State championship games need no introductions. It’s Ansonia against North Branford for all the Class S marbles on Saturday morning at Rentschler Field. Let’s go.
No. 1 Ansonia (13-0) vs. No. 3 North Branford (12-0)
When/Where: Saturday, 10:35 a.m., Rentschler Field
Broadcast: CPTV Sports, ESPN3.com, Watch ESPN app, WELI 960 AM
Twitter: @NVLFOOTBALL, @kylebrennan1
Last Meeting: 2008 Class S semifinals (Ansonia def. North Branford, 28-0)
State Championship Record: Ansonia 17-8 (last title in 2011), North Branford 1-1 (last title in 1979)
Fun Fact: The Chargers have been to the state title game seven times since the Thunderbirds’ last appearance in 2001
Remmy’s Keys to the Game: It’s finally here — the state title game. And Ansonia will face the most balanced team (with averages of 226 rush yards and 234 pass yards per game) it’s faced all season long. I remember 2008, when the Chargers lost a close game to another team out of the Pequot, Cromwell. Cromwell had some athletes that year and ran the spread very well, especially in the second half. In 2010, we saw Ansonia keep it close for a while before St. Joseph pulled away to win the game with a big pass play over the middle for a touchdown. The Chargers have had issues stopping passing teams from tearing them up on defense in previous state title games. Ansonia dominates games against passing teams with weak fronts because it can pressure the quarterback on every play. So what have I seen? North Branford doesn’t look nearly as physical as Ansonia and ultimately that’s what will decide this game. Ansonia has been able to blitz teams frequently but will have to play it just a tad safer this week because North Branford can both run and pass. Can Ansonia rush six or seven instead of eight or nine and still win this game? We’ll see. As for North Branford, it’ll have to go with the flow and make sure it executes down to a tee. Teams can’t afford to make mistakes against Ansonia when the Chargers are vulnerable.
Kyle’s Keys to the Game: The Thunderbirds are a fascinating team. They are probably the most balanced team I’ve seen all year and can really move the ball. Everyone likes to pay attention to their passing game but the running game made all the difference in the semifinals against Woodland, against whom North Branford ran for nearly 350 yards. But as Hyde found out against Ansonia in the semis, it’s awfully tough to run against the Chargers. The threat of the passing game should open up things a little bit but the Thunderbirds will have to succeed early in the passing game to establish that balance (a lot of times it’s the other way around). North Branford’s defense thrives on turnovers to keep it in ballgames. The Thunderbirds forced five fumbles against Woodland and have 28 takeaways on the season. If they can’t force a few more turnovers against the Chargers it’s hard to see them winning, especially because North Branford’s defense isn’t a shutdown unit like Ansonia’s. The Thunderbirds tackle fairly well but they aren’t physically overwhelming (they and the Chargers should be pretty much even in size). If North Branford can’t score into the 30s, it has no shot in this game. The Thunderbirds’ main rushers, Dale Hausman and Joe DeLucia, are similar to what Ansonia had in 2010 with Montrell Dobbs and Arkeel Newsome (a middle rusher and an edge guy). They’ll be huge.
Remmy’s Players to Watch: North Branford quarterback Brandan Basil is the guy to watch this week. The Thunderbirds will either win or lose depending on this kid’s play. The senior has thrown for 2,793 yards and 40 touchdowns this season while only throwing seven interceptions. He’s also the second-leading rusher on the team. North Branford has three receivers with more than 500 receiving yards: Alex McGuigan (35 rec, 545 yards), Joe DeLucia (42 rec, 702 yards) and Chris Caron (48 rec, 993 yards). They have combined for 35 touchdowns. And watch out for linebacker Gary Falanga, who will be all over the place for the T-birds on defense. We know the usual playmakers are on Ansonia, but I have a feeling we’ll be talking a lot about some of the more under-the-radar guys on defense after this game is over. Linebackers Ephraim Collins and Hezekiah Duncan Jr. and safety Ryan O’Connor will need to make big plays, and I expect them to on Saturday morning. These three have been laying the biggest hits I’ve seen all year against their opponents. Jh’mel Trammel has also been a beast on defense this season. It’s his senior year and I expect him to have a big game in the trenches and disrupt the North Branford passing game as well running back Dale Hausman (129 rush, 1,311 yards, 13 TD).
Kyle’s Players to Watch: Everything for North Branford will start with Basil and his different looks from shotgun (throws, handoffs and option reads) but Hausman and DeLucia could be the differences. Hausman is just really solid who runs hard and is excellent in the screen game. DeLucia will be as fast as anyone on the field and is used a lot like Ansonia’s Andrew Matos (with a little more use in the running game). North Branford’s secondary showed some weakness against Woodland, especially after the Hawks established the run. There’s no doubt that the Chargers will have success on the ground with Arkeel Newsome but they can really break open the game if Jai’Quan McKnight has a game like he had against Naugatuck on Thanksgiving, both with his legs and hitting Matos on a few long balls. Either way, Ansonia will end up with its usual 35-plus points. North Branford has to score with the Chargers and make it a game into the fourth quarter.
Picks: Remmy- Ansonia, 48-20. Kyle- Ansonia, 41-24.
And our picks for the other three state semifinals (all games will be live on CPTV Sports and the CIAC Network):
No. 3 Xavier (11-1) vs. No. 5 Norwich Free Academy (12-0): These may be the two hottest teams in the state. Nobody has been better than Xavier since it started the 28-point comeback against Hillhouse midway through the season, and nobody expected NFA to upset Staples and deny us the chance to see a Xavier-Staples rematch. There are all sorts of great players in this game but NFA’s Marcus Outlow has broken onto the scene more than anyone in recent postseason memory. He is as strong a running back as there is in the state and his matchup against the Xavier linebackers will be fascinating Friday night.
Picks: Remmy- Xavier, 24-21. Kyle- Xavier, 30-17.
No. 1 Daniel Hand (12-0) vs. No. 2 Windsor (11-0): If the Tigers win this game, they will be the fairly undisputed No. 1 team in the state. But Windsor is a fantastic team that has been on a mission since a come-from-ahead loss in last year’s playoffs. Hand is as tough as teams get and has always hit hard, exemplified by Matt Walsh’s blood-inducing hit in the semifinals. But Windsor is huge and is excellent on both sides of the ball. This very well could be the best game of them all.
Picks: Remmy- Daniel Hand, 34-22. Kyle- Windsor, 27-21.
No. 2 Berlin (11-1) vs. No. 4 Hillhouse (10-2): The Academics’ athletes are far superior to Berlin’s in this game. Harold Cooper is one of the best running backs on the state and Andre Anderson does a great job of spelling him. Hillhouse hits as hard as anyone, too, although it doesn’t necessarily have a shutdown defense. Berlin needs to find a way to control the ball to win the game.
Picks: Remmy- Hillhouse, 42-18. Kyle- Hillhouse, 34-21.
Extra Points: All general admission tickets this weekend will be $10. Saturday’s tickets are good for all three games. Club seating (indoors) is also available for $20. Click here for more ticket information. … The Ansonia gang will be tailgating at Rentschler Field starting at 8 a.m. If you’re coming to join, the guys in charge request that you either bring a little bit of breakfast food or drinks. Remmy will have more on this throughout the week. … On the Rep-Am Red Zone blog, Kyle has some observations from Monday’s media day and more coming throughout the week. In the Red Zone, Kyle caught up with Ansonia coach Tom Brockett for a video interview. There’s also a video interview with Ansonia players, plus Mark Jaffee’s conversation with Brockett and Jaffee’s notebook. There will be lots more stories coming in the days leading up to the championship.
The State Championship Preview is presented by Blanchette Sporting Goods. BSG has been a family-owned and operated sporting goods store for more than 40 years. Located in Shelton, Blanchette carries not only a wide selection of equipment, but also a full line of apparel for several Valley schools. Blanchette can also handle embroidery, screen printing, trophies and more. Call today at 203-929-6331 or visit the showroom on Bridgeport Avenue.