Happy Thanksgiving and happy football.
After the canceled season of 2020, high school rivalry games returned this holiday and drew large area crowds Thursday morning to Falcon Field in Meriden, Fontana Field in Southington and Fitzgerald Field in Wallingford.
Maloney, Southington and Sheehan were your winners:
■The Spartans pulled away to a 41-7 Stoddard Bowl win over Platt with a 21-point fourth quarter;■Southington built a 17-0 lead by the end of the third quarter, then held off a fourth-quarter surge from Cheshire to win a defense-dominated Apple Classic 17-10;■Sheehan, after a slow start, gained traction to record a 28-9 victory over Lyman Hall in the Carini Bowl.
Maloney (9-1) and Southington (8-2) move on to play in the CIAC state tournament — Maloney as the No. 3 seed in Class L, Southington as the No. 7 in Class LL.
Sheehan, despite going 7-3, fell one spot shy of the Class S field and thus will not have a chance to defend the state championship it won in 2019.
Sheehan, like Southington, did extend its Thanksgiving winning streak to nine. Maloney’s win was its second straight on Turkey Day and third in four years.
The Spartans were led by Most Valuable Player Austin Studley, who caught two touchdown passes from Angel Arce, included an eye-popping jump and grab over a defender from 30 yards out that put Maloney up 20-0 at halftime.
Studley and Arce later connected from 68 yards and Arce threw a third TD pass to Ian Graham from 17.
On the ground, Kenny McMillan punched in three short TDs for the Spartans, but was ultimately recognized for his play on the other side of the ball. The linebacker was named the Defensive MVP.
Maloney junior running back Joshua Boganski earned the Underclassman Award.
Maloney now leads the Thanksgiving series with Platt 32-30-1 and the overall series (don’t forget the 2018 Class L semifinal) 33-30-1.
The Spartans now head to the postseason for a fourth straight season.
Coach Kevin Frederick’s club did get something of a surprise in the rankings. The Spartans started the day No. 1 in Class L, though were expected to drop back to No. 2 if the defending champion St. Joseph Cadets defeated Trumbull, which they did, 35-7.
The stunner came in the NVL, where Naugatuck ended Ansonia’s 103-game league winning streak, 14-7. That upset pushed the Greyhounds up to No. 2 and knocked Maloney to No. 3.
Bottom line: Maloney will host longtime Central Connecticut Conference rival Bristol Central (9-1), the No. 6 seed, in the quarterfinals on Tuesday night at Falcon Field.
Southington, meanwhile, hits the road to face No. 2 New Canaan (9-1), which pulled its own mini-upset, 12-7, over unbeaten Darien.
That shuffled the Class LL deck considerably, moving Fairfield Prep up to No. 1 and Darien down to No. 3.
It initially appeared Southington would draw nemesis Darien in the quarterfinals, but Hamden wound up superseding Southington in the rankings with its 35-12 win over Notre Dame-West Haven.
Bottom line: No.7 Southington still hits the road for Fairfield County to face New Canaan for the first time ever.
On Thursday, the Blue Knights locked into defensive battle with the Rams. Jack Barnum’s 40-yard field goal in the opening minutes of the game stood as the only points in the first 24 as Southington took a 3-0 lead into halftime.
Then Barnum, who would be named the game’s overall MVP, got busy at quarterback. He successfully executed an onside kick to open the second half, then threw high-percentage slants and screens to his receivers to set up third-quarter rushing touchdowns by Javon Thomas and Lincoln Cordillo.
Down 17-0 heading into the fourth quarter, the Rams didn’t wilt. Micah Gallozo booted a 22-yard field goal and Matt Jeffery connected on a TD pass to Ethan Rosenthal to cut the gap to 17-10.
In between, however, Cheshire came up empty after an interception by Danny Zawalich.
Zawalich was named Cheshire’s defensive MVP. Running back Christian Russo, whose senior season was unfortunately undermined by injuries, was Cheshire’s offensive MVP.
Southington’s awards went to receiver Justin Zitofsky and defensive end Austin Pszczolkowski.
In Wallingford, Sheehan was led by its Carini Bowl MVPs, linebacker Apollo Dubuc and wide receiver John Gogliettino.
Gogliettino caught a pair of touchdown passes from Paul Gorry, the first from 41 yards to extend Sheehan’s 7-3 halftime lead to 14-3 in the third quarter.
Then came a 51-yard nail-in-the-coffin with 8:15 left to play. That second Gorry-to-Gogliettino connection came just 24 seconds after Sheehan running back Romeo Cruz found the end zone from 11 yards out.
Jacob Shook opened the scoring for Sheehan with an eight-yard run in the second quarter.
Lyman Hall, needing to control the ball and the clock to have any hope of pulling the upset, did just that in the first quarter. The Trojans received the opening kick and maintained possession for 8½ minutes before kicking a field goal.