Ansonia's legend just keeps growing
NEW BRITAIN – The legend is bathed in history but it does not rest with yesterday. It continually breathes today and you just shake your head and maybe offer a wry smile and a salute not just for what was but what continually is.
Ansonia football, as storied a program as there is in our state. Another type of legend, the great former Hartford Courant sportswriter Owen Canfield once referred to the program in this sense, “the most famous little football town in New England.” Not the Naugatuck Valley League, not Connecticut but the whole damn Northeastern region.
The comment was made 15 or so years ago but the program continues to breed that kind of adulation. There has never been a letup, there has never been the up and down cycle that is invariably a part of high school sports particularly those in the small school category as small populations struggle to find permanent consistency.
It’s just never been that way in in hard scrabble valley town where little kids become little Chargers and dream of becoming big Chargers and then inevitably go on to win championships. If you don’t know Ansonia know this much. Football isn’t just a team and school thing here it is part of the culture. Championship football is as much a part of life here as is Main Street in any town.
The Chargers were at it again on a brisk, sun-filled Saturday morning at Willowbrook Park playing Rocky Hill for the Class S title. It is where they live, this last day of the high school football season with a state title on the line. Doesn’t matter the field, they are just there. Seemingly all the time.
This was the seventh straight appearance with a seventh different opponent ready to take on the legend. For the record it was the 10th time in 11 years dating back to 2006 and the 30th time since 1976. You want to roll out the old line – “Death, taxes and Ansonia,” that’s appropriate and okay. For the younger generation those numbers are just flat out `sick’.
Who goes to 30 state title games in 40 years? Nobody I know except a dedicated fan. What small school goes to the final game of the season three quarters of the time. A-N-S-O-N-I-A. I mean who else? After all they do have 22 undefeated seasons. Did we say `sick’?
The legend would be secure just on that number alone. But, the Chargers have always refused to be placated by getting there. They win there. Not some of the time or all of the time. But, most of the time. Twenty times in those 30 years they have raised the championship plaque and stood on their mountain top, including Saturday’s 28-21 victory over Rocky Hill. The Chargers haven’t been perfect but they have been brilliant.
The Terriers (11-2), making their first appearance, longed to play the Chargers. What team doesn’t, Ansonia is the all-time measuring stick. And the Terriers with a bruising running back in Joe Catania (22-192) weren’t awed. They led, 14-6, at the half. Despite 191 yards and two touchdowns on 34 carries, including a 51-yard hole-shot up the middle, the next great Ansonia running back Markell Dobbs was hounded all day long and nothing came easy.
Ansonia had lost the last two title games, 21-20 to Valley Regional / Old Lyme in 2014 and 31-20 to Bloomfield in 2015. The legend carries a price with it. Getting there is not enough.
Heck, Ansonia coach Tom Brockett who currently has the best winning percentage of any coach in Connecticut High School football history (136-10, 10 title game appearances, six titles) actually was getting heckled one game by a spoiled Charger fan in need of a psycho eval last year. Heck the guy has coached more years than he has losses. Chew on that one. Welcome to part of the price.
The losses bit at the Chargers particularly the Valley Regional / Old Lyme where late fumbles saw a victory evaporate into a sour afternoon.
“Most guys two years ago felt the heartbreak and last year,’ said senior quarterback Bryson Cafaro.
“Since the beginning of the season we’ve had a chip on our shoulder,” admitted junior linebacker Cody Teodosio.
An Ansonia chip is more like a gargantuan boulder. Throw in all the talk about not being a vintage team, about being too young, about Seymour being the team to beat in the NVL this year. It all was heard and Saturday it was all addressed with championship finality.
It took some doing. The Chargers still trailed going into the fourth quarter. The big plays including a 93-yard run by Catania had mostly belonged to Rocky Hill. But the two-year disappointment run was about to end.
Somebody gave Cafaro (8-83) a pair of running shoes and he took off on a 40-yard bootleg around the left end moving the ball to the Rocky Hill 11-yard line. Two Dobbs runs later and it was 14-12.
The Chargers then recovered a squib kick at the Rock Hill 26-yard line. This time on a fourth–and- four from the 20-yard line Cafaro connected with Jake Butler in the right corner of the end zone and a season-ending day began to turn into an Ansonia season-ending day.
After stopping the Terriers on downs, the Chargers scored the clincher with Cafaro going up the middle from eight-yards out for a 28-14 lead. The team with a history of historic backs got a historic effort from the quarterback this time around.
“He has unbelievable heart, he deserves this,” said Brocket of his lefty-flinging QB with the productive feet. “It is the first time in his career that he has gone both ways. He will go down as one of Ansonia’s greats. “
Cafaro didn’t know about that but he now knows that championship feeling.
“This is the greatest feeling in the world,” he said amidst a championship bedlam that engulfed him.”
Rocky Hill forced the Chargers to be champions when Grant Nieves made a superb catch in the end zone from quarterback Dan Cavallaro with 2:34 left to close to within, 28-21. A drive kept alive by two Ansonia penalties.
But Ansonia refused to give the ball back, able to run out the clock with a first down by the width of a skinny hair on its final possession that sent the sideline into delirium.
And don’t think it ever gets old which is maybe one way the Chargers keep the legend fresh and breathing. Tom Brockett got raised on some brawny Ansonia shoulders and pumped his fist in overdrive. Tiny tank Chazz Sanders propelled his 291 pounds on to the Ansonia bench and did the dance of champions to the Ansonia crowd while Justin Lopez also played up to the crowd.
There were more hugs going around than at a 1960s love-in.
“Any other program and this would be one of the great stories in high school football if our jerseys said anything other than Ansonia or New Canaaan or Hand,” said Brockett. “For this groupto be sitting her today at 13-0 I coan't say enough about these kids and those assistant coaches. I What this team faced the last two years and people saying Ansonia might not get it done. For us to finish 13-0 is an unbelievable job. I can't believe we're sitting here."
It is one of the great stories in high school football in one of the longest stories ever told with no final chapter in sight.
The most famous little football town in New England. Not just yesterday, but today. And you have got to believe tomorrow. That’s how the legend goes and continues to grow.