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It's not easy to grouse about an unbeaten team, yet Middletown coach Sal Morello has found things to obsess over after a few wins this season.
The Blue Dragons' defense is one thing Morello can't complain about. They've allowed 73 points, the fourth lowest total in the state.
"The defense has definitely been key," Morello said. "The best thing bout the defense is we're older up front. The front seven is back from last year with the exception of one player. We play a 3-4, and we use five or six defensive linemen and rotate in some linebackers. We have some depth."
Middletown and its defense will play at New London this Friday in a game that will be streamed live at theday.com (6:15 p.m.)
The Blue Dragons (8-0) are ranked third in The Day of New London's Top 10 state coaches poll.
Senior Sam Rivera (6-foot, 280 pounds) plays nose tackle for Middletown while seniors RaJahn Johnson and twins Anthony and David Bednarz (both are 6-7, and 275 and 250 pounds respectively) rotate at defensive end.
"Sam Rivera has been excellent)," Morello said. "Isaiah Thompkins is probably one of the better inside linebackers in the state. … Cody Carrillo made a huge impact on defense (last) Friday night (at outside linebacker)."
Morello was concerned about the secondary because everyone graduated. Cornerbacks Dario Highsmith and Jacob Homer, and safety London Highsmith, have eased his concerns.
"The secondary has come around, making it a complete defense," Morello said. "Dario and Jacob have done a good job. (London) is back at safety. They've made a huge difference."
The defense played exceptionally well last Friday against previously unbeaten Farmington. They allowed 204 yards, including just 55 in the second half, in a 21-7 win.
Middletown is ranked second in the CIAC Class L playoff rankings, and its schedule was somewhat back loaded with games against Farmington, New London and perennial Class L contender Windsor (Nov. 27). Its last three games are all on the road, too.
"It's a good feeling to be 8-0 knowing that we still have plenty to work on," Morello said. "We're into the grind of our schedule."
• • • •
Eric Stirtan is one tough dude.
Stirtan, an East Lyme senior, was hurting a bit early in the fourth quarter of Friday's 49-21 loss to NFA. It prompted head coach Rudy Bagos to call a timeout.
Stirtan sat out a play, returned and blocked for a teammate, and then had successive carries of 29 and 2 yards, the latter for a touchdown.
"He didn't look well," Bagos said. "This kid's future is more important than the game.
"He's just a good running back; a tough running back. It's hard to take him down with one person."
Stirtan finished with 83 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries.
"I'm glad that people like NFA and Middletown get to see how good he really is," Bagos said. "I hope he gets recognized at the end of the year, and I think he will."
• • • •
There's no place too far away in a state as small as Connecticut, although Winsted isn't exactly centrally located.
It's worth taking a trip yon northwest way to check out Van Why Field, home of the Gilbert/Northwestern Regional co-op. The field is located at Gilbert, which is perched high atop a hill. You'll get your aerobic workout in for the day should you not be able to park up at the school.
Van Why has two sets of goal posts, but teams can only kick on the end facing another hill. The other goal post is a few yards away from a cliff, so anything kicked on that end would go hurtling down approximately 4.8 miles. Both Avon and G/NR had to walk the length of the field for extra points after one of them scored on the cliff end.
There are a set of stands behind the "good" goal posts, a neat touch that Polecat employees can't remember seeing anywhere other than Palmer Field in Middletown. Fans also sit on the hill. One Avon coach stood on the hill during Saturday's game to get an "All-22" view of the game.
There are lots and lots of trees, which must be awesome just when the leaves turn.
The other cool touch is the press box. It looks like a giant birdhouse, perched atop the concession stands, and has a second floor featuring a balcony.
"Mr. Wrestling" Gerry deSimas — the mastermind behind The Collinsville Press and co-editor of the Connecticut High School State Record Book — was kind enough to take photos for Polecat Worldwide on Saturday. They're posted atop the blog. Just click on the arrows underneath the Top 10 to see them.
Oh, yeah — G/NR won a crazy game, 34-33. It had a huge lead early in the fourth quarter, however the Falcons scored 22 unanswered points in the final 7:09.
Avon had a third-and-goal with no timeouts left when star running back Jimmy Murphy was stopped at the goal line. The officials stopped the clock with six seconds left because Murphy's helmet had come off.
The Falcons hurried to the line of scrimmage, and quarterback Noah Hahn rolled all the way towards the right line and dove towards the end zone. The ball just hit the pylon for a touchdown with no time left.
Avon opted to go for the win. The Yellowjackets' Seth Dayton intercepted a pass to give his team the win.
You can read accounts of the game by deSimas, Timothy W. Gaffney of the Waterbury Republican-American, or Pete Papuga of JRC Amalgmated.
Last thing — G/NR, we love your wonderfully gaudy bright yellow jerseys with blue numbers and white piping. We do, however, implore you to change your helmets. We're pretty sure that you used to have yellow numbers on your blue helmets a la Alabama. Please bring them back to properly complete the perfect look.
We can't make any promises, but should you change your helmets, the staff at Polecat Worldwide will attempt to pay for them by mixing and selling illegal moonshine.
• • • •
It's not often that a No. 1 team keeps winning big and has a team leapfrog it.
It happened this week as New Canaan edged out Ansonia for the top spot in The Day of New London Top 10 state coaches' poll.
The Rams savaged then No. 3 St. Joseph last Friday, 62-21. They picked up two first-place votes to give them seven out of a possible 13. One was from a coach who had been voting Ansonia. The other was from a coach who previously voted St. Joseph No. 1.
The Chargers (8-0) received the other six first-place votes. Oddly enough, they won their 36th-straight game last Thursday, tying the state's second-longest winning streak.
The other team that had a 36-game winning streak — Ansonia (1975-78). Cheshire holds the state-record (49 games, 1992-96).
New Canaan (8-0) also overtook the Chargers in the New Haven Register media poll due to a remarkable swing of 14 votes.
The Rams received 19 of 29 first-place votes. Ansonia received the other 10. It received 24 of 29 last week.
The change at the top caused the expected kerfuffle within football circles.
Ansonia and its fans aren't happy it lost the ranking without losing. It's understandable, especially since it's happened to the program before.
Some contend that a voter cannot drop a No. 1 team if it hasn't lost.
Others believe that New Canaan has the better resume and is deserving of the ranking; that one has the right to change their mind.
The Polecat Worldwide staff wonders what kind of RANCOR goes on in states where football is exalted and causes psychosis.
• • • •
Voters had another tough decision to make this week — how to vote the Southern Connecticut Conference threesome of Hand, North Haven and Xavier.
North Haven beat then No. 1 Xavier in Week 2 (42-28). Hand beat North Haven in Week 4 (21-6). Xavier beat Hand last Friday (28-14).
So, yeah, try figuring out the criteria for voting one over the others. North Haven is 7-1. The other two are 6-2, but played tougher schedules.
Voters already had another circle of strife to deal with from the Central Connecticut Conference — Southington beat Glastonbury in Week 1 (16-9). Glastonbury beat Hall in Week 2 (35-28). Hall beat Southington in Week 6 (49-37). Those three haven't lost to anyone else.
• • • •
The New Haven Register Top 10 media poll: 1. New Canaan (19 first-place votes); 2. Ansonia (10); 3. Middletown; 4. Newtown; 5. Glastonbury; 6. West Haven; 7. St. Joseph; 8. Norwich Free Academy; 9. North Haven (7-1); and, 10. Southington (6-1). Platt was 11th.
• • • •
Ned Freeman's cold, calculating computer rankings for CalPreps.com and MaxPreps.com: 1. New Canaan; 2. Newtown; 3. St. Joseph; 4. West Haven; 5. Ansonia; 6. Glastonbury; 7. Xavier; 8. Southington; 9. Middletown; and, 10. Norwich Free Academy. Platt was rated 21st.
The computer rated Hand's schedule the state's toughest. The Tigers' opponents are a combined 49-22, and they've beaten the likes of Fairfield Prep (35-27), Shelton (44-41) and North Haven (21-6). Their losses are to New Canaan (50-21) and Xavier (28-14).
Winless Sacred Heart has had the toughest scheduled based on wins and losses. Its opponents are a combined 48-16.
• • • •
Behold, the ballot Polecat Worldwide submitted to Pooch Diggity Dogg, comptroller of the New Haven Register Top 10 media poll (notes added where necessary):
1. New Canaan: We've seen both in person. Both wowed us, but we've had a nagging feeling since watching the Rams in Week 1 that we needed to change our vote. We didn't because we needed exceptional reasons to justify it to ourselves. So we decided weeks ago that we wouldn't make a change until the St. Joseph game, no matter how many teams New Canaan savaged along the way. We never thought it would beat the Cadets by 41 points.
2. Ansonia: We didn't make our decision lightly. Trust us.
3. St. Joseph: Yeah, it lost. …. to the state's No. 1 team. We believe that the only way it won't win Class M is if several players from St. Joseph (of Montvale, N.J.) suddenly transfer to another division contender.
7. West Haven
9. North Haven: It's not easy to decide….
10. Xavier: ….which of these three teams….
11. Hand: ….gets voted over the others.
15. Barlow: One coach said that QB Jack Shaban and the Falcons run the triple option better than any team he's seen in a long time.
Just missed — Fairfield Prep (6-2). We're annoyed we couldn't squeeze the Jesuits onto the ballot as we believe it's worthy. It lost on game-winning 42-yard touchdown pass to St. Joseph (36-34). It's other loss was at Hand (35-27). It's a quality team, and it'll have its chance to make the ballot as it closes the regular season with home dates against Xavier (Nov. 16) and West Haven (Thanksgrabbing).
• • • •
Immaculate recently suspended its varsity season due to a lack of numbers. The Housatonic Regional/Wamogo co-op forfeited its past two games for that reason, too.
It's with that in mind that we pass this along — Monroe Catholic of Fairbanks competed for the Alaska School Activities Association's small school championship on Oct. 19.
The Rams played Nikiski (of Nikiski — DUH) in the final. They beat the latter during the regular season, 37-27.
Monroe played the state final with a roster of FOURTEEN players.
The Bulldogs had to come-from-behind to beat Monroe, 36-28. They scored 21 unanswered points in the final 15 minutes.
You can check out the game HERE if you don't believe us.
Those Alaskans are some tough folks. Course you'd know that if you'd ever met Kelsey Griffin.
• • • •
Nolan Aurelia, Bunnell: Threw for 326 yards and three touchdowns in last Friday's 38-23 loss to Pomperaug.
Stephen Barmore, Southington: Completed 17 of 26 passes for 280 yards and four touchdowns in last Friday's 56-20 rout of Newington.
Bristol Eastern defense: Had four interceptions in last Friday's 21-14 win over Northwest Catholic.
Harry Calmar, Stonington: Ran 14 times for 164 yards and four touchdowns to help lead the Bears past Bacon Academy last Friday, 47-20.
Nick Cascione, New Canaan: Nick Cascione was 20 of 26 for 379 yards and six touchdowns and ran for a score during last Friday's 62-21 rout of St. Joseph.
Joe Carbone and Andrew Meoli, Xavier: The duo combined on 58 carries for 349 yards and three touchdowns to lead the Falcons past Hand last Friday, 28-14. Carbone ran 27 times for 206 yards and a touchdown and threw a 64-yard score. Meoli had 31 carries for 143 yards and two touchdowns.
Ryan Coppola and Evan Skoparantzos, Westhill: Coppola threw two touchdown passes to Skoparantzos in the final 2 minutes, 30 seconds of Saturday's 23-22 win over Danbury. The two hooked up for the game-winner with 18.6 seconds remaining.
Jason Davis, Enfield: Had 23 carries for 202 yards and two touchdowns and completed 10 of 15 passes for 121 yards and a score as the Raiders beat Cromwell last Friday, 20-7.
Robert Drysdale, Brookfield: Ran for 176 yards and five touchdowns in a 49-20 win against Weston on Saturday.
Ty Ebdon and JoJo Shumaker, Ledyard: Threw for 351 yards and five touchdowns as the Colonels thrashed Montville last Friday, 55-13. Shumaker ran for 203 yards and two scores.
Jeremy Gannon and Brandon Gauthier, Sheehan: Completed 14 of 23 passes for 320 yards and three touchdowns and ran for a touchdown in last Friday's 42-7 win over Fairfield Ludlowe. Gauthier added catches carries for 253 yards and two scores.
Jose Garcia, New London: Scored on an 81-yard kickoff return, a 14-yard fumble return, caught a 14-yard touchdown and intercepted a ball in the end zone as New London clubbed Fitch last Friday, 49-20.
Duane Gary and Ervin Philips, West Haven: Gary ran for 78 yards and two touchdowns and threw for 137 yards and two scores as the Blue Devils torched Wilbur Cross last Friday, 50-7. Philips caught both touchdowns and added 59 yards and two touchdowns.
Dario Highsmith, Middletown: Ran for 288 yards and a touchdown as the Blue Dragons delivered Farmington its first loss of the season, 21-7, last Friday.
Travon Holder, Cheney Tech: Had 24 carries for 289 yards and two touchdowns to pace the Beavers past Abbott Tech on Friday, 28-20.
Jake Kasuba, Foran: Completed 14 of 15 passes for 288 yards and three touchdowns and ran for another as the Lions crushed East Haven last Friday, 61-21.
P.J. Kokkoros, Masuk: Had 213 all-purpose yards and three touchdowns as the Panthers trounced Stratford last Friday, 42-13.
Austin Longi, Greenwich: Had eight carries for 89 yards and three touchdowns and scored on a 73-yard kickoff return in last Friday's 61-24 win over Bridgeport Central.
Logan Marchi, St. Paul: Completed 16 of 24 passes for 288 yards with five touchdowns and an interception and added 11 carries for 104 yards and two scores in last Thursday's 56-41 win over Sacred Heart. The two teams combined for 723 yards in the first half.
Jack Massie, Staples: Ran for a 29-yard touchdown and threw two touchdowns, including a 29-yarder to Will Johnson with 25 seconds left in regulation to force overtime in last Friday's 48-41 win over Trumbull. The Wreckers began that final drive at their own 28-yard line with 1 minute, 24 seconds left in regulation.
Marc Cesare, Trumbull: Ran 37 times for 246 yards and six touchdowns.
Andrew McBride and Crème Watford, Platt: McBride completed 14 of 20 passes for 262 yards and five touchdowns, including four to Watford, as the Panthers crushed Berlin last Friday, 44-6. Watford had nine catches for 190 yards.
Joe Nault and David Knapp, Guilford: Nault ran for 212 yards and five touchdowns and threw touchdown passes of 46 and 25 yards as Guilford blitzed Law last Friday, 63-28. Knapp added 24 carries for 203 yards and two scores.
Marcus Outlow, NFA: Ran 16 times for 135 yards and five touchdowns, caught a 34-yard pass, and had an interception as the Wildcats downed East Lyme last Friday, 49-21.
Mark Piccirillo, Shelton: Completed 14 of 18 passes for 235 yards and two touchdowns and ran for two scores as the Gaels bounced Hamden last Friday, 32-7.
Jack Risley and Joe Santiago, Windham: The two hooked up for two touchdown passes in 22 seconds during last Saturday's 55-22 win over Killingly. Risley completed 6 of 7 passes for 118 yards and three touchdowns and ran six times for 91 yards and two scores. Santiago had 15 carries for 86 yards and caught a third touchdown from Risley.
Joseph Salemme, Seymour: Ran 21 times for 208 yards and four touchdowns as the Wildcats routed Crosby last Friday, 62-26. He scored three of his touchdowns during Seymour's 35-point second quarter.
Jack Shaban, Barlow: Ran 12 times for 161 yards and four touchdowns during last Friday's 43-12 win over Oxford.
Kentrell Snider, McMahon: Ran for three touchdowns and scored on an 83-yard kickoff return in last Friday's 41-9 win over Fairfield Ludlowe.
Colton Smith, Fairfield Prep: Ran nine times for 222 yards and three touchdowns and threw for 137 yards and a touchdown as the Jesuits downed Amity, 46-33.
Dave Ryan, Amity: Completed 40 of 56 passes for 431 yards and four touchdowns in the Prep loss.
Brett Sparaco, Old Saybrook/Westbrook: Ran for 203 yards and two touchdowns to help the Rams beat Sports Medical/University last Saturday, 33-26.
Jake Ward, Morgan: Had 32 carries for 330 yards and four touchdowns as Morgan beat North Branford last Friday, 33-21.
Trai Weaver, Holy Cross: Had three carries for 78 yards and three touchdowns and had seven catches for 96 yards and a score as the Crusaders stunned unbeaten Woodland last Friday, 37-18.
Chris Young, Rocky Hill: Had 10 carries for 209 yards and four touchdowns as the Terriers blanked Bristol Central last Friday, 35-0.
• • • •
Norwich Bulletin: Area notebook.
Bryant Carpenter, Meriden Record-Journal: Notebook.
Ray Curran, JRC Amalgamated: Inside the SCC.
Mike DiMauro, TEAM DAY: Marandas a winning combination at New London.
Tom Evans, Norwalk Hour: Area notebook.
Mark Jaffee, Waterbury Republican-American: Housatonic fighting hard to keep season alive.
Kevin D. Roberts, Bristol Press: Special teams were a big key for Bristol Eastern in win over Northwest Catholic.
Dave Ruden, The Ruden Report: FCIAC notes.
Sean Patrick Starfish, JRC Amalgamated: League playoff picture.
Matt Straub, New Britain Herald: Southington's offense full of stars.
Some dude, TEAM DAY: Highsmith a member of Middletown's royal family.
• • • •
Thanks for reading. More later.
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.