Special to CIACsports.com
Close in proximity to the FCIAC, football factory Ansonia and not far from the SCC, the South-West Conference is sometimes overlooked when pundits proclaim where quality high school football is played in Connecticut.
While the Class LL and Class L finals feature FCIAC-SCC matchups, Class M’s title game between No. 2 seed New Fairfield (11-1) and No.5 Brookfield (10-2) guarantees the SWC a state champion. Kickoff is set for 10:30 a.m. Saturday at West Haven High.
“It’s South-West against South-West,” Brookfield coach Rich Anganaro said. “It’s good for the conference. We had a feeling we’d meet up again in post-season after our opener against them.”
Both teams have been dominant in the Class M playoffs, New Fairfield shut out both St. Joseph, the defending Class M champ out of the FCIAC, and Ledyard. Brookfield handled Abbott Tech/Immaculate, 35-6, and Killingly, 34-13.
But, perhaps in the greatest testament to illustrate the South-West’s strength, both teams encountered more turbulence in their own league than they have in post-season.
New Fairfield lost the season opener 27-13 to Brookfield, which subsequently went on to lose twice, to Class LL playoff semifinalist Newtown and 4-6 Bunnell in overtime, during an 8-2 regular season.
It was funny,” New Fairfield coach Anthony Fata said at the CIAC State Finals press conference Tuesday. “At the end of the game we said to the kids, ‘We’ll see these guys again. We’ll see them in the playoffs.’ What seemed like just a coach trying to motivate you and pump you up at that time, now look at it. You couldn’t ask for a better story.”
Both teams are cut from the same mold: punishing, physical defenses with offenses featuring a stud running back.
New Fairfield revolves around senior Zach Tripodi, who has rushed for 2,133 yards and 26 touchdowns. Brookfield boasts senior Robert Drysdale, a Harvard recruit who has run for 1,350 yards 14 touchdowns. Those stats are actually down from his 2,100 yards as a sophomore and 1,500 as a junior. The 6-1 215-pounder has totaled over 60 career touchdowns.
Each squad offers more than a one-trick pony. New Fairfield passes sparingly, but spectacularly. Quarterback Mike Zanca has completed 51 of 102 passes for 1,100 yards – a mind-boggling 20 yards per completion. The Rebels make teams pay for stacking the line to stop Tripodi.
For Brookfield, Drysdale has plenty of help offensively with senior fullback Austin Reich (541 yards, 10 TDs) and Harrison Manesis (435 yards) in the backfield. Roscigno can also burn defenses geared to stuff the run as he has passed for 848 yards and nine touchdowns in just 113 attempts.
Both squads fly around to the ball on defense. Raich (89 tackles) and Drysdale (83) are physical linebackers for Brookfield. The Bobcats’ top defensive player could be end Nick Seis, who has 97 tackles and 13.5 sacks.
New Fairfield features a pair of top linebackers in Brian Mcgonnigle (95 tackles) and A.J. Pearl (87 tackles). Russell Howard, a 6-1 255-pound tackle, has six sacks, and as a team the Rebels have 18 interceptions.
Both teams possess productive kickers. New Fairfield’s Michael Handlmaier booted two field goals against Ledyard. Brookfield kicker Dane Borges is having one of the greatest seasons in CIAC history when you consider he didn’t miss one of 52 PAT kicks, added 11 field goals in 14 tries and sent 41 kickoffs into the endzone for touchbacks.
“He is an absolute weapon,” Anganaro said. “Hands down he’s the best kicker in the state. He’s drawing interest from many college programs.”
The only element these teams don’t share is championship history. This is New Fairfield’s first final since 1983. The Rebels have never won a state title. Brookfield won Class M-Large last season and is making its third straight final berth and seventh since 2000. The Bobcats have won three CIAC crowns.