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The Montville High School football team was preparing for their CIAC Class M quarterfinal at Wolcott Wednesday and were getting an earful from some fans.
"They were going on about stuff that this wasn't a tech school league," Indians coach Tanner Grove said. "I don't know what they were getting at. Maybe they were at our St. Bernard/Norwich Tech game (on Thanksgiving Eve). Maybe they thought we played tech schools.
"I think you tend to play with a bit of a chip on your shoulder (when you hear that)."
The Eastern Connecticut Conference knows it doesn't have a great football reputation. It's heard time-and-time again how it doesn't stack up to the likes of the Fairfield County Interscholastic Athletic Conference or the Southern Connecticut Conference.
There were many leagues that had multiple quarterfinal winners, but the ECC arguably wowed the state as much as any other conference. Montville (9-2) was seeded eighth and knocked off the top-seeded Eagles, 32-14.
Unbeaten NFA also went on the road and thrashed fellow unbeaten Newtown, 63-21, in Class LL. Newtown was the South-West Conference champion.
"I know that we have disparity," Grove said of the ECC season. "The other conferences that I've seen in the state this year, they've gone through the same challenges. The FCIAC, for instance, has two-or-three teams up top that are battling for state titles and making a run, and then there are a couple of teams that weren't as good."
NFA coach Jemal Davis said, "We tend to, as fans of the game, try to measure each year collectively. Realistically, I don't think you can do that. Every year brings something new. So while the ECC may not have fared well in the championship games over the years, the fact is that there have been ECC teams at least making it to the semis or the finals."
The SCC has won 15 state titles over the last 10 years, more than any other league. Those titles have been won by eight of its 19 teams. The FCIAC (13 titles) and NVL (10) are second and third over those 10 years.
Only the Constitution State Conference has had less success than the ECC during that time period. The 15-team ECC has won three state titles with a state worst 3-13 record in the finals.
Davis and Grove both thought that better scheduling would help both ECC teams and the conference's reputation.
"I think that we need to maybe stop concerning ourselves with the top two-or-three teams and the bottom two-or-three teams, and take a look at that core group in the middle," Grove said. "They're the ones that have to play a competitive schedule with a good balance. You can't look for the easy way out when given chances to play top-caliber teams. ... You don't want to burn yourself with seven state-playoff caliber teams because you might finish 5-5, but the middle teams need to get competitive games."
SCC coaches always harp on how their league schedule helps them in the postseason. The conference is broken up into two divisions. Teams play several games within their own division and two-or-three crossovers.
Davis believes two divisions would benefit the ECC. He noted how his team, which finished 10-0, didn't get enough CIAC playoff points to get a home game. They opened the season with St. Bernard/Norwich Tech, which didn't win a game. That only gave NFA 100 playoff points. It could've earned many more had it played Montville or Windham (7-3) instead, but the three-division format makes it difficult.
"Within our conference, we can put together a schedule that prepares teams," Davis said. "If the argument is it's going to affect your chances of getting to the playoffs, go back and look at Class M this year. You had teams with multiple losses get in. It's always like that. If you're going to get into the playoffs, I think you have to earn your way into the playoffs, and with a schedule that will prepare you."
"You get (good competition) with two divisions. You have a common understanding that you have to have some scheduling relief for teams that need it. And with two divisions, you can do it. .... I think any kid at any program that's competitive, you want to see where you are within your backyard first. 'Hey, are we the best team here?'"