By NED X. GRIFFEN
The coach was dictating his final ballot last Sunday for The Day's Top 10 state coaches' poll and was insistent on voting North Haven.
North Haven, should you not know its story, finished 7-3 this season and didn't make the state playoffs. Its losses were to state champs Hand (Class L), Hillhouse (Class M) and Xavier (Class LL).
"That New Haven league is unbelievable," the coach said.
The coach was referring to the Southern Connecticut Conference. And he's right.
Anyone tired of listening to SCC teams or its boosters boast about the conference's superiority may have been nauseous after the league won three of the CIAC's four divisions.
It was the fourth straight year that the SCC won at least two state titles. It's also the first time that one league had three state champions in a season with just four divisions (the CIAC previously had six divisions).
"The conference really takes football and sports seriously," Hillhouse coach Tom Dyer said. "Our conference, I think, is very competitive, and all year long when you're playing against good teams, it prepares you for when you're up against the wall a little bit."
The SCC was founded in 1994. It is 26-6 in state finals. Two of those losses were to a league member. Eight of the conference's 19 football programs have won a state title.
Moments after Xavier crunched Norwich Free Academy in the Class LL final, Falcons defensive coordinator Andy Guyon told Sean Bowley of Hearst Inc., "Know what 'SCC' stands for? 'State Champions Conference.'"
Listen, we completely understand why the league turns some of you off. The way some of its membership talk, you'd think the league was filled with atomic supermen which destroy their foes with laser beam eyes.
The SCC may not win every season, but its track record is nutty.
Years ago, a coach from one of the biggest schools in the state discussed the SCC.
"We could never survive in that league," he said.
Survival. That's what SCC football has become. Some leagues are content to protect the meek. The SCC opted to split its membership into two divisions based on enrollment. All of its teams play at least two crossover games.
Not every SCC coach is thrilled to be in the soup every weekend. Some have groused that playing a competitive schedule cost them a playoff berth. The SCC has its bad teams, too.
The SCC has fostered a competitive environment, though. A team doesn't get better by being fed one dreg after another. A team gets better by consistently being challenged.
To quote the greatest athlete who ever lived, Ric Flair, "To be the man, you've got to beat the man."
"Here's what I would say to anybody," Hand coach Steve Filippone said. "We're graduating 29 seniors. We're looking forward to playing New Canaan (from the Fairfield County Interscholastic Athletic Conference) Week 1 next year. We're looking forward to it. We're maybe not going to be very good, but you know what — we want to play the best schools.
"That's what I would encourage any high school coach in Connecticut to do — go out and play the best teams you can. That's how your team gets better. It gets better that way."
Every league in the state has a flagship program that has done it proud. The Naugatuck Valley League has Ansonia. The South-West Conference has Masuk. The Pequot (Sassacus Division) has Hyde.
There are other leagues out there with good teams that work just as hard as the rest, so it begs the question — why does the SCC keep winning?
Hand senior Peter Gerson is eminently qualified to answer that question having played for two Class L championship teams, been a catalyst for the state's No. 1 team this season, and an intellectual (he's going to Yale, ladies).
"The SEC, I mean, SCC," Gerson said. "Excuse me. A little pun. It's just ridiculous the amount of competition you play. You get so many teams with such a tradition. That's where I think it all comes from. You can say that there are better athletes on the shoreline. I don't buy into that. I buy into programs, traditions, and how much you'll buy into that.
"Hand. Tradition. You really can't beat it. Another team that's not SCC, but obviously a perennial powerhouse, is Ansonia. Look at their tradition. Then you see a West Haven, it's tradition. Ed McCarthy, their head coach, (he has) 300 something wins. The man is a legend. His teams play for him and buy into it. Notre Dame (of West Haven). Tradition. Shelton, Cheshire, all these teams have such a tradition of winning. Such a tradition of coming out and plyaing their football, their town's football, and they play it for all the people who came before them. That's where I think it comes from. It's just this deep-stemmed root of greatness."
Take solace, SCC-haters. Not every year will be like this. There will be moments like New Britain beating West Haven on its home field for the 2003 Class LL title. Or Glastonbury taking down Cheshire in the 2008 LL final.
Until then, if your league is struggling to compete in the state playoffs, then consider toughening up your membership up like the SCC does.
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Pardon the delay in posting this blog entry. A bit of the Andromeda Strain went through Polecat HQ early last week.
(You know you're really sick when, as you're thinking how great it would be to eat two buttered, toasted bagels, you're brain blurts out, "but what if they go for the face?")
The offseason isn't even two weeks old and already there's been an outbreak of coaching resignations or dismissals. It's been as busy and crazy as the current college carousel.
The biggest resignation happened last week when Masuk coach John Murphy called it quits after 16 years.
Murphy has the fifth-best winning percentage in state history (.822) according to the Connecticut High School Football Record Book, won a league-best six SWC titles and played in seven state finals, winning three.
Reckon it ain't going to take Murphy long to find another opportunity.
Monday, Bryan Hocter resigned at Stamford 30 minutes before he was to meet with the school's two assistant principals, Dave Ruden of the Stamford Advocate reported.
Other teams looking for a coach (deep breath) — Avon, Bacon Academy, Bridgeport Central, Fairfield Ludlowe, Fitch, Maloney, Naugatuck, New Milford, and St. Bernard/Norwich Tech.
Pretty sure that's the entire list, and there's more to come.
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Former Ansonia coach Jack Hunt endorsed then-assistant coach Tom Brockett to take over the program after he retired in 2005.
Hunt was on to something as the Chargers have won four state titles in Brockett's seven seasons. They've also gone 85-7. That gives Brockett a state-best .924 career winning percentage for coaches with a minimum of 40 games (thank you, Bob Barton, comptroller of the Connecticut High School Football Record Book.)
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Minutia: All four state champions played a schedule where their regular-season opponents had a combined record over .500:
On the flip side, Windsor was the only runner-up whose opponents had a combined winning record:
North Branford: 45-55.
What does it all mean? Beats us.
How about this — that playing a competitive schedule doesn't ruin a team's chance to make states?
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It's never too soon to look ahead and get excited about next football season, and we can give you THREE reasons to start drooling for 2013:
1. An 11-game regular season schedule.
2. The SCC-FCIAC Challenge.
3. The NVL-SWC Challenge.
The pairings for the 2013 and 2014 NVL-SWC Challenge were released last week. The games will take place in Week 6 both seasons, and the match-ups will be different both years.
The 2013 games: Masuk at Ansonia; Barlow at Torrington; Brookfield at Wilby; Bunnell at Naugatuck; Derby at Bethel; Holy Cross at Weston; Immaculate at Crosby; Kennedy at Stratford; New Fairfield at Sacred Heart; Newtown at Wolcott; Notre Dame-Fairfield at St. Paul; Seymour at Oxford; Watertown at New Milford; and, Woodland at Pomperaug.
The 2014 games: Ansonia at Newtown; Bethel at Seymour; Crosby at Notre Dame-Fairfield; Naugatuck at Barlow; New Milford at Kennedy; Oxford at Derby; Pomperaug at Holy Cross; Sacred Heart at Brookfield; St. Paul at Immaculate; Stratford at Watertown; Torrington at Bunnell; Wilby at New Fairfield; Weston at Woodland; and, Wolcott at Masuk.
The SCC-FCIAC Challenge was announced in late November. Every team will participate except Amity, which had already booked an interleague series with old Housatonic League friend Seymour.
Eighteen of the games will be played in Week 1 both seasons. The pairings are: Bassick vs. East Haven; Bridgeport Central vs. North Haven; Danbury vs. Hamden; Darien vs. Hillhouse; Fairfield Ludlowe vs. Lyman Hall; Fairfield Warde vs. Foran; Greenwich vs. West Haven; Harding vs. Law; McMahon vs. Wilbur Cross; New Canaan vs. Hand; Ridgefield vs. Cheshire; St. Joseph vs. Notre Dame-West Haven; Stamford vs. Fairfield Prep; Staples vs. Xavier; Trinity Catholic vs. Sheehan; Trumbull vs. Shelton; Westhill vs. Norwalk; Wilton vs. Guilford.
The other non-Week 1 matchups are St. Joseph v. Fairfield Prep (Week 2); Wilton v. Branford (Week 3); Ridgefield v. Notre Dame-West Haven (Week 4); Trinity Catholic v. Foran (Week 5); Fairfield Warde v. Sheehan (Week 8); Fairfield Ludlowe v. East Haven (Week 9); and, Darien v. North Haven (Week 10).
HATS OFF to all four conferences for agreeing to give fans some juicy interleague games. We just wish that the state's other conferences had agreed to do the same.
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Thanks for reading this year. We greatly appreciate you giving a dang.
Enjoy the holidays of your choosing.
Vaya con dios….