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The snow was falling just hard enough Tuesday to cover East Haven's Crisafi Field. Two workers consistently ran across the field with shovels to clear off the yard lines, but there was no way they could keep up with the flakes.
Darryn Horner loved every minute of it.
"It was amazing," said Horner, a Hillhouse of New Haven senior. "It's beautiful playing in the snow.
"I've never played in the snow before like this. There were games where there was some snow, or it was icy, but it was never like this."
Horner and the Academics looked like naturals in the snow as they downed St. Joseph of Trumbull, 34-14, in a CIAC Class M quarterfinal.
"Our coaches prepare us to play in any kind of weather," Hillhouse senior Andre Anderson said. "Rain, whatever it is, we practice in it, so it's alright."
Academics coach Tom Dyer said, "Sometimes my kids don't really like playing (in bad weather). They'll all say to me, 'Do we have to practice in the rain? Do we got to this?' We're prepared. This is football weather."
Hillhouse (9-2) will face the winner of today's game between top-seeded Wolcott and No. 8 Montville. The semifinal will be played Sunday at a site and time to be announced.
The elements weren't a problem for the No. 4 Academics in the first quarter. Instead, they put themselves in perilous positions with a bad punt on one possession and a turnover on another.
The Cadets (8-3) got the ball inside the Hillhouse 20 on both occasions, but couldn't score.
"With our schedule the way it is, we've been in the thick of it before," Dyer said. "We don't have a cake walk to the playoffs. We have tough games. We play a very competitive schedule in the Southern Connecticut Conference.
"When you do that during the regular season (play a challenging schedule), you're tested. And when you're tested and you get in situations like this, it's okay. The biggest thing is than our kids have been there before."
Anderson scored on a 4-yard run early in the second quarter. He added a 55-yard touchdown that quarter to give his team a 21-6 lead.
"We're a running team," said Anderson (15 carries, 141 yards). "So we knew this weather would be to our advantage. Their passing game would probably be a little off, so we just took this to our full advantage."
St. Joseph uses Tony Franklin's spread offense and averaged 218 passing yards a game.
Cadets' quarterback Jordan Vazzano completed 8 of 23 passes for 97 yards with three interceptions against the Academics.
"He didn't have a good day," St. Joseph coach Joe Della Vecchia said, "but they did a great job of mugging our receivers. We couldn't get off the ball. They were just pulling jerseys and everything like that and getting away with it. It was tough. He didn't make good decisions all the time today, but he got us here."
Asked if he liked playing in the snow, Della Vecchia said, "I'm not a fan of it. It certainly didn't help the timing of what we had to do. It didn't hurt us as far as the outcome, I don't think, but the whole time the receivers were a little bit slower and the balls were going a little bit farther. … I disagree with the decision to play here today. I thought it was just raining. We came up here and the field was covered in snow and it wasn't really taken care of well. It was tough for both teams."
St. Joseph managed to put together a drive near the end of the first half and was once again within striking distance of Hillhouse's end zone.
Horner stopped the drive with an interception. He also stunned the Cadets by running and zigzagging for a 97-yard touchdown with just seconds left in the half to push the Academics ahead, 28-6.
It was the first of Horner's two interceptions.
"I'm really proud of them for showing some real toughness today and battling the weather and really not making the weather and issue for them," Dyer said. "I didn't hear one of my guys come up to me and say, 'Coach, I slipped.'
"You just have to be able to roll with the punches. St. Joseph is a heck of a football team, so for us to be able to weather the storm, literally, we're very fortunate tonight."
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A quick anecdote on bad weather favoring running teams over passing teams:
Southington played host to Cheshire on Thanksgiving Day in 1998. It had poured early that morning and during most of the game. The players and coaches were up to their ankles in a gooey mud.
The popular theory prior to the game was that it would help Cheshire and hurt the Blue Knights.
The Rams, which had won six straight state championships, were a triple option team.
Southington was ahead of the state when it came to pass-first offenses. It threw a lot using the run-and-shoot out of the shotgun formation.
The popular theory couldn't have been more wrong.
Blue Knights' quarterback Scott Bard threw for nearly 300 yards in a downpour. His receivers had an advantage because it was harder than usual for Cheshire to keep up with their stops, starts, and cuts.
Bard was rarely pressured, too, because his linemen would sink in the mud, making it near impossible to budge them. The Rams' defensive linemen didn't have solid enough footing to run around them, either.
Cheshire, meanwhile, couldn't gain enough traction, or slipped, while running the ball.
Southington won, 27-17, and advanced to the Class LL playoffs. It also snapped the Rams' six-year playoff run (it took them 10 years to finally get back).
Norwich Free Academy and its fans should remember that Blue Knights team — Southington beat the Wildcats in the LL final, 54-26, their first and only championship appearance.
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The snow (or drizzle, depending on where you lived) postponed most of Tuesday's quarterfinals.
Thankfully, a few teams MANNED UP and played in the elements.
Sean Patrick Bowley of Hearst Inc. taped Darryn Horner's interception return, and blogged about other stuff.
Class LL: Staples 42, West Haven 20. Get this — the Wreckers had 386 yards and five touchdowns on their first 19 plays of the first half. Mary Albi of JRC Amalgamated, Doug Bonjour of Hearst Inc., Tom Evans of the Norwalk Hour, the suave Mike Madera of the Milford-Orange Bulletin, and Jesse Quinlan of MSG Varsity ALL reporting. And don't forget WFSB!
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Follow today's quarterfinal action at this here website, and at Twitter at #dayfb and #cthsfb.
WFSB-3 will also have extended coverage tonight at 11:15. YOU WILL WATCH.
As for Sunday's semifinals, we may be gifted with DOUBLEHEADERS as the CIAC has fewer available sites Sunday than it would've had for Saturday. Who plays where will be announced Thursday.
One thing you can bank on — West Haven High's Ken Strong Stadium will play host to a doubleheader because they're good hosts.
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Tuesday was a great day for football as the SCC/FCIAC Challenge was announced. The Challenge will have teams from both leagues play one another over the next two seasons.
"It's a tremendous opportunity for the SCC and FCIAC and I am so pleased," SCC commissioner Al Carbone told Dave Ruden of the Stamford Advocate/Hearst Inc. "It was a collaborative effort between the two leagues. We know we are the best two leagues in the state. There are a lot of risks for our schools, teams and coaches playing competitive games like this."
Connecticut has an 11-game regular season the next two years. Teams often look outside of their conferences to fill their schedules during 11-game seasons, which is where the SCC/FCIAC Challenge comes into play.
Most of the games will take place in Week 1.
New Canaan coach Lou Marinelli, who's also the head of the FCIAC football committee, told Ruden: "It's scary but it's good for high school football. You are now going to start the year with a tough common opponent against some of the best teams in the state. It is definitely a risk with the state tournament."
Here are the FCIAC v. SCC matchups for Week 1: Hand of Madison-New Canaan, Staples-Xavier of Middletown, Darien-Hillhouse, Cheshire-Ridgefield, Greenwich-West Haven, Notre Dame of West Haven-St. Joseph, Bridgeport Central-North Haven, Shelton-Trumbull, Fairfield Prep-Stamford, Danbury-Hamden, Guilford-Wilton, Fairfield Warde-Foran of Milford, Sheehan of Wallingford-Trinity Catholic of Stamford, McMahon of Norwalk-Wilbur Cross of New Haven, Fairfield Ludlowe-Lyman Hall of Wallingford, Bassick of Bridgeport-East Haven, and Harding of Bridgeport-Law of Milford.
The Naugatuck Valley League and South-West Conference had already agreed to an interleague series.
Next season is going to rock so hard.
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Tuesday was also a melancholy day for football as Bridgeport Central coach Dave Cadelina, one of the good guys, announced he was retiring after 16 years.
"I feel that it's time for me to step aside," Cadelina told Sean Bowley of Hearst Inc. "Throw Excalibur back into the lake if, you will, and open it up for somebody new to come on in."
Central football was a wreck when Cadelina took over in 1997. It hadn't had a winning season in 25 years.
The Hilltoppers went 6-5 in 1999. It played in its first FCIAC championship game five years later.
Central qualified for states twice under Cadelina. He's also been a (humorous) voter in The Day coaches' poll.
Everyone at Polecat HQ wishes Dave the best in his future endeavors (he's been coaching youth football — we expect that youth hockey, youth softball, and youth curling will follow). We also regret that we'll never again see the Hilltoppers run out of its DOOM formation.
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