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FOOTBALL: Friday’s defeats were painful, yet further proof of CCC quality

SOUTHINGTON — Another round of the Connecticut High School Football Alliance has come and gone, and the Central Connecticut Conference represented the “north” nicely despite this weekend’s less-than-optimum outcomes.

When things were all said and done, the conference was 10-17 in Alliance games played in Weeks 1 and 3 of this season. The conference’s highlights came in losses, however, to the FCIAC’s best.

Third-ranked Maloney had No. 1 Greenwich on the ropes at Falcon Field before the defending CIAC Class LL state champions walked off with a 30-28 victory on Erick Perino’s 42-yard field goal as time expired.

On the other side of West Peak, No. 2 Southington was up 13-0 on Staples before the Wreckers scored 27 unanswered points in a 34-27 win at Fontana Field.

And then, on a windy and rainy Saturday, No. 10 Windsor was tied at defending Class L champion New Cannon at halftime before losing 33-12.

It was the first loss for each of the CCC’s Top-10 teams.

Two of those three losses very easily could have been wins, which is all one needs to know about how the CCC has closed the gap on the mighty FCIAC.

Maloney led early and late before losing in, as Spartans head coach Kevin Frederick said, “devastating” fashion.

The Spartans and Cardinals were tied 7-7 after the first quarter and, after trailing 20-14 at halftime, Maloney rallied from a 13-point deficit in the second half to take a 28-27 lead with 3:56 remaining in the game. 

Maloney still led with 1:10 to play, but Greenwich quickly drove down the field after stopping the Spartans on fourth down on its own 26-yard line. 

Then, after driving to the Maloney 25, the Cardinals stopped the clock with 0.5 second to play to set up Perino’s winner and send the Maloney faithful home unhappy.

The Fontana faithful were also shocked to exit losers after taking a 13-0 lead two plays into the second quarter. But after allowing 27 straight points, who knows if a resourceful SHS would have sent its game with Staples into overtime had the Blue Knights recovered an onside kick with 52 seconds to play.

Southington, down by two touchdowns midway through the fourth quarter, rallied to get within the final score on a touchdown run by quarterback C.J. DiBenedetto with 52 seconds to play in the game.

So, no longer is there a noticeable gap between the CCC and FCIAC.

What’s that they say about, “On any given Sunday”? It applies to Friday nights and Saturday afternoons, too. A year ago, Southington and Maloney both won Alliance games in Fairfield Country — Southington at Greenwich, Maloney at Darien.

“Alliance games are great; I was a big proponent of them when the proposal came out,” Southington head coach Mike Drury said. “(Games like these) let everyone know that there is a lot of good high school football around the state.

“They came out on top, on our field, with some big-time stakes,” Drury added. “But it’s about how we respond, and there is a lot of work left in the season to get ourselves where we want to be. And we are going to get better (from this loss).”

“These games are awesome,” Staples head coach Adam Behrends said. “Different (teams) play different styles of football, and what we’ve found out in our Alliance games is teams are going to hit. They are very physical.”

Staples lost at home to undefeated West Haven, 33-23, in a Week 1 Alliance matchup.

While the FCIAC is still considered the top high school football conference in Connecticut along with SCC, the CCC is on the rise, a fact that’s not lost on those who call the FCIAC home.

‘Shoot, Southington has some dudes,” Behrends said. 

 A year ago, both Maloney and Southington announced the conference’s presence with authority. The Blue Knights took the state’s No. 1 ranking from Greenwich by winning in overtime on a Saturday afternoon in Week 3 at the Cardinals’ multi-million-dollar facility, 29-28. A night earlier, the Spartans won at perennial state contender Darien, 21-9.

Hosting reigning Class LL champ and No. 1-ranking Greenwich this year validated Maloney’s status in the state, and gave head coach Kevin Frederick “goosebumps” prior to the game. A packed house created a big-time atmosphere in an electric Falcon Field.

Friday night was the latest example of what Frederick has built in his decade in charge of Maloney. The Spartans brought Meriden its first football state championship in 2021 and Maloney has been to three of the past four Class L state championship games.

A year ago, Maloney lost to New Canaan in the Class L title game, 16-13.

Southington, meanwhile, entered the Class LL playoffs as the No. 1 seed but was upset by Trumbull in the first round. Trumbull just happens to play in the FCIAC.

Maloney ascended to No. 1 in the state a year ago after it beat then-No. 1 Southington at Falcon Field in double overtime. The Spartans entered the Class L playoffs as the No. 3 seed.

Southington, meanwhile, was one of two teams to beat Greenwich during the Cardinals’ 2022 championship season. Staples was the other.

So, while both Maloney and Southington lost Friday night at home to FCIAC teams, how each performed, and the fact both were matched up with two of the top teams in the state, left both coaches knowing their teams will be a factor once again come the postseason.

What Southington took from its loss to Staples may prove valuable in a couple months.

“We are a great team; we are going to come back (from this loss) stronger,” said Southington wide receiver John Flynn, who caught two touchdowns in the loss to Staples. “Sometimes teams may need a loss to focus up.

“Look at Greenwich last year; they lost to us in Week 3 and wound up winning the state championship,” Flynn added. “I’d rather play and be in a battle with a really good team than play a bad team and blow them out. We learned more from this (loss) than beating a bad team.”

The rest of the state learned the CCC can, and will continue, to play with the best. Win or lose.


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