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A look at high school football throughout the state

Monday, July 27, 2009

Top 10: Rivalries

This week's installment of the Top 10 football topics is all about rivalries. Some are the greatest in state history, others made the list because of longevity, and some appear because of recent memorable moments in the series.

Tell us what is your favorite.

1. New London vs. Norwich Free Academy
The annual Thanksgiving Day game between the two schools is the oldest high school football rivalry in the COUNTRY. The teams will meet for the 148th time on Nov. 26 at 10 a.m. in Norwich.

The longevity of this series makes it the state’s best rivalry. At times, however, football from the Eastern part of the state doesn’t get as much recognition as teams from the south-western sections do.

But this one, between a program (New London) that has a long history of success on the gridiron, and one (NFA) that has been one of the state’s most consistent teams in recent years, is reminiscent of rivalries down in the Valley, in Southern Connecticut and in Central Connecticut.

Both programs are passionate about the sport, and the fans are as crazed as any in the state.
New London has won four of the last seven meetings, including a 21-7 victory last season before the Whalers went on to win the Class SS state title for the program’s fifth championship.

2. Greenwich vs. Staples
While there are several other big games down in the Fairfield County Interscholastic Athletic Conference — New Canaan vs. Staples, New Canaan vs. Greenwich, St. Joseph vs. Trumbull, Darien vs. New Canaan — this one, in recent years, usually has major implications on the state playoff ratings.

Since 2005, this contest has been played on Thanksgiving, and it’s one of the most highly anticipated games of the year. In 2007, Greenwich defeated the Wreckers, 37-0, and also captured the FCIAC title in the process. Both teams earned playoff berths that year.
The winning team in the last four games in this series has won by shutout (Staples in 2005 and 2006, and Greenwich in 2007 and 2008).

This year’s meeting is set for Nov. 26 at 10 a.m. in Westport. It’s been the MSG game of the week the past several seasons.

3. Ansonia vs. Seymour
The Valley has produced several notable rivalries. Ansonia vs. Naugatuck, Ansonia vs. Derby and Shelton vs. Derby immediately come to mind.

But in recent years, Ansonia vs. Seymour might be the most intense, and important, one in this football-rich section of the state.

Ansonia is a founding member of the Naugatuck Valley League, while Seymour joined the NVL in 1994. The teams sometimes played a non-league contest against each other in years when the schedule allowed for an 11th game.

In 2007, the teams were put in the Brass Division of the NVL, with the division winner, which has been Ansonia the past two years, moving on to the NVL championship. This has only heightened the rivalry, although since 1994, Ansonia holds a 12-3 series lead against its neighbors.

This year’s contest is set for Nov. 13 at 7 p.m. in Seymour.

To read last season's game story click here.

4. New Britain vs. Southington
This rivalry has become so big, in fact, that last year’s game was played at Rentschler Field in East Hartford, home to the University of Connecticut.

The game will be contested at that site again this year on Oct. 9 at 7 p.m.

Last year, New Britain snapped a three-game losing streak to the Blue Knights with a 3-0 victory.

It is, arguably, the central part of the state’s wildest rivalry. Despite last year’s result, both teams are have a penchant for putting points on the board. The teams combined to score 35 or more points every year from 2003-2007.

5. Bunnell vs. Masuk
It’s what Masuk wasn’t able to do, until last year, that made this rivalry the best in the South-West Conference.

When Masuk defeated the Bulldogs, 42-20, last season, it snapped the Panthers’ five-game losing skid to Bunnell. Masuk had lost six of the last seven to their rivals, including in the 2006 and 2007 SWC championship, and in the 2007 Class L state final.

Masuk’s victory last season snapped Bunnell’s 21-game winning streak dating back to 2006.
This year’s contest is scheduled for Nov. 13 at 7 p.m. in Monroe.

Last season's game story can be found here.

6. Hand vs. West Haven
Two of the Southern Connecticut Conference most prominent programs have played several memorable games recently.

Last year, Hand won 38-20, in the series most lopsided game in four seasons.

In 2007, West Haven scored with 22 seconds remaining to take a 40-34 lead. However, Hand, on just two plays, scored with time winding down. A successful extra point kick by Joe Robichaud gave the Tigers a 41-40 victory and kept Hand’s perfect season in tact.

West Haven emerged with a 14-11 victory in 2006, and a 21-19 decision in 2005.

The teams have split the last six contests. This year’s game is set for Oct. 9 at 7 p.m. in West Haven.

7. Fairfield Prep vs. Shelton
Another one from the SCC that’s just as intense, and rowdy.

Although Shelton has won four of the last five meetings, the last four in this series have been highly competitive.

The rivalry was intensified in 2007 when Prep player Ryan Nolan was quoted as saying that "Shelton should be afraid of us." Shelton came back to win that contest 26-21. Prep emerged with a 14-9 win in 2006.

This year’s game is Oct. 23 at 7 p.m. at Finn Stadium in Shelton.

8. Hillhouse vs. Wilbur Cross
These two New Haven schools first played in 1920. The series then began on Thanksgiving morning in 1984, and was called the Elm City Bowl.

Despite Hillhouse holding a 51-30-6 overall series lead, there have been several close games recently.

Last season, Hillhouse emerged with a 26-20 victory to cap an unbeaten regular season. The Academics trailed 20-12 at halftime, but Brandyn Wright’s 4-yard touchdown run in overtime lifted Hillhouse to victory.

Hillhouse has won the last four in the series, which includes a 7-0 victory in 2007, a 6-0 win in 2006 and a 21-12 victory in 2005. Cross last won in 2004, a 23-21 win.

Last year’s game was the first Elm City Bowl to be played at Wilbur Cross. The game returns to Bowen Field this year on Nov. 26 at 10:30 a.m.

To read last season's game story on the Elm City Bowl, click here.

9. Cromwell vs. Hyde
This rivalry is just eight games old, but it is, arguably, the biggest one in the Pequot Conference.
Cromwell earned two victories over the Howling Wolves last season — a 17-14 win in the regular season, and a 34-9 victory in the Class S state semifinals.

Cromwell leads the series 5-3. Hyde defeated the Panthers in the 2004 Class S championship.

If the first eight games are any indication, this rivalry has the potential to be one of the biggest in the state in the years to come.

The Class S semifinal game story could be found here.
The regular season game story is here.

10. Hartford Public vs. Weaver
This rivalry spans 85 games. Hartford Public leads the series over its fellow city school 43-38-4.

Basketball is usually the sport of choice in Hartford, but city schools have enjoyed success on the gridiron over the last 15 years. Hartford Public won the Class LL title in 1994 after a victory over Southington.

Weaver won the Class L title in 1996, and captured Class M crowns in 1997 and 1999. Weaver has advanced to the postseason in five of the last 10 seasons.

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