Archive for November, 2009

Conference Championship Games: To Play or not To Play?
November 25, 2009

Staples vs. Bridgeport Central: The Aftermath

Last Friday night (after going without a single first down in the first half) state #1 Staples rallied +to beat Bridgeport Central 14-10 in the FCIAC Championship game. I’m told by both my colleague Joe Zone and Ned Griffen from The Day of New London that this was one of the most physical high school football games they’ve ever witnessed.

Now what?

Will Staples have enough left 6 days later to take a must win game on Thanksgiving vs. Greenwich?  Despite being unbeaten and #1 in the state polls, it appears that the Wreckers must win over Greenwich to make the playoffs.  Will the extra pounding in the FCIAC championship game be their downfall with Greenwich having rested since its’ last game on November 13th?

Since a conference championship game has no impact (positively or negatively) in the CIAC playoff standings – Staples gets no “credit” for beating a very good Bridgeport Central team.  That begs the question:  Is a conference championship game worth the risk?

Furthermore had Staples lost the FCIAC Championship game they would have no doubt slipped out of #1 in the state polls with Pomperaug likely ascending to the top spot. This is exactly what happened in 2005. Staples lost the FCIAC Championship game – still proceeded to win a state title – but dropped out of the #1 ranking with the FCIAC loss.  The final state polls had Xavier finishing the year #1 instead of Staples.  Xavier plays in the Southern Connecticut Conference and faces no such “risks” in a conference championship game since the SCC doesn’t have one.

3 conferences play championship games, the FCIAC, the SWC and the NVL. This year the NVL gets the best of both worlds as Thanksgiving rivals Holy Cross and Wolcott see their turkey day game double as the NVL title game. No need for an “extra”  game that could bring risky implications.

Heavy Hearts at Ledyard

It will be a somber Thanksgiving morning in Ledyard when the Colonels host Fitch. The game will come less than 2 days after the death  of Ledyard junior, 16 year old,  Matt Buriak.  Matt collapsed during a junior varsity game on Saturday.  His collapse is not said to be game related but rather connected to an illness that he had.  The Norwich Bulletin reports that Matt was a popular student at Ledyard evidenced by nearly 40 percent of the student body (400 students) showing up at the school for an impromptu vigil on Sunday night.   My prayers are with Matt’s family and his Ledyard High School family.

Stories Of Thanks

With 3 consecutive nights of FNF shows on tap (Wednesday, Thursday and Friday all LIVE at 11:15pm) I’ll share a story each night in which the subject has much to be thankful for this holiday.

Wednesday:  Berlin Junior Dave Balfore

Dave is back playing with the playoff bound Redcoats this season after missing his sophomore year to fight leukemia.  Dave has come a long way since numerous hospital stays that included 2 straight months in the summer of 2008

Thursday: The Prince Tech Falcons

Prince Tech (Hartford’s Vocational and Technical high school) launched football just 4 years ago.  From that original group just 5 players remain but they are all part of a story of triumph.  The Falcons head into a Thanksgiving morning game vs. Capital Prep still in the playoff hunt while playing just their second game on their new field  – the first “true” home field the team has ever had.  Another reason to be thankful?  Just 2 days before school started this year the team learned that state funding for high school sports at tech schools would not be done away with as had been strongly speculated.

Friday: Xavier Assistant Coach Dick Nobile

When playoff bound Xavier played a poor first half earlier this season vs. Guilford the Falcons got a  fiery halftime speech from Assistant Coach Dick Nobile. Dick Nobile is 75 years old young. He first made his mark coaching and organizing youth football in Cromwell and now (50 years after playing himself at Weaver high school in Hartford) continues to impact young people with his wisdom at Xavier.

Friday Night Feats

State Farm is behind a cool contest in which high school football teams can submit an exceptional play to be considered for a top prize of $15,000.

Bridgeport’s Bassick High School has submitted this last second,  game winning touchdown from its’ victory over Harding last Monday.

Bassick is one of 52 schools that has advanced to the next round and as such been awarded $2,500.  Should they make the cut to  the final 10, you’ll be able to vote on YouTube from December 3rd through December 10th.

Let’s Go Lions!

Speaking of Great Plays

Check this wild punt return out from a high school playoff  game in Oregon.

Thanksgiving: The Key Storylines

And no I’m not talking about how many pieces of pie you can consume in a 24 hour period…

#1 Will a (10-0) Conard team really miss the playoffs in Class LL?

Not probable but still possible. If Notre Dame West Haven beats Hamden it will come down to bonus points between ND, Simsbury and Conard.  Assuming both Masuk and Pomperaug win on Wednesday night – only 2 of the ND / Simsbury / Conard trio will qualify.

#2 Has a Thanksgiving game ever had more on the line than Holy Cross at Wolcott?

Hard to believe it has.  Wolcott needs the win to assure it gets into the SS playoffs, Holy Cross has a little more wiggle room but not much.  The winner also gets the NVL Championship for 2009. Then there’s last year.  All favored Wolcott needed was a win over the Crusaders to make the playoffs. Wolcott lost.

By the way if Wolcott wins,  the most likely scenario has the two teams meeting each other again 5 days later in the Class SS state semifinals.

3.  Will #5 Cheshire  leapfrog #4 Bridgeport Central in the Class LL playoff race?

If Cheshire beats Southington in the Apple Cup the math indicates that Cheshire would be in since Bridgeport Central has less potential bonus points to pick up by beating city rival Harding on Thanksgiving morning.

Of course if a potentially tired Staples team loses to Greenwich (see above) both Cheshire and Bridgeport Central could be in with wins.

4. Will a tech school (or two) make the postseason?

This is always a sore subject with non tech schools who feel the state’s tech conference (Constitution State Conference) shouldn’t necessarily merit equal consideration for playoff qualification.  I disagree.

This year both Bullard Havens (Bridgeport) and Prince Tech (Hartford) have a chance to make it.  Bullard Havens is rooting for losses by Wolcott and St. Joseph in Class SS, Prince Tech for an Ansonia loss in Class S.

3 Games We’ll Be Watching (In addition to those above)

Rocky Hill at St. Paul / Goodwin Tech  Thursday 10am

A St. Paul win and they’re in the the Class MM playoffs. A St. Paul loss and Darien has a chance if it upsets New Canaan Thursday morning.

Westerly (RI) at Stonington Thursday 10am

These interstate schools have played each other more than any other high school rivals in the country.  Thanks to seasons in the past in which they played each other twice, Thursday brings the the 150th all time meeting.

WXLM radio will broadcast and stream the game LIVE  (WXLM.FM) – they’ve been playing on Thanksgiving since 1911 and that’s the longest continuous Turkey day rivalry in the country.

Notre Dame West Haven at Hamden Thursday 10:30am

One anxious fan who will be on Dixwell Avenue to watch the Green Bowl? Simsbury Head Coach Jeff Osborne. His (9-1) Trojans – fresh off a classic overtime win over Glastonbury that ended the Tomahawks state best 22 game win streak – likely need a Notre Dame loss to get into the playoffs.

Hard to believe (7-2) Hamden won’t make the playoffs win or lose. The Green Dragons received my #1 vote in the state polls early on and looked unbeatable in a week 1 win at Daniel Hand.

2 Games You Could Be Watching (In Their Entirety)

Greenwich at Staples Thursday 10:30am (MSG Network)

This game will be covered LIVE on MSG (their main channel), then repeated Thanksgiving night at 7pm on MSG

Cheshire at Southington 7pm (Cox 3 Sports – Tape Delayed)

Great chance for Cox cable subscribers to watch a key Thanksgiving day game after their big feast.

(Don’t know for certain but it appears Cox subscribers might also be able to catch Westerly at Stonington LIVE Thursday morning)

Completely Unrelated Thought of The Week:

I have a cellphone that’s probably 5 years old.  It’s not rotary dial but to the naked eye it appears ancient. I don’t text a lot and the phone works fine for me. Should I fell compelled to get a new one, especially when Verizon will give it to me for free?

See You Wednesday, Thursday and Friday night at 11:15pm for FNF!

John

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Tweaking the Turkey Day Menu
November 20, 2009

Stuffing The Schedule Differently

With less than a week to go before the annual renewal of a great Connecticut and New England tradition – high school football games on Thanksgiving morning –  I offer up a few suggestions on scheduling changes I’d like to see.

Being a traditionalist I would prefer that all games be played on Thanksgiving morning instead of the significant number that have been scheduled for Wednesday night.  I’m told some coaches prefer Wednesday night for two  reasons: 1) A 10am Thursday start can be a shock to the system for a team that’s been playing night games all season and 2) Coaches that anticipate an annual trip to the postseason and Tuesday night state semifinal game prefer to play one day earlier so there is that much more time to prepare for a playoff opponent.

Some administrators view a Thanksgiving morning game as a logistical nightmare and feel a Wednesday game gives families the option to be free to travel out of town Thursday morning should they be headed to families or friends homes’ for the Thanksgiving holiday.

2 Thanksgiving day games that should be:

Northwest Catholic vs. East Catholic –  Why don’t they play on Thanksgiving – why don’t they play period?  The rivalry is so good in basketball it deserves a Turkey Day stage for football

Cromwell vs. Hyde –  This game means something every year and the two established rivals should meet on Thanksgiving.

2 Games that need to be moved to Thanksgiving:

Conard vs. Hall and  Glastonbury vs. Simsbury

Why play on the Saturday before Thanksgiving when all the excitement and pageantry is 5 days later?

Are You Serious?

Could the new #1 team in the state, unbeaten Staples of Westport miss the playoffs with a loss on Thanksgiving to Greenwich?

Could Conard finish (10-0) and miss the playoffs in Class L?

Could Bridgeport Central (with wins over both Greenwich and New Canaan) finish (9-1) and miss the playoffs?

The answer to all 3 questions is YES.

That’s clear evidence that the playoff system needed revamping.  On Thursday the CIAC approved a plan for 2010 that will increase the number of playoff teams from 24 to 32 and add a quarterfinal round of action with the divisions being cut from 6 to 4.

Link to plan

Most coaches are in favor of the plan, but not everybody.  Questions linger about municipalities having the money (lights, police, custodial costs) for an extra week of games, and concerns about the athletes on the 8 finalist schools playing deeper into the winter season.

It also seems to me that while the new plan ensures that more of the  very best teams in the state  make the postseason it squeezes even tighter the small Class S schools (and many tech schools) who will now be grouped in with bigger schools from Class SS.  It will become tougher for the school’s statewide with the smallest enrollment to win a state championship in football.

A Horse Is A Horse Is  A Horse Of Course

With the FCIAC Championship game set to be played tonight and the Holy Cross/Wolcott Thanksgiving day game doubling as the NVL Championship this season,  the Southwest Conference had the spotlight all to itself last night as fellow undefeateds (and possible playoff opponents) Pomperaug and Mausk met for the league championship.  Masuk’s sophomore Quarterback Casey Cochran threw for a ridiculous 527 yards but a late interception from Pomperaug’s C.J. Elser helped Pomperaug pull out a 38-23 victory.

The victory keeps in tact Pomperaug’s perfect (10-0)  record and no doubts means Junior Andrew Bleidner will continue his visits to Soutbury’s own “Mr. Ed”

Thanks to Voices News for the photo and caption

(Courtesy Voices News)

Pomperaug High School’s  Andrew Bleidner, #61, has made it a pre-game ritual to visit the white horse down the road from the school, nicknamed “Mr. Ed.” Before each of the games so far, when asked if the Panthers team was going to win, Mr. Ed has nodded yes to a winning streak

Any resemblance?

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

After one of the more decent gestures I’ve read about from a pro athlete in recent months.

The Browns Josh Cribbs was rewarded with what?

You got it, being carted off the field following the final play of Monday night’s loss to Baltimore.

Championship Weekend

Tonight (1 soccer game, 1 volleyball match, Girls Diving State Open) and then tomorrow (7 soccer games, 3 field hockey games, 3 volleyball matches and the Girls Swimming State Open) state champs will be crowned in fall sports.  Tune into Channel 3 Eyewitness News both nights at 11pm for complete coverage.

2 of the games involve athletes that I’ve done fall features on.  In the Class S Field Hockey game the Granby Captains include Jessica Bastiaanse (WFSB.COM’s  girls soccer blogger and the feature of a channel 3 story tonight at 5:30pm).

The Class S Girls soccer final features Immaculate of Danbury vs. undefeated Old Lyme and the team’s leading scorer, Brittany Cowee who competes despite having a pacemaker.  Click here to watch Brittany’s Channel 3 story.

As always to read any of our fall student-athlete blogs, go here  Wfsb.com/sportsblogs

4 Games We’ll Be Watching

Staples vs. Bridgeport Central – Friday 7:30pm

The Hilltoppers rocked the rankings last week with a 42-7 dismantling of state  #1 New Canaan and its’ 24 game win streak. That allowed Staples to slide into the top spot in 2 of the 3 statewide polls.  Tonight Central and Staples get each other.  The Wreckers may have the best defense in the state, is it enough to knock off the Hilltoppers?

New London vs. Sheehan – Friday 7pm

An unusual matchup between the ECC and the SCC. New London needs a win here and on Thanksgiving over Norwich Free Academy to complete a perfect regular season. Sheehan comes into action at (3-5).

Simsbury at Glastonbury – Saturday 1pm

With New Canaan having lost,  defending Class LL State Champ Glastonbury now has then longest current win streak (22 games) in CT. If the streaks continues versus visiting Simsbury on Saturday, the Trojans will likely miss the playoffs in Class L at (8-2).

Cheshire at West Haven – Saturday 7pm

This is a make up game after the originally scheduled game was postponed when the Cheshire team was decimated by the flu.  The Rams control their own destiny, a win Saturday night at West Haven and then a win on Thanksgiving vs. Southington and Cheshire would vault Bridgeport Central in the Class LL playoff race

Completely Unrelated Thought of The Week:

How would your family do on the Family Feud?  I’m talking everything from good answers to reaction time with the buzzer. Which two family members would be selected for the final round?

Turns out that our intern Justin Granick’s family appeared on The Feud back in the day.  It was his mom’s side of the family, The Moskowitzs.

See You Tonight at 11:15pm for FNF!

John

Who’s Next?
November 13, 2009

A Dash of Nutmeg In The NFL

Each week on FNF Ovetime (11:35pm on WFSB.COM and Eyewitness News Now on digital cable) we spotlight a former local high school standout in our Connecticut Collegians segment. It’s a player now excelling on the college level. I’m reminded this week of the Connecticut Connections in the NFL as Bloomfield’s Dwight Freeney gets ready to go opposite the Patriots in a huge Sunday night game.  A 10th consecutive game with a sack and Freeney ties the NFL record.

Who will be the next Connecticut player to follow in Freeney’s footsteps and make an impact in the NFL?  Matt Lawrence, Kory Sheets, Chris Baker, Matt Shaugnessy and Terrance Knighton are all former Connecticut high school stars now in their rookie seasons in the league.

Who’s next? Here are names to remember for next season and beyond.  Aaron Herandez (Bristol Central) tight end Florida, Amari Spievey (Xavier) cornerback Iowa, Austin Knowlin (Newington) wide receiver Columbia, Garrett Brown (Fairfield Prep) defensive tackle Minnesota and Bruce Campbell (Hyde Leadership) offensive tackle Maryland. There may be others too.

Look no further than Brett Favre’s center with the Vikings (former Greenwich star John Sullivan) then to realize that more and more players are coming out of Connecticut to the NFL.

Former NFA star Matt Shaugnessy is now a rookie with the Raiders after playing in college at Wisconsin. He has a memorable personal story and it was detailed this week in the San Jose Mercury News.

WTIC Radio Adds Football to the Turkey Day Menu

In this very space some time ago, I wondered why the great WTIC 1080am didn’t broadcast a schedule of high school football games. Now they’re taking a step in that direction with plans to broadcast both a Thanksgiving Eve and Thanksgiving day game on tape delay come Thanksgiving afternoon.  Joe D’Ambrosio and Bob Joyce will split play-by-play duties. This is a cool development, plus fans can vote on what Hartford area games they want TIC to do.

Voting runs through Monday November 23rd.

What the “Hell” Was That All About?

There was a fascinating documentary shown on ESPN a few years back sharing the story of a high school football team in New York City, the Harlem Hellfighters.   John Frankel, the HBO Real Sports correspondent, was behind the film.  The Hellfighters (named for the 369th Infantry Regiment) were scheduled to play a game last Saturday at Fairfield Ludlowe.  90 minutes before game time they called to say they weren’t showing up. What?  Yes, couldn’t get enough players.  The Connecticut Post’s Sean Patrick Bowley has the details

Steve States His Case

Daniel Hand head coach Steve Filippone joined us in studio this week for a taping of Game Time (seen weekly on the Connecticut Sports Network).  He convincingly stated the case for the latest proposal to expand the football playoffs from 24 teams to 32 teams – a proposal that keeps the Thanksgiving Day rivalry games intact and extends the playoffs to 3 rounds and one extra week into December. It looks like this proposal will win approval, perhaps in time for the 2010 season.

3 questions critics might raise:

Do towns and cities have the budgets to support an extra round of playoff games (bus costs, lighting costs, staffing costs)?

How does an extra week of football (for at least 8 teams) impact the practice preparation for winter sports?

With just 4 divisions instead of 6 that means 2 less state champions every year – 20 less state champions every 10 years. Are less kids and teams  being able to remember back to their high school football championship season a good thing going forward?

Best Little Rivalry in Connecticut

Saturday at noon (at Wilbur Cross in New Haven) Cromwell plays Hyde in a game that will have a huge impact on the playoff chances for both teams. This game always seems to come with great meaning and it has developed into one of the best rivalries in Connecticut – the teams have also met twice in the playoffs.  Throw in a heated rivalry on the basketball court between the Panthers and Howling Wolves and I can’t think of a better current rivalry between schools anywhere in the state

3 Games We’ll Be Watching

New Canaan at Bridgeport Central Friday 6pm

Are the host Hilltoppers the team to end state #1 New Canaan’s 24 game win streak? The Rams almost saw the streak go by the boards at Greenwich last week before rallying for a dramatic 1 point win. Central also beat Greenwich by a single point 2 weeks earlier.

Conard at Southington Friday 7pm

Unbeaten but not in the Top 10? That’s the life for Conard who has been slow to win over the respect of poll voters despite a dominant run in which all 8 victories have come by at least 21 points and 5 of the wins have been shutouts. A win tonight over Southington and Conard’s soft schedule before this evening becomes less of a sticking point.

Xavier at West Haven 7pm

The (7-1) Falcons haven’t lost since Week 1.  The (4-3) Blue Devils are on a 4 game win streak and getting better by the minute. This could be a tough spot for Xavier.

Completely Unrelated Thought of The Week

Now that the baseball season is over (who won the World Series by the way?  I wasn’t paying attention) I admit to a guilty pleasure.  With the baseball play-by-play on my XM/Sirius satellite radio about 10 seconds behind most calls on local AM radio I’ve developed a habit of doubling my pleasure whenever Yankees’ misery strikes. When the Sox are playing the Yanks, I’ll listen the to Red Sox radio network call and should they hit a home run or score some runs I’ll immediately flip to satellite to hear the bombastic John Sterling make the same call on the Yankees broadcast. A true pleasure and some small consolation in a season when my team doesn’t have the success Sterling’s team does.

Speaking of Sterling, this is always good for a laugh.

See You Tonight at 11:15pm for FNF!

John

History Class at Middletown High School?
November 6, 2009

Blue Dragons Female Captain To Be?

Nothing will be official until preseason camp breaks next fall for the Middletown football team, but signs are pointing toward Sarah Strickland being elected as one of the team’s captains for her senior season. That would seem to be history making – as no one I’ve spoken with can recall a female captain of a Connecticut high school football team.

Captains at Middletown are chosen based on a team vote and a point system – in which players earn points for attendance at team events (off-season weight lifting sessions, etc.)

Tonight at 5:30pm on Eyewitness News and again on the FNF show at 11:15pm I’ll profile Sarah. She’s been playing football with the boys since age 12 and while at first her father Martin did not like it, he’s now her biggest supporter and he shares some very interesting comments in our story. For one, he says when Sarah first began playing he got a call from the Department of Children and Families (DCF) inquiring about the bruises on his daughter’s body.  When Martin said she played football, they didn’t believe him.  To this day, Sarah wears such bruises as badges of honor, proof of membership in the Boys’ Football Club so to speak.

While there has not been a female high school football captain in Connecticut, female players have made an impact.  State high school football historian Bob Barton points out that Ledyard high school had a young lady catch a touchdown pass and Wilcox Tech / Meriden had a female player rush for a touchdown. Then of course, there’s the current #1 team in the state, New Canaan, who’s #1 placekicker is former girls soccer player Brianna Valente.

Playoff Plan Details Emerging

The push for an expanded football postseason in Connecticut picked up steam Tuesday when the CIAC football committee embraced the latest proposal.  The basics:

* 4 Divisions Instead of 6

* 8 teams per division instead of 4

* 32 teams total instead of 24 (8 additional teams)

* 3 rounds per division (quarterfinals, semifinals, finals)

*  Thanksgiving games remain intact. Playoffs start the Tuesday after Thanksgiving (quarters) followed by semifinals on Saturday and the finals a week after that on the second Saturday of December.

* Is the weather measurably colder or more storm prone a week deeper into December? The football committee doesn’t seem to believe so. Let me check with our Chief Meteorologist Bruce Deprest and I’ll get back to you.

* One more week (for 8 teams at least) does mean football players that play winter sports will delay the start of their respective winter seasons.

H1N1 Knocks Out Rams

With 40 percent of the team ill this week with the flu , Cheshire has postponed its’ scheduled game with West Haven until Saturday November 21st.

With things seemingly getting worse by the week, what happens when a playoff team is struck with the flu later this season – when does that game get rescheduled for?

Quick Hits

* Though the behind the back pass has always been my bread and butter in pickup hoops, this hot dog play has a little bit too much mustard for my taste.

* The Woodstock Academy Centaurs  (half man/half horse) have one of the great nicknames in Connecticut High School football. But did you happen to read this week that Yankees egomaniac Alex Rodriguez reportedly has not one but two Centaur portraits of himself hanging over his bed?  What an insult to the fine people in Woodstock and the Quiet Corner.

* Congratulations to Ansonia Head Coach Tom Brockett. He and his wife Nicole welcomed their first child this week, Alyssa Rose Brockett.  Tom missed practice on Monday but he has since returned to the team and will be coaching Friday night vs. St. Paul / Goodwin Tech.

3 Games We’ll Be Watching

New Canaan at Greenwich 7pm Friday –  New Canaan’s biggest test to date this season. A win here and the Rams emphatically cement their claim to the top spot in the state.  A growing question: Is UConn likely to recruit  New Canaan QB – Turner Baty?

Glastonbury at New Britain 7pm Friday – Back on the field where they won a Class LL State Championship a year ago, the visiting Tomahawks can take a serious step towards a second straight undefeated regular season. Beware, the Golden Hurricanes can be explosive on offense and defense.

St. Paul / Goodwin Tech at Ansonia 7pm Friday- Is (6-1) St. Paul for real? We’ll find out as they hit the road for a stiff test from a 2 loss Ansonia team that will cook any remaining playoff hopes it may have with another defeat. Look for Coach Brockett to pull out all the stops in defending the home turf on Senior Night including a calling a few plays for little Alyssa Rose if need be.

Completely Unrelated Thought of The Week

When it comes to hand sanitizer have we officially reached the point of no return on the evolutionary spectrum of sanitary behavior? No going back now, right? Who doesn’t use this stuff? At the same time who was using it 10 years ago? Only the neat freaks right?

In the evolution of man there came a time that nothing short of toilet paper was acceptable,  can hand sanitizer now join that club?