By Paul Augeri
CROMWELL – The biggest football game in Rosetown in years kicks off shortly after noon on Sunday when undefeated Cromwell/Portland meets 20-time state champion Ansonia in the CIAC Class S semifinals at Pierson Park.
A win over the Chargers would catapult the Panthers into their first state title game under the Cromwell/Portland cooperative banner.
“It’s going to be a great atmosphere,” coach Randell Bennett said during Friday’s practice. “We’ve been pumping in crowd noise all week. This town is re-energized by its football team.”
Class S Semifinal
- Who: No. 3 Ansonia at No. 2 Cromwell/Portland
- When: Sunday, 12:30pm
- Where: Pierson Park, Cromwell (get there early)
- Records: Cromwell/Portland 11-0; Ansonia 10-1
- How they got here: Cromwell/Portland defeated No. 7 Notre Dame-Fairfield 29-20; Ansonia defeated No. 6 Seymour 35-14.
- Recent playoff appearances: Cromwell/Portland – 2018 (Class S quarterfinal loss vs. Stafford/East Windsor/Somers); 2016 (Class S semifinal loss vs. Ansonia). Ansonia – 2017 (Class S runner-up); 2016 (Class S champion); 2015 (Class S runner-up); 2014 (Class S-Large runner-up); 2011-2013 (Class S champions).
- Ansonia top players: Sr. RB Darell McKnight (190 yards, 4 TDs in quarterfinal win over Seymour; Jr. RB David Cassetti (96 yards rushing, TD, INT vs. Seymour).
- Cromwell/Portland top players (stats through 10 games): Jr. QB Cole Brisson (1,755 yards passing, 22 TDs, 4 INTs); Jr. RB Alex Hair (765 yards on 104 carries, 10 TDs); Sr. RB/LB Owen Brunk (457 yards rushing, 6 TDs, team-high 82 tackles); Sr. WR/LB Ted Williams (797 yards, 14 TDs, 1,156 all-purpose yards, 80 tackles); Jr. DB Ben Fagan (6 picks); Soph. DL Jack Williams (team-high 6 sacks); DB Emeka Yearwood (5.5 sacks).
The Panthers are in the semifinals for the first time since 2016 and haven’t reached the championship game since 2011. They won their only title in 2008, seven years after the program’s launch, 14-12 win over Ansonia.
Ansonia’s pedigree might make it the favorite Sunday, with six state championships alone under Tom Brockett and four in the last decade, but Cromwell/Portland has played with a swagger all season and is eager to line up against the Chargers.
“It’s going to come down to physicality,” said Bennett. “We have to play fast and be physical. Everyone’s gotta be a threat.”
The Panthers, with 423 points in 11 games, can hurt an opponent with the passing game with Cole Brisson and a plethora of pass catchers in short or long situations, and in the running game with featured back Alex Hair. Kicker Allen Cohen also has been a weapon with his range when the team needs to put up points. He kicked three field goals in a quarterfinal win over Notre Dame of Fairfield.
“This team is harder to be aggressive against because have so many different athletes than can hurt you,” Ansonia coach Tom Brockett told GameTimeCT.com. “They have as many quality wide receivers as anyone in the state. They are all fast, they all catch the ball well. Their quarterback is fantastic on film. He puts the ball there every single time. They have an effective running game. Matching up with them is a nightmare on the defensive side.”
The Panthers’ defense will be geared toward anticipating Ansonia’s double-wing attack with senior Darell McKnight and junior David Cassetti and preventing big plays. The Chargers will be up against an aggressive unit that plays sideline to sideline, is strong up front and flies to the ball with the likes of Owen Brunk, Ted Williams, Ben Fagan and others.
Cromwell/Portland blew out its first eight opponents, but having played in three tight games since, they are battle-tested. After a 14-6 home win over Stafford/East Windsor/Somers, C/P rallied with big plays in the second half to defeat rival Rocky Hill in their regular season finale. In the Class S quarterfinals, the Panthers played really well in the fourth quarter to hold off Notre Dame of Fairfield.
Sunday’s matchup could hinge on which team makes the fewest mistakes. Expect it to be a battle of will.
Prediction: Panthers 20, Chargers 14.