It’s been a solid year on the high school gridiron. The future is looking pretty good, too, if this fall’s youth season is any indication.
A pair of area teams won Shoreline Youth Football Conference championships in games held Sunday at Southington High School.
Cheshire captured the seventh-grade crown. Wallingford raised the fifth-grade banner.
The Cheshire squad, coached by Jeff Plouffe, opened the season 0-2, then reeled off nine straight wins, capped by a 14-0 victory over Guilford in the finals.
Wallingford, coached by Brian Whalen, went 11-0, following up an 8-0 regular season with playoff wins over Southington in the quarterfinals (37-6), Newtown in the semifinals (22-7) and Monroe in the championship (16-0).
Monroe was the defending champ and Wallingford was on a mission after losing to Monroe last year in the regular season and again in the playoff semifinals.
The Vikings returned 24 of 25 players from last season and added 12 new signups. The impact was felt up and down the roster.
“Our lineman are big, strong and fast; our skill kids are tremendous,” said Whalen. “As a whole, our team is a loose bunch at practice, and when they step on the field for a game they are fearless. They are relentless.”
And impenetrable. Wallingford’s starting defense surrendered just one touchdown all season.
“Defense was our X-factor,” Whalen said. “Our D-line is amazing and was disruptive all game. They were in opposing backfields all season long. The linebackers are the fastest kids on the team and the defensive backs had opposing teams on lockdown. Corners also did a great job not giving up the edge.
“We never gave the other team any breathing room. We weren’t going to be satisfied unless we had a championship season, and mission accomplished.”
The Vikings ran a two-quarterback system and featured three talented running backs and a crop of strong receivers.
Wallingford’s depth came into to play, as well. During the championship game, the Vikings lost a running back and linebacker for a few plays and were able to overcome the losses.
“I’ve always said this class was special,” Whalen said. “They remind me of me and my friends growing up 30 years ago. All we did was play sports. Given the distractions these days, with the Internet at their disposal, these kids go outside and play sports — all sports.
“These are the kind of kids I would have hung out with when I grew up. As soon as the season is over, it’s on to the next sport. The majority of the fifth grade travel basketball program in town is made up of these kids and a day after winning the football championship they were in the gym for basketball practice.”
Whalen said his team also has baseball, lacrosse, soccer and hockey players on the roster.
“These kids live and breath sports,” Whalen said.
Whalen added that the COVID non-season of 2020 was a blessing in disguise for this group.
“They didn’t even hand out pads, and when they came in as third graders it was a clinical year,” Whalen said. “I put them through football drills and got in tune with our offense. The kids kept showing up. As bad as 2020 was for a lot of people, for these young guys it was great for their development and their commimtment to the team.”
“The future is bright and I’m excited to see what this team does over the next three years with the Wallingford Vikings and beyond,” he added. “August can’t come fast enough. We can’t wait for next year.”
Whalen was assisted by Jake O'Brien, Richard Van Dyke, Brian Choiniere, Ed Eckert, Keith O'Brien, Sean Reynolds and Rich Van Dyke. The team manager was Krystel Godbout.
In Cheshire, Jeff Plouffe was assisted by Jason Tracy, Rich Roberts, Pete Selmecki, Tyler Selmecki, Mike Bowman and Sean Roberts.
Prior to beating Guilford in the finals, Cheshire went 6-2 in the regular season, thumped Madison 36-8 in the quarterfinals and outlasted Southington 33-24 in the semifinals.
“We played Southington Week 1 and they embarrassed us, so it was special to win that game,” Plouffe said.
Plouffe has been coaching this team since the players were in third grade. They reached the championship game that year and and lost 13-12. In the intervening years, they were knocked out in the semis.
This fall, they weathered a rough first few weeks.
“After we started 0-2, we remained unified and we went on a winning streak. We were fighting for each other and we were playing for each other,” Plouffe said. “We had a good combination of great defense, good special teams and our offense averaged close to 30 points per game. Our defense had several shutouts and forced a lot of turnovers.”
“This team showed dedication and a work ethic and never got discouraged,” Plouffe added. “We got it together. It was just an overall team effort.”
Cheshire is a run-first team that threw the ball as the season went on and ultimately ended with a massive celebration on a frigid Sunday afternoon.
“The kids went nuts,” Plouffe said. “We rented a bus to go back and forth and we had a police escort into town, and the kids just had a blast. The kids showed great commitment from August 8 to November 20.”
Members of the seventh-grade Cheshire team were Etta Burdick (OL/DL), Jake Grabiec (OL/LB), Ryan Plouffe (QB/LB), James Buda (OL/DL), Jackson Teel (WR/LB), James Bowman (QB/DB), Jack McGuiness (WR/DB), Anthony Spinelli (WR/DB), Ethan Kirsch (OL/DL), Marcelo Torres (RB/LB), Nathan Bauco (WR/DB), Val Calo (WR/DB), Connor Bell (OL/DL), Mason Sheehan (OL/DL), Aiden Tracy (RB/LB), Cameron Billman (WR/DL), Luke Abel (OL/LB), William Shaw (OL/DL), Tyler Flammia (OL/DL) and Cole Roberts (OL/DL).
Members of the fifth-grade Wallingford team were Troy Whalen (QB/CB), Finn Gollareny (WR/S), Ryan Tansley (RB/MLB), Jayden Diana (WR/OLB), Robbie Baro (WR/OLB), Camden White (G/MLB), Isaiah Forbs (RB/DE), Chace Jakubiec (C/MLB), Drew Eckert (WR/CB), Brian Chioniere (RB/MLB), Kyle Bickelhaupt (G/DT), Max O'Brien (QB/WR/CB), Joshua Filipowicz (WR/OLB), Rayaan Ahmed (WR/S), Matthew Filipowicz (WR/S), Brayden Antonelli (OT/DT), Henry Whitehouse (RB/OLB), Tyler Ginter (WR/MLB), Cole Howlett (G/DT), Vinny Jordan (RB/CB), Collin McCarn (OT/DT), Matthew Nelson (G/DT), Daniel Frank (OT/DE), Brayden Greenlaw (RB/MLB), Danny Maginnis (OT/DT), Jay Cipolli (OT/DT), Ethan Johnson (WR/DE), Christian Crouse (OT/DE), Michael Mancino (RB/OLB), Jack Gootman (G/MLB), Max White (WR/CB), Evan Brawley (WR/S), Sean Reynolds (C/DE), Omar Yaghzar (OT/DT) and Jack McMahon (WR/S).