Breaking down the CIAC football playoffs
Naugatuck’s victory over Ansonia upended the Class S and L playoff fields, Gilbert/Northwestern/Housatonic’s takedown of Granby/Canton shook up Class M, and New Canaan’s fourth-consecutive victory over Darien turned Class LL on its head once again.
In short, it was another glorious Thanksgiving Day regular season finale in Connecticut, seasoned with some intriguing surprises as the playoff pairings at last came into focus. The CIAC football committee met and approved the points Friday morning.
The state playoffs begin with quarterfinals at the higher seeds at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday (host schools without home lights must find a lighted field on which to play their game).
The semifinals will be Sunday, Dec. 5 at 12:30 p.m. at the sites of the higher seeds and the championships on Dec. 11 at either Trumbull or New Britain. That will be determined following the state semifinals.
There are three returning teams — Southington, Darien and Greenwich. The 2019 defending champion Newtown was knocked off by Masuk on Thanksgiving eve. New Canaan played in Class L in 2019.
New Canaan’s fourth-straight victory over Darien knocked the Blue Wave out of a projected No. 1 seed and into the No. 3/6 game vs. upstart Hamden, which qualified for its first state playoff since 2008 with its first Thanksgiving win since 2005.
Instead, Fairfield Prep gets its first No. 1 seed of the quarterfinal era. They’ll face a familiar foe in Greenwich, which is responsible for the Jesuits’ only loss this season, 14-7 on Oct. 1. Shelton, which hasn’t played since Nov. 12, faces Hall, which wrapped up its regular season on Nov. 20.
Greenwich at 7-3 was a beneficiary of the new strength-of-schedule bonus points formula. Under the previous playoff formula, West Haven would have qualified at No. 8.
There are three teams returning from the 2019 playoffs — Hand, Maloney and St. Joseph. New Canaan qualified, but now plays in LL.
Hand finished 7-3, but was another beneficiary of the strength-of-schedule modifier. Otherwise, it would have been Fitch at No. 8. Instead, Hand will head to Kennedy Stadium in Bridgeport to play St. Joseph in a rematch of the 2019 Class L championship, won by St. Joseph 17-13.
Naugatuck’s victory over Ansonia, its first since 2010, catapulted the Greyhounds into a home playoff game vs. Masuk. Bristol Central qualified for its first playoff game since 1987’s Class MM final. Victor Rosa and the Rams will play former CCC Division II rival Maloney (the league realigned this year).
Cheney Tech, the CTC champion, and CCC Tier I champion Windsor finished tied in playoff points at 154.00 and tiebreaker points. Cheney Tech got the No. 4 seed on the third tiebreaker, the highest ranked opponent defeated in the CIAC standings. Cheney Tech’s win over No. 11 Thames River put the Beavers over the top.
Defending 2019 champion Weston is gone, but runner-up Killingly is back, as is Rockville and Granby/ Canton. New Fairfield qualified, but now plays in L.
Gilbert/Northwestern/Housatonic’s victory over Granby/Canton, coupled with East Catholic’s victory over NWC (which Plainville needed) and North Branford’s upset of Coginchaug (which Gilbert got) allowed the Yellowjackets to qualify over the Blue Devils for the final seed.
GNWH only played eight official games, and one was a forfeit vs. SMSA. They’ll face 2019 Class runner-up, unbeaten Killingly (9-0).
Branford qualified for its first state playoff berth since winning the Class MM title in 2005. Though the Hornets defeated Avon 21-7 on the road on Nov. 15, they must return again as the No. 5 seed in the quarterfinals.
Avon couldn’t play during the first three weeks of the season due to COVID and was forced to cancel one of its games — vs. Class S playoff qualifier Notre Dame-Fairfield — due to the lack of open dates. The Falcons qualified for the No. 4 seed because their nine-game average of 128.33 just beat out Branford’s 127.50. Branford needed Notre Dame-West Haven or Amity to win, but got neither.
Rockville defeated rival Ellington in the Route 83 Bowl on Wednesday night. Now they’ll play again Route 83 Bowl II in the quarterfinals. It’s the second time since 2017 that Thanksgiving Week rivals rematched a week later. That year, No. 7- seeded SMSA avenged a 28-26 loss with a 32-29 win in the quarterfinals.
Only two teams from 2019 return, Bloomfield and Ansonia. New Fairfield, which qualified in M two years ago, is now here.
Bloomfield is the No. 1 seed in its class for the first time since Andrew Pinnock and Dwight Freeney roamed the field back in 1998. The Warhawks are looking to reach their third-consecutive final and win their second title since 2018.
Ansonia’s loss to Naugatuck meant the Chargers fell to the No. 3 seed, where they will face arch-NVL rival Seymour in a rematch of a 33-8 Ansonia victory on Oct. 21. This is also the second playoff meeting between the rivals since 2017, which Ansonia won 51-16. Ansonia hasn’t played in a state championship game since that year, either, and is looking for its first title since 2006. The last time Seymour advanced to the semifinals was in 2015.
Holy Cross, the No. 4 seed, returns to the state playoffs for the first time in 10 years, when they defeated Cromwell 34-27 in the championship at Rentschler Field. They’ll play New Fairfield at Municipal Stadium. The Rebels last reached a final in 2016, but lost to Brookfield.
Notre Dame-Fairfield is making its first state playoff appearance since 2002’s run to the Class S final, which ended with a 44-14 loss to Ansonia. They’ll face Cromwell/Portland at Pierson Park. C/P is making its first appearance since 2018.