Killingly proudly carrying ECC banner in state football playoffs

The Eastern Connecticut Conference does wrestling as well as any league in the state. It’s had a strong reputation in baseball and has enjoyed a good run of late in girls’ basketball and softball.

Football has been a problem for the ECC at the state level for several years. It’s been nine years since the league won a CIAC football championship, watching the likes of the FCIAC and SCC horde titles while its reputation has plummeted.

And from the north comes the ECC’s best chance in years to snap its football title drought — Killingly.

“We haven’t talked about it much yet just because of the short turnaround (the playoffs began Tuesday),” Killingly head coach Chad Neal said. “But it is something we’ll talk about, being the only ECC team remaining.

“It’s been since 2008 when New London won (a state title), so we’d like to get one for the league.”

Killingly has mowed down nearly every team in its path this season and reached the state semifinals for a third straight season. The Redmen are the top seed in Class M and will host No. 4 Berlin on Sunday (12:30 p.m.), hoping to advance to its first state final since 1996.

It's the second year in a row that Killingly is the only ECC team to reach the semifinals.

It's been a good past three years for the Redmen (11-0) as they've enjoyed a rapid turnarond. They are 29-2 over that stretch, which is just three wins less than its win total from 2005-14 (32-71).

Killingly won two games in 2014. Now it’s lost just twice in three seasons.

“I think (our success) has kind of been due to a number of things that’s gone in our favor,” Neal said. “Enrollment starting going up in 2011 after we moved into the new high school (2010). Then the talent level increased.

“We were Class S for a while. I think around 2007-08 we had a little over 700 students. Now we're at about 900. The school has a lot to do with it.”

There were complaints from some of the locals about the cost of the new Killingly High School ($81.2 million), but it has attracted students.

Killingly will have the sixth largest enrollment (843) among all 19 ECC teams next year. It will have 388 boys, eighth overall.

“The kids from Brooklyn had the option of going to Woodstock Academy,” Neal said. “We had kids going to St. Bernard, NFA, Griswold. … I think it’s been very beneficial, the building.”

Enrollment and coaching can only take a team so far. It needs talent, which Killingly has accumulated. Senior running back-linebacker Spencer Lockwood has rushed for 2,761 yards (10 yards per carry) and 38 touchdowns. His rushing yardage ranks eighth overall in a single season, according to the Connecticut High School Football Record Book (UConn’s Arkeel Newsome ran for a state-record 3,867 yards for Ansonia in 2013).

Killingly is also blessed with size and skill up front, too, with right tackle Alex Fontaine (6-foot-1, 285 pounds), left tackle John Cacciapuoti (5-10, 225), left guard Ethan Canova (5-10, 240), and tight end Jake Gauthier (6-1, 247).

A good coach tailors his system to his player’s strengths, thus Killingly runs as much as it can. It has 484 rushing attempts this season to just 41 pass attempts, averaging 395.8 yards a game and nine yards a carry.

The term “RPO” stands for run-pass option. Neal jokes that Killingly’s RPOs are “run people over.”

“It’s suited for the talent we have,” Neal said. “I prefer it, don’t get me wrong. I feel if we can run the ball, we’re going to run the ball. Physically, you can beat up a team that way, especially teams with two-way players. It affects them on offense. We are run heavy, and we’re also no-huddle. So if teams try to go big on you, you try to run them down physically.”


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