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New London — There are eight state championships between the schools and a reverence for local sports in cities that share similar demographics. Now for something else New London and Middletown share:
They are playing their best football now into the chill of November.
Maybe a few weeks ago, this game would have been considered a mismatch, what with New London at 1-2 and Middletown solidly in the top 10 all season. Maybe not anymore. The Whalers have won four straight and have the full attention of the third-ranked Blue Dragons.
"This is a real test," Middletown coach Sal Morello said. "This will be a great test for our entire defense because of their speed. They're the fastest. I thought the Farmington and Hartford Public skill kids were quick, but they have a couple of kids that scare me. Give them a crease and give them some room and they can go. They're faster than any kids on our defense."
New London quarterback Danny Maranda has thrown for 1,170 yards and 17 touchdowns, while running back Orrin Parke has 841 yards rushing and 10 touchdowns. Receiver/kick returner Jose Garcia, of whom Morello made special mention, has 25 catches for 467 yards and nine scores. Garcia also has 250 kick return yards. Teammate Niko Ramos has 377 receiving yards and five touchdowns.
"Jose is an extremely special player," New London coach Duane Maranda said. "He's a difference-maker."
The game also has significant playoff implications for the Whalers. A loss likely means the Whalers would finish the season playing for the Eastern Connecticut Conference Large Division title, but no playoff berth. A win over the Blue Dragons would give the Whalers 180 playoff points.
Middletown (8-0) is on its way in Class L, handing Farmington its first loss last week, likely the Blue Dragons' biggest win of the season.
Quarterback Dario Highsmith, behind a beefy line, has rushed for 21 touchdowns and 1,876 yards to lead Middletown, also throwing for 500 yards and eight touchdowns. Receiver Jacob Homar has 420 yards receiving, 20 catches for five touchdown receptions and linebacker Isiah Thomkins is the leading tackler with 75 tackles in seven games.
"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."