 522 yards and four TDs. Receiver Ryheime Moore (36 catches, 911 yards, nine TDS) runs a 4.5 40-yard dash. Defensive end Cole Ormsby (6-foot-4, 240 pounds) is going to UMass. His brother, Lance (6-2, 210) will be a Central Connecticut Blue Devil. The Warriors are going to tear up a lot of Central Connecticut Conference II teams on their way back to the L playoffs.
6. Greenwich (8-2): The Cardinals had some rotten luck last Saturday when senior quarterback Liam O'Neil fractured his right index finger while being the holder on point-after attempts. He's expected to miss five-to-six weeks, according to the Greenwich Time's Dave Fierro. The Cardinals also open the season Friday at fellow league contender Ridgefield. That's the bad news for Greenwich. The good news for Greenwich is that it's, um, Greenwich. It returns 37 seniors and even more talent, namely seniors Taylor Olmstead (tight end-free safety), Alex McMurray (running back-corner back), Joe Kelly (tight end) and Alex McGee (defensive end).
7. Hillhouse-New Haven (7-3): See Harold Cooper fly. Bye-bye. Cooper starts his third season at tailback and is one of the state's best (he averaged 13.7 yards per carry last season and 24 touchdowns). He and quarterback Je'Vaughn Moore were also key contributors to the 2010 Class M championship team. The offensive line gets rebuilt as it graduated four starters. The defensive line got whacked, too. The Academics will be favored in seven of their 10 games. They'll likely need eight wins to qualify for the Class M playoffs, and that won't be easy. They play host to both Hand (Sept. 21) and Xavier (Oct. 26), and their annual Thanksgrabbing Day game against city-rival Wilbur Cross is always a teeth-grinder.
8. Ledyard (11-2, Class M runner-up): Introducing the first of two Class M favorites. The entire offensive line is back. The defensive line is experienced, too. Quarterback John Rainey should be more polished in his second year. He threw for 683 yards and 11 touchdowns and ran for another 468 yards and 11 touchdowns. The Colonels need to break in new running backs, receivers and a tight end, but the talent is there.
9. Berlin (10-2, Class M semifinalist): Here's the other M favorite. The Redcoats started a lot of youngsters last season and got as far as the Class M semifinals before they got in Ansonia's way. Linemen Mitch Blanchette and Chris Meucci are going to open a lot of holes on offense and close a lot of them on defense. Junior Mitchell Williams returns at quarterback, and senior running back Justin Gombotz scored 12 touchdowns. Berlin's schedule poses few obstacles, so it likely won't be pushed until states.
10. New Canaan (11-2, Class L runner-up): It's young. It's inexperienced. And it's still New Canaan. Lou Marinelli has coached a state-record eight CIAC championship teams. The Rams have arguably the state's finest purveyors of the ridiculously popular Tony Franklin spread offense the last several years, too. Not just any team gets to participate in the National Select 7-on-7 passing tournament, which New Canaan did in July. The schedule also works to its advantage as St. Joseph of Trumbull (Oct. 20) and Darien (Thanksgrabbing) look like the only threats. FCIAC opponents and fans may not know who these Ram players are now, but they'll be familiar with them soon enough.
Masuk-Monroe (11-1, Class L semifinalist): Okay, how did the Panthers not crack the Top 10? They've been one of the state's most consistent winners and have played in seven state finals since 1998, winning three. So go ahead and think Masuk is vulnerable after graduating Casey Cochran and four other All-State picks. Pay no attention to receiver-running back-defensive back Thomas Milone (1,082 receiver yards, 22 TDs), an All-State selection who runs the 40 in 4.5 seconds. Ignore the fact that the defensive line should have more bulk than last season. Yes, we're big fans of snark. The smart money is that Masuk plays Newton for the South-West Conference title on Thanksgrabbing Eve. Again.
West Haven (7-3): The Westies haven't gotten the same kind of attention that Southern Connecticut Conference D-I superpowers Xavier and Hand have received. Beware the Blue Devils, though. Junior halfback Ervin Phillips starts his third season and has the skills to be an all-stater. He's joined in the backfield by seniors Bobby Sampson (fullback-defensive back) and Eddy Williams (fullback) and junior Duane Gray (halfback). Quarterback Javon Taylor (816 passing yards) transferred in from Wilbur Cross. West Haven plays road games at Hand (Oct. 19) and Xavier (Nov. 9), so it'll have chances to stake its claim as the SCC's best. It could also make the LL playoffs if its win at least one of those two games as they'll be favored in its other eight contests.
Southington (6-4): The Blue Knights have some buzz around them this fall. Junior Stephen Barmore starts his third season at quarterback. Offensive linemen Travis Clark and Travis Daly are three-year starters, too. The defense is getting an overhaul due to graduation losses. The schedule features slugfests with New Britain (Sept. 21), Conard of West Hartford (Oct. 6), Glastonbury (Oct. 19), Hall of West Hartford (Oct. 26) and the always wacky Thanksgrabbing Day Apple Bowl game against Cheshire.
Darien (8-2): Our FCIAC darkhorse. There's one big problem, though – it plays host to Staples on Oct. 27. The Blue Wave return several starters, including linebacker Andrew Maley (team-high 74 tackles) and tackles Matthew D'Andrea (64 tackles) and Will Lochtefeld (team-high seven sacks). QB Henry Baldwin (1,884 yards, 27 touchdowns) and running backs Christian Bognar and Peter Gesualdi are all back, too. Darien missed the playoffs the past two seasons after losing to Gold Coast rival New Canaan on Thanksgrabbing Day. This year's meeting should be another make-or-break game for the Blue Wave.
North Branford (9-2, Class S quarterfinalist): One of the top Class S favorites not located in The Valley. The Purple and Black are going to score in bunches this season. They have a triple threat in quarterback Brandan Basil (2,113 yards, 31 touchdowns) and tailbacks Dale Hausman (802 yards, 12 touchdowns) and Joe DeLucia (436 rushing yards, 9 TDs, 522 receiving yards, 12 TDs). The Thunderbirds need to rebuild their offensive line in order for that crew to tear it up. The Pequot Football Conference Sassacus Division title likely gets settled on Oct. 27 when North Branford heads to Cromwell.
Newtown (9-3, Class LL semifinalist): On paper, the Nighthawks are the team to beat in the South-West Conference. They return the most proven talent, such as senior receiver-safety Dan Herbert (1,120 all-purpose yards, nine TDs) and junior quarterback Andrew Tarantino (1,506 yards, 12 TDs). They lack a proven running back, though, as bruiser Lou Fenaroli (1,886 yards, 29 touchdowns) graduated. The Nighthawks were blitzed by Masuk in last year's SWC final. As mentioned before, odds are that they'll butt heads with Masuk for the title again this November.
Glastonbury (8-3, Class LL quarterfinalist): Quarterback Ben Berey gets to throw the ball to rangy targets in Josh Hill (6-2, 220) and Grant Lewis (6-3, 210). Lucky him. The Tomahawks are blessed with their usual speed and defenders. The offensive line needs a little work. Glastonbury is also used to this playoff thing, having qualified for LL the last five seasons.
Holy Cross-Waterbury (12-2, Class S champion): The defending champions aren't getting a lot of love headed into this season. They should. Adrian Brown ran for a team-high 1,042 yards and 12 touchdowns last fall. And in two years, folks may be calling sophomore Isaiah Wright (receiver-defensive back) the state's top football recruit. Holy Cross' biggest issue is likely Ansonia. The Chargers beat it in both the regular season and Naugatuck Valley League final last year. They've also moved down to Class S this season. The Crusaders play host to Ansonia on Oct. 5.
Shelton (8-2): The Gaels missed last season's LL tournament by 30 playoff points. They plan on making another run at it, but have some new starters at key positions. Among them are juniors Connor Wallon (quarterback) and running back Jagger Kalagian. Shelton's playoff fortunes will likely come down to back-to-back games against Xavier (Nov. 2) and at Hand (Nov. 9).
Cromwell (10-3, Class S runner-up): Last season, the Panthers were the first team in state history to have a 3,000-yard passer (Anthony Morales) and a 2,000-yard rusher (Derrick Villard (2,125 yards, 27 TDs). Morales graduated, but Villard is back. He'll get a lot of work as the offensive line ought to be pretty good. This is a Pequot Sassacus and Class S contender.
New London (9-2, Class L quarterfinalist): Meet the Eastern Connecticut Conference's x-factor. The Whalers graduated much of last season's Class L quarterfinalist and have a new coach in former Bacon Academy coach Duane Maranda. That written, when was the last time New London lacked talent? It has speed to burn, and hopes to scorch opponents with a fast-break spread offense.
North Haven (9-2, Class L quarterfinalist): It was ravaged by graduation and may fall short of another playoff berth. Senior tailback Jalon White (1,197 yards, 13 TDs) is quite good and will be the new focal point of the offense. One bonus about the Indians – they use the single wing. Man, it's cool to watch.
Farmington (9-1): The Indians quietly went 9-1 last year and just missed states. Most of the band is back, including running back-linebacker Ivan Guadalupe. Farmington's playoff hopes will be decided near the end of the season when it play back-to-back games at Windsor (Oct. 26) and vs. Middletown (Nov. 2).
Norwich Free Academy (7-3): Here's an interesting team. All but one offensive lineman was a junior last season. Junior tailback Marcus Outlow starts his third season and has the potential to be one of the state's best backs. Much is riding on Joey Paparelli as he moves from receiver to quarterback. We'll learn more about the Wildcats when they play host to Fitch (Sept. 29) and at Ledyard (Oct. 5) in back-to-back weeks.
Bunnell-Stratford (8-2): Bryan Castelot passed for 2,497 yards and 29 touchdowns last season, and head coach Craig Bruno has never met an offensive play he didn't like. The Bulldogs graduated their top receivers and rusher, so they may not be as dangerous as last season. They never have problems finding players, though.
St. Joseph-Trumbull (4-6): This might be the team that no one in Class M wants to see qualify for states. The Cadets started an entirely new team last season and took their lumps. That team is back this season and looking for revenge. Their season will get off to a tough start as they play at Staples Friday. They also have games at Darien (Sept. 29), vs. New Canaan (Oct. 20) and at Trumbull on Thanksgrabbing Eve. Reckon that an 8-2 record would get St. Joes to states, and they'll have been tested more than most of the other Class M participants.
Hall-West Hartford (9-2, Class LL quarterfinalist): The Warriors are a bit of a mystery. They graduated their top players on both offense and defense, yet have good size up front. Quarterback Zach Dobbins didn't start last season, but he got in enough work to throw for 492 yards and five touchdowns.
Notre Dame-West Haven (8-3, Class L quarterfinalist): The Green Knights received votes on their reputation. They graduated 19 starters and are likely a year away from being a threat (word is that they have a talented junior class). Notre Dame has the misfortune of opening up against Xavier for the third straight year, too.
Ridgefield (8-3, Class LL quarterfinalist): The Tigers have spent the past few years winning lots of games, but haven't had much luck against the FCIAC's heavyweights. They've got a lot working in their favor this season. They have talented veterans such as quarterback Connor Rowe (1,974 yards, 18 TDs), running back Sam Gravitte (856 yards, 13 touchdowns) and two-way lineman Andrew Barton. The schedule is also very favorable – Greenwich is the only perennial league titan on their schedule. They meet Friday at Tiger Hollow. Ridgefield, at worst, should finish 9-1.
Brookfield (5-5): The Bobcats are coming off a rare disappointing season and look to rebound behind senior quarterback Boeing Brown (1,332 yards, 10 TDs). They have a five-week stretch this season where they''ll play Bunnell (Sept. 21), Newtown (Oct. 5) and Masuk (Oct. 19). That ain't easy.
Torrington (7-3): It has the potential to win the NVL title and make states. Course it had that potential last season. One of its losses was to Ansonia, which was understandable. Its other losses weren't. It wasted a 12-point halftime lead against Holy Cross and lost, 19-12. It ended the season with a mystifying 18-13 defeat at the hands of Watertown (4-6). Several players are back on offense, namely running back Joan Toribio (14 TDs) and quarterback Phil Bresson. The defense returns seven starters. Torrington will have its mettle tested right away as it plays host to Ansonia Friday.
Norwalk (9-2, Class LL semifinalist): The Bears were among the state's best surprises last season. They likely won't repeat that success as they were clubberered by graduation.
Trumbull (2-7): Man, the Eagles fell apart last season. They played in the 2010 LL final, and then went into an absolute shame spiral last fall. It won't be easy climbing out of that hole this fall as Trumbull was cursed with arguably the FCIAC's toughest schedule – it plays Greenwich, Darien, Staples, New Canaan and St. Joseph. Eep.
Wolcott (8-4, Class M semifinalist): The Eagles were another of the state's top surprises last season. They had a new coach (Jason Pace) and only three veterans, yet earned their first playoff berth and got to the semis. Wolcott has a lot of players back, including seniors Jim Nelson (guard-linebacker), Mike Nicol (quarterback-safety) and Chris Petillo (receiver-cornerback). An added bonus is that Holy Cross running back-linebacker Joe Lynch transferred over. Wolcott's schedule is worrisome as it plays Torrington (Sept. 21), and then closes the season with games against Watertown (Oct. 26), Ansonia (Nov. 2), Woodland of Beacon Falls (Nov. 9) and Holy Cross (Thanksgrabbing).
Cheshire (5-5): The Rams had a tumultuous offseason as head coach Mark Ecke was suspended and later resigned due to an alleged incident at a JV lacrosse game involving his son. He'd been the head coach since 1995 and coached the team to four state championships. Offensive coordinator Don Drust was named interim coach for this season. Cheshire also graduated a lot of starters.
New Britain (6-4): The Golden Hurricanes began showing signs of life during Tebucky Jones' first year as head coach. They blanked Hall (19-0) and gave both Berlin and Southington fits. The schedule makers did them no favors as they open up at Glastonbury (Friday) and play host to Southington next Friday.
Hyde-New Haven (4-6): The Howling Wolves had a rare losing season. Chances are that won't repeat itself this fall. They have a veteran line, and the defense shouldn't give up an average of 24 points a game.
Middletown (6-4): The Blue Dragons should continue to improve in their third season under Sal Morello, who built Cromwell from the ground-up and made them into a state championship program. Middletown has 18 seniors and a veteran defense. The offense is fast and will look to run, run, run. Four games highlight the Blue Dragons' schedule – Hall (Oct. 12), Windsor (Oct. 19), Farmington (Nov. 2) and Xavier (Thanksgrabbing).
Montville (6-4): The Indians started hot last season with four straight wins. Then they lost their next four. That shouldn't happen this fall. Linemen Jake Basilica (6-4, 320) starts his fourth season and a bear to handle. Literally. End Will Thompson and linebacker Isaiah Holloway increase the defense's nasty factor. Quarterback Nick Clemons has one season under his belt, too. Montville starts the season today at an improved Watertown, and plays at New London next Friday.
Pomperaug-Southbury (8-2): The Panthers graduated a lot of their offense, and they have little time to rebuild as they begin the season with back-to-back games at Masuk and Newtown. That's not how an SWC team wants to start their season.
Woodland (6-4): Junior Tanner Kingsley passed for 1,553 yards and 17 touchdowns last season and has his favorite target back – senior receiver-defensive back Anthony Scirpo (41 catches, 581 yards, eight TDs). The offensive line is young and inexperienced, and the defense graduated some of their top tacklers. Its Class S playoff hopes hinge on games at Ansonia (Sept. 21) and a late four-game stretch against Torrington (Oct. 19), Naugatuck (Oct. 26), Holy Cross (Nov. 2) and Wolcott (Oct. 9).
And now you're prepared. Go forth and enjoy.
FYI – if you'd like to keep up with all the action every weekend, then go to Twitter at #cthsfb.
Enjoy the season.
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.