Breaking down the CIAC semifinals
No. 1 Staples (10-0) vs. No. 5 Norwich Free Academy (11-0)
Sunday, 12:30 p.m. at West Haven High School
How they got here: Staples defeated No. 8 West Haven 42-20 in quarterfinals; NFA defeated No. 4 Newtown 63-21.
Key players: Staples – Jr. QB Jack Massie, Sr. RB/DB Joey Zelkowitz, Sr. WR/DB James Frusciante, Sr. RB/DB Nick Kelly, Jr. RB Patrick Lesch, Sr. DE Jared Levi, Sr. LB Lance Lonergan; NFA – Jr. RB Marcus Outlow, Sr. QB Joey Paparelli, So. RB Khaleed Exum-Strong.
Injury alert: Kelly sustained a shoulder injury during Tuesday’s game against West Haven. One of the most dangerous players on an unstoppable offense, Kelly will be a game-time decision for Staples head coach Marce Petroccio. For NFA, Paparelli has been struggling with a sore throwing arm. He rushed for 111 yards and a touchdown against Newtown, but attempted just one pass. NFA eventually pulled him in favor of backup Ryer Caruso. The Wildcats say they were resting him, but could it be something more serious?
Why Staples will win: With or without Kelly, the Wreckers still have way too many athletes to contain. No one has come close to stopping Staples, which scored four touchdowns on six plays against the Westies and is averaging a state-best 51.2 points per game. With so many options in the running game and one of the best receivers in the state in Frusciante, it’s doubtful anyone will slow them down. The only question for NFA is, can the Wildcats keep up?
Why NFA will win: The Wildcats are pretty explosive themselves, putting up 63 points in the quarterfinals against a team that allowed just 11 per game during the regular season. Leading the way is the talented Outlow, who rushed for 168 yards against Newtown, giving him 954 yards and 15 touchdowns on the season. This is someone the Wreckers must contain if they want to make a return to Rentschler Field.
Outlook: This might be the first-ever meeting between the two programs, but this game between undefeated powerhouses is already shaping up to be a heated affair. After the victory over Newtown, the NFA supporters were heard shouting, “We want Staples. We want Staples.” Well, you know the saying. Be careful what you wish for. The last time the Wildcats were in this position, Trumbull sent them home in the 2010 Class LL semifinals. The Wreckers would love another shot at two-time defending champion Xavier, which blew out Staples in the finals last season. If the Falcons get past No. 7 Glastonbury, the rematch is on.
Prediction: Staples 35, NFA 13
No. 2 Windsor (10-0) vs. No. 6 New Canaan (9-2)
Sunday, 12:30 p.m. at Bunnell High School, Stratford
How they got here: Windsor defeated No. 7 Fitch 38-7; New Canaan defeated No. 3 Avon 16-7.
Key players: Windsor – Sr. QB Quinn Fleeting, Sr. RB/DB Devonte Dillion, Jr. RB/LB Jaylen Berry, Sr. WR/DB Ryhieme Moore, Sr. WR/DB Terrell Huff. New Canaan – Jr. QB Nick Cascione, Sr. RB Louis Hagopian, Sr. WR/DB Grady Lynch, Sr. WR/DB Andrew Read, Sr. QB Ted Bossidy, Jr. LB Cole Harris, Jr. RB/WR Jack Gilio.
Injury alert: Cascione’s snaps at quarterback were limited against Avon as he recovered from a banged-up shoulder suffered on Thanksgiving against Darien. Cascione still played a vital role in the win, scoring one touchdown on the ground while throwing for a two-point conversion. However, New Canaan’s success has been predicated on its two-quarterback offense. If Cascione can’t get behind center, beating the undefeated Warriors might be tough.
Why Windsor will win: One word, Fleeting. The senior quarterback is one of the most dangerous players in the state having thrown for 2,058 yards and 27 touchdowns while rushing for 545 yards and another seven scores. If Fleeting is at his best, the prolific Warriors will be tough to stop.
Why New Canaan will win: It’s the playoffs, of course. The Rams have magic up their sleeves when it comes to winning state tournament games. They did it last season, winning their first two games by a combined four points and stunned Avon with 16 unanswered points in the fourth quarter after trailing 7-0.
Outlook: Windsor has been waiting all year for this after losing to New Canaan in the Class L semifinals last season. This looks like a tough task for the Rams, but never put anything past veteran head coach Lou Marinelli and his staff. The Rams have appeared in six straight state championship games. Although Windsor has more firepower, it wouldn’t surprise anyone if Marinelli and the Rams made it a perfect seven.
Prediction: Windsor 41, New Canaan 28
No. 2 Berlin (10-1) vs. No. 6 Weston (9-2)
Sunday, 5 p.m., at Bunnell High School, Stratford
How they got here: Berlin defeated No. 7 Bullard-Havens 41-14; Weston defeated No. 3 Ellington/Somers 29-22.
Key players: Berlin – Sr. RB Justin Gombotz, Sr. RB Scott McLeod, Sr. QB Mitch Williams, Sr. WR Tyler Bouchard, Sr. S/WR Kevin Main; Weston – Sr. QB/DB Tyler Hassett, Sr. RB/DB Justin Schaffer, Sr. RB Zach Cannon, Sr. OL/DL Austin Gomar, Sr. RB/LB Aaron Pomerance.
Injury alert: Gombotz, who has rushed for 1,126 yards and 16 touchdowns this season, was forced to the sidelines after just five carries against the Tigers and never returned. McLeod, who rushed for 175 yards off the bench, will have to pick up the slack again if Gombotz can’t go.
Why Berlin will win: Even if Gombotz is unable to play, the Redcoats still have a solid passing game behind Williams, who has thrown for 1,202 yards and 14 touchdowns. McLeod is more than a capable replacement for Gombotz, as he proved Tuesday in the snow.
Why Weston will win: The Trojans have had a flair for the dramatic this season. They did it one again Wednesday night, scoring the go-ahead points with 7:12 left in the fourth quarter on a Hassett run and two-point pass to Schaffer. That passing combination, which has produced 65 receptions for 1,002 yards and 6 touchdowns, is a big reason why Weston is in the semifinals for the first time in school history. Hassett is wrapping up a historic season having rushed for 823 yards and 12 touchdowns while passing for 1,687 yards and 17 more scores. He’s as good as it gets in the clutch.
Outlook: Who would have predicted this matchup during preseason? Berlin was on the radar. Weston wasn’t even on the state playoff map. That just goes to show how magical this season has been for the Trojans, who just keep doing things no one thought they could. The winner will most likely have to contend with Hillhouse in the finals, but Weston has a great chance to get there against a team that hasn’t looked sharp over the last month.
Prediction: Berlin 28, Weston 20