Pictured: Cromwell/Portland players work in the snow and mud on their practice field Thursday, two days out from the co-op’s first appearance in a state final. (Photo by Paul Augeri)

By Paul Augeri

CROMWELL – The mood was light at the start of Cromwell/Portland’s second-to-last football practice of 2021. With the coaching staff yet to arrive, a snowball or two flew through the air. Some players chatted in a small group, while others spilled in still pulling on their pads.

Hours earlier, Cromwell kids rode a bus to Portland High School for a pep assembly. On Friday, Portland players visited Cromwell High for a second rally.

The Panthers are feeling good about Saturday’s opportunity to win their first state championship as a co-op program, yet for all the two-town fanfare that has enveloped the team these last four months, a business-like approach was still evident Thursday.

“We’re happy. Everyone’s nervous, but we’re all super happy,” senior lineman Ethan Philbrick said. “We’re glad that we’re here and we’re ready to play the game. We’d play ‘em here on our field right now if we had the chance.”

Class S Championship Game

Who: No. 2 Cromwell/Portland vs. No. 1 Bloomfield

When: Saturday, 11am

Where: McDougall Stadium at Trumbull High School

Records: Cromwell/Portland 12-0; Bloomfield 12-0

How they got here: Cromwell/Portland def. No. 7 Notre Dame-Fairfield 29-20 and No. 3 Ansonia 46-7; Bloomfield def. No. 8 Morgan 50-18 and No. 5 New Fairfield 22-14.

Past championship appearances: First appearance for Cromwell/Portland as co-op. As Cromwell — 2011 (lost to Holy Cross); 2008 (def. Ansonia); 2004 (lost to Hyde Leadership); 2003 (lost to Ansonia). Bloomfield (2000 and later) – 2019 (lost to Sheehan); 2018 (def. Haddam-Killingworth); 2015 (def. Ansonia); 2006 (lost to Ansonia); 2003 (def. Brookfield in Class SS); 2001 (def. North Branford); 2000 (def. New Canaan in Class M).

Cromwell/Portland key players: Sr. WR/LB Teddy Williams; Sr. LB/RB Owen Brunk; Jr. QB Cole Brisson; Jr. RB Alex Hair; Soph. WR Emeka Yearwood; Sr. OL/DL Ethan Philbrick; Jr. K Allen Cohen.

Bloomfield key players: Soph. QB Darrien Foster; Sr. RB Dallas Rose; Jr. RB Conellius Patrick; Jr. WR Trevon Ortiz; Sr. WR/S Robert Dunkley; Jr. OL/DL Justice Mills.

Prediction: Cromwell/Portland, 22-14.

The ‘em’ would be top-seeded Bloomfield. Like No. 2 seed Cromwell/Portland, the Warhawks are 12-0 heading into the Class S final in Trumbull on Saturday. Coach Ty Outlaw’s squad is making its third straight appearance in the championship, 16th overall, and seeks title No. 10.

But the Panthers aren’t in awe of Bloomfield’s pedigree. They’re more mindful of what they need to continue to do to win the second championship in program history, which would clinch a perfect season.

“Same thing as (against semifinal opponent) Ansonia – aggression,” Philbrick said. “And stick to our assignments. Same strategy each game. Aggression and get your assignment done and we’ll win games.”

Coach Randell Bennett wants to see the Panthers open Saturday’s game similarly to how they did last Sunday against the Chargers.

“It’s definitely going to (require) us to start the game with the same fire as last week,” Bennett said. “Come out, play hard, play fast, just believe in ourselves. We’ve been solid all year. We can do it for 48 more minutes — continue to fight for the entire game.”

The Panthers scored on their first play from scrimmage, put 20 points on the board in the second quarter and had a 33-0 lead before Ansonia got in the end zone.

In one writer’s opinion, Bloomfield and Cromwell/Portland are even in the run and pass departments. Players in both secondaries are fast to the ball and tackle well.

Could the game be decided up front, on both sides of the ball?

“Their line’s pretty big, I’m not going to lie. They’ve got some big boys up there,” Bennett said. “I’ll have to ask Ty (Outlaw, Bloomfield’s coach) what he’s feeding those guys in the pregame meal. They’ve got some big boys up front. Once their running back hits it, you have to make a play. I watched the (Bloomfield-Plainville tape and he (senior Dallas Rose) was running all over these guys. It’s going to be fun to see our guys try to rise up to that task.”

The Panthers have been dialed in throughout the season with a singular goal — a Class S championship — and the time has arrived for them to go and get it.

“Everyone does their job and we got it,” Philbrick said. “Simple.”

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