Quarterfinal Tuesday started with warnings about bogus online ticket links and ended with results so unpredictable they seemed equally suspect.
But they were real, baby. Very real.
Three out of six No.1 seeds lost to No. 8 underdogs as the newly expanded CIAC football playoffs got under way. Three out of six No. 2’s bit the dust.
Two of the major upsets involved area teams. No. 1 Southington fell to Trumbull, 34-25, in Class LL. No. 8 Cheshire knocked off St. Joseph, 24-14, in Class L.
Riding right down the middle was Maloney. The No. 3 Spartans opened their Class L title defense pulling away from No. 6 New Milford 27-7 in a game that seemed almost calm and predictable in comparision.
Except it wasn’t. The Spartans, frustrated by repeated red zone trips that came up empty, playing without their starting quarterback due to injury, trailed 7-6 heading into the fourth quarter.
Yes, you definitely had to watch your flank Tuesday night.
Five teams in the state polls — both in the GameTime CT media poll, where Southington ranked No. 1, and The Day of New London coaches poll, where St. Joe’s reigned — were driven from the field. Joining the Blue Knights and Cadets in premature retreat were Newtown, Staples and West Haven.
Somewhere, Stonewall Jackson was enjoying the show.
So what gives? Are poll voters myopic? The CIAC playoff point system broken? Or is it that anything is possible after Thanksgiving?
Go with Door No. 3. After three-plus months, in a sport defined by attrition, late November/early December is a long ways from September, and not just on the thermometer. Some teams find their footing while others stumble. Some teams get healthy while others get hurt.
And anyone who gets in, even in this new era of expanded playoffs — 48 teams qualified this year, eight in six enrollment divisions — well, they’ve got to have chops, right?
“Yes,” you say, pointing to Branford. The Hornets qualified in Class M at 5-5, yet gave unbeaten No. 1 Berlin a battle before falling, 35-25.
“No,” you say, pointing to the tech schools. All three qualifiers from the Vo-Tech — Thames River, Northwest United and ATI — lost. Thames River, which had allowed just 19 points in going 10-0, was smoked 50-0 by North Haven in the most lopsided game of the night.
So league clearly matters, right?
“Yes.” The Southern Connecticut Conference, never shy about touting its bona fides, saw all five of its qualifiers from Tier 1 win, with Cheshire and Fairfield Prep taking out teams from the equally vaunted FCIAC and Shelton beating the best team from the South-West Conference.
And yet … Prep edged Staples 23-22 and Shelton trimmed Newtown 21-20 in games settled by a missed field goal at the very end. There, but by the grace of the crossbar, goes the other guy.
The SCC also saw two of its Class LL schools that played in Tier 2, Hamden and West Haven, lose to Greenwich (47-7) and Glastonbury (17-7), respectively. Playing easier schedules in Tier 2, vis a vis the Tier 1 squads, might not have served those teams in the end.
Speculation and opinion. Numbers tend to tell a truer story.
Starting in 2010, the year quarterfinals were added to the postseason mix, and continuing through 2021, No. 1 seeds went a combined 32-8 in the opening round.
In only one season did more than one No. 1 seed fall in the quarters. That was 2013. Newtown was edged by Ridgefield 35-33 in Class LL and Capital Prep lost 27-3 to Bloomfield in Class S (one of three losses Capital Prep suffered as a No. 1, by the by).
Even in the outlier year of 2014, when the CIAC did a one-off with four qualifiers in eight enrollment classes and there were no quarterfinals, No. 1 seeds went 6-2 in the semis.
Bottom line: Quarterfinal Tuesday ’22, with its 3-for-6 night among No. 1’s as well asNo. 2’s, was a night of upsets unlike any other.
And, when the close battles that ultimately weren’t upsets are taken into account — such as No. 1 Cromwell/Portland’s 43-34 win over No. 8 in Class SS — Tuesday went a long way in dispelling the old knock about CIAC football quarterfinals seeing far too many beatdowns.
Tuesday night also saw some tremendous performances by area players. Two by Maloney Spartans Donte Kelly and Ethan Nedinsky are featured by Sean Krofssik on the other side of the page.
In Southington, senior running back Lincoln Cardillo went out with 238 yards and four touchdowns against Trumbull. That gave him 1,690 yards and 26 TDs for the year.
It was simply one of the finest individual seasons in Southington’s checkered football history.
Cardillo’s 1,690 rushing yards are second only to the SHS single-season record of 1,950 Vance Upham compiled in 2016. They rank ahead of the 1,502 future pro Vin Clements logged in 1965.
Meanwhile, in Cheshire, junior Matt Jeffery continues to craft one of the finest all-around athletic careers Ramland has ever seen.
The lacrosse player deemed the nation’s No. 1 recruit in the Class of 2023, who will play that sport at Notre Dame, added to his football pedigree Tuesday by catching two touchdown passes and throwing a third in the upset of St. Joe’s.
Jeffery picked off a pass, too. A little bit of everything, just like the night itself.