MERIDEN — The 2021 football season began in a wash of blue and green. It continues against some Rams in red.
It may be a limited postseason palette for area football, with just Class LL Southington and Class L Maloney qualifying, but it sure is colorful.
Southington (8-2) and Maloney (9-1), who went head to head on opening night, march on together. They take on a pair of 9-1 Rams in New Canaan and Bristol Central in Tuesday’s state quarterfinals, matchups they drew after Thanksgiving shook up their divisions.
In Class LL, Southington awoke Thursday holding the No. 6 seed, seemingly poised to get a rematch with Hall. Then New Canaan knocked off unbeaten No. 1 Darien 12-7, which left the Blue Knights paired with the Blue Wave … until Hamden wrapped up a 35-12 win over Notre Dame-West Haven to hopscotch over SHS.
Bottom line: Southington is the No. 7 seed and goes to No. 2 New Canaan on Tuesday night.
In Class L, Maloney awoke Thursday holding the No. 1 seed, but was expected to slip below defending champ St. Joseph, which indeed beat cross-town rival Trumbull 35-7. Then came the upset: Naugatuck ended Ansonia’s 103-game Naugatuck Valley League win streak, 14-7, to hopscotch over MHS.
Bottom line: Maloney is the No. 3 seed and will host No. 6 Bristol Central on Tuesday night.
All quarterfinals kick off at 6:30. All semifinals play Sunday, Dec. 5 at 12:30. All finals are Saturday, Dec. 11 in Trumbull and New Britain.
It’s a three-game gauntlet to the promised land. The Blue Knights and Spartans say they are ready for the challenge after winning Thursday’s rivalry games — Southington 17-10 over Cheshire, Maloney 41-7 over Platt.
“It doesn’t matter who we play, we are going to prepare to win a state championship,” said Southington senior quarterback Jack Barnum after being named MVP of the Apple Valley Classic. “It's win or go home from now on, so we are going to prepare our butts off.”
In Meriden, Maloney senior linebacker Kenny McMillan, after collecting the Stoddard Bowl’s Defensive Player Award, was equally optimistic about his team’s prospects, especially with the opener at home.
“I feel we can go all the way,” he said. “We feel confident playing on this field; we haven’t lost on this field.”
“We feel comfortable playing on this field, 100 percent,” echoed Maloney coach Kevin Frederick. “We play really well here. We have a great record here over the last eight years. It’s a great facility and we’re so happy to be playing here on Tuesday.”
Southington and Maloney were both 5-0 at home this year. Maloney’s loss came in Southington, 13-7, as Frederick matched up with his best friend and former Marist College roommate, Southington head coach Mike Drury.
In turn, Southington twice lost in West Hartford — 27-19 to Hall in Week 4 and 31-24 to Conard in Week 9 — to teams Maloney defeated.
It’s at Falcon Field, where the Spartans have been particulary potent. This is the fourth straight season in which the Spartans have qualified for the postseason. In those four seasons, they are 23-1 on their home turf.
The lone loss was to Platt in the 2018 Stoddard Bowl. Since then, Maloney has won 13 straight at Falcon, including 41-14 over Bristol Central on the night of Sept. 20, 2019.
In going against the Rams of Bristol, the Spartans face a long-time rival. Between 1959 and 2008, BC and Maloney were annual conference rivals — first in the CCIL (1959-1973), then in the Colonial Conference (1974-1983) and then in the CCC South (1984-2008).
The series was interrupted by a Central Connecticut Conference realignment in 2009. It resumed in 2010 as the Spartans and Rams were reunited in CCC Division II West.
This year, Maloney was promoted to CCC Tier 1 in yet another CCC reshuffling, so there was no BC game — until now.
In all, there have been 60 meetings. Thanks to the excellent stat work of Les and Brett Zimmerman, we know Maloney leads the series 31-26-3.
Game 61 will be worth the watch. The Rams are led by UConn commit Victor Rosa, a quarterback who has accounted for the vast majority of their yards and points.
“They are a good team and they are 9-1 for a reason," said Frederick. “Their quarterback Victor Rosa has a full scholarship to UConn and is a tremendous athlete. He poses a big threat.”
Southington will face a more diversified attack in New Canaan led by quarterback Henry Cunney and running back Vinent Cognetta, who also spearheads the defense at linebacker.
Unlike BC-Maloney, Southington-New Canaan is a first-time clash. Other than some preseason scrimmages, the Blue Knights and Rams have never met.
Southington is going up against a program with considerable postseason experience. While BC hasn’t seen the playoffs since falling to Middletown in the 1987 Class MM state final, New Canaan has made it to the championship round 29 times. Between 2006-2018 alone, the Rams were in 11 state finals in 13 years, winning eight.
New Canaan coach Lou Marinelli has the most wins in Connecticut football history at 367 — though Drury, a generation younger, has a better winning percentage at 98-15 and has taken Southington to the postseason eight times in his 10 seasons.
This year, Marinelli and the Rams opened 5-0, fell 20-17 at home to Wilton on Oct. 17, then rebounded with a 14-7 win over No. 8 Class LL seed Greenwich. They whipped the two Fairfield schools, then shook up the Class LL pecking order with Thursday’s upset of Darien.
It makes for a wide-open field.
“There are a lot of good teams in LL. Everyone has lost, but that’s the type of year it’s been,” Drury noted. “I think with LL, there isn’t that one dominant team; there are a lot of good football teams.
“Listen, it’s a weird year, a lot of weird scores,” Drury added. “You never know what is going to happen.”
On Tuesday, we start to find out.
Contributing reporters Sean Krofssik & Ron Buck