CIAC Class LL Semifinals, Saturday, 2 p.m. at Bunnell
No. 2 Staples (10-0) vs. No. 6 Newtown (9-2)
Overview: Staples appears to be on a collision course with No. 1 ranked and top-seeded Xavier (11-0) in what would be a titanic clash in the Class LL finals. But first, the undefeated Wreckers must get past the dangerous Nighthawks, who finished as the South-West Conference runner-up to defending Class L champion Masuk.
Newtown, which advanced with a come-from-behind 36-22 victory over No. 3 Hall of West Hartford on Tuesday, has the ability to score with anyone behind its thunder and lightning backfield of record-breaking senior Lou Fenaroli and speedy junior Dan Hebert.
However, with a defense that allowed 48 points in the regular season against Bunnell and 43 more in the SWC championship game against Masuk, the Nighthawks might have to beat Staples in a shootout if they hope to reach their first state championship game since 1992 when they won the Class MM title.
Staples, aiming for its seventh state-championship game appearance since 2002, just keeps trucking along behind its potent spread-option offense and another hard-hitting and opportunistic defense.
The FCIAC-champion Wreckers took conference rival Ridgefield apart during a 48-21 victory in the quarterfinals on Tuesday night, gaining 424 yards on the ground. Now Staples is on the cusp of going back to the Class LL finals for the first time since 2009 when Cheshire ruined its perfect season in an overtime thriller.
When Newtown has the ball: Everything the Nighthawks do begins with the 225-pound Fenaroli, the team’s workhorse who has rushed for a single-season record 1,612 yards. Fenaroli, a powerful straight-ahead runner who ripped off 141 yards and three scores in the quarterfinals against Hall, has scored 28 touchdowns this season, including four through the air.
Newtown, which also lost to Pomperaug 16-9 during the regular season, will look to get the ball into the hands of Hebert as much as possible. Hebert is the team’s game-breaker, the leading receiver with 30 receptions for 629 yards and 5 touchdowns, a slippery runner who gashed Hall for long touchdown runs of 59 and 66 yards, a part-time quarterback who takes snaps out of the Wildcat formation, and a solid defensive back who leads the team with six interceptions.
Newtown can also throw the ball behind sophomore quarterback Andrew Tarantino (1,221 yards, 11 touchdowns, 4 interceptions), who has a host of talented receivers in Hebert, Fenaroli, junior Andrew Devellis and freshman Julian Dunn.
The Staples defense is led by junior defensive end Kevin Kearney (91 tackles), lineman Pieter Hoets (92 tackles, 12 sacks), hard-hitting linebacker Lance Lonergan (93 tackles) and a solid defensive backfield comprised of Frusciante (4 interceptions), Greg Strauss, Vasili Tziolis (3 interceptions) and Kelly.
When Staples has the ball: The Wreckers have a myriad of offensive weapons to choose from, each of whom have stepped up at different times this season. Senior Jon Heil did it against Ridgefield with leading rusher Joey Zelkowitz still nursing an injury. Heil, a sprinter on the track team, delivered a monumental effort with a career-high 356 yards and four touchdowns, including runs of 94, 63 and 80 yards.
Kelly is still the team’s predominant playmaker as a runner (667 yards, 13 touchdowns), receiver (112 yards, two touchdowns), Wildcat formation quarterback and kick returner.
Sophomore quarterback Jack Massie has proven he can win games with his arm if the running attack stalls, coming in with 1,252 yards passing, 10 touchdowns and three interceptions. Massie also has already started in two state playoff games, winning one of those. His main target is junior James Frusciante, who leads the Wreckers with 28 catches for 643 yards and seven touchdowns.
Prediction: Staples 41, Newtown 14