Ansonia-Woodland set to battle for Valley, State bragging rights
There will be no surprises for Ansonia and Woodland when it comes to Friday’s Class S state championship game at CCSU’s Arute Field.
The Naugatuck Valley League rivals meet for the second time this season and the only difference will be the stakes involved.
The Chargers (14-0), the top-ranked team in the state and Connecticut’s lone remaining unbeaten, are looking for a third straight state title and are led by a senior class that is 42-0 over the past three seasons. The Hawks (12-2), who only started playing varsity football in 2002, are hunting for their third state title. Woodland won the Class SS title in 2004 and 2005.
“It was a goal of ours to get back here,” Woodland coach Tim Shea said. “These kids are trying to live up to those championship teams before us.”
The narrative around this one is like so many Ansonia games before, a David and Goliath matchup with the only thing really in doubt being the final score. But there is a bit of a different twist to this one with the teams having met for the NVL title earlier in the season.
Ansonia knocked off Woodland, 48-7, in the NVL championship game on Nov. 20. Another win over the Hawks and the Chargers would be the first team in state history to win 15 games in a season. Despite the score of the first meeting, the Chargers expect this meeting to be a tougher matchup.
“I think the score of the first game is a little misleading and we are expecting a very tough game from Woodland,” Ansonia coach Tom Brockett said.
Woodland will no doubt be expecting the same as Ansonia looks to add its 19th state title and send this senior class out on a winning note.
When you talk about Ansonia’s senior class you have to start with Arkeel Newsome, the state’s all-time leading rusher who will be playing in his final game as a Charger. Newsome has run for 3,608 yards and 64 touchdowns on 299 carries this season and his career numbers are just mind-blowing: 909 carries, 10,413 yards and 183 TDs.
Newsome is keenly aware that this is his swan song and he is motivated to go out with a win.
"There is definitely some pressure involved, it's my last high school football game and it's a state championship game, there is always pressure when it's a state title game," Newsome said.
But for Newsome, dealing with the pressure is a way of life. Every game Ansonia plays is a game against an opponent with nothing to lose and who is looking to be the one that finally knocks off the Chargers. Relatively quiet and modest despite his record-breaking career, Newsome has taken on a bigger role off ex field this season to make sure Ansonia remains on track.
"This season I had to push people a little more, show a little more leadership," Newsome said. "I've enjoyed that role. I think a lot of kids on the team look up to me."
While Newsome and Ansonia like to beat people with its running attack, Woodland has a prolific offense of its own led by quarterback Tanner Kingsley. The Hawks spread you out and throw it all over while mixing in the run to keep defenses honest. Whether Kingsley will have any success against an ever improving Ansonia defense is the biggest key to Woodland having a chance at an upset.
And the numbers say there is at least a chance. Kingsley threw for 258 yards and four touchdowns in the semifinal win over Bloomfield and he is the state’s all-time leader in TD passes with 113. For the season Kingsley has completed 236-of-377 passes for 3,473 yards and 45 TDs.
"Tanner is a great quarterback and they do some things offensively that can give you problems," Brockett said.
Also a senior, Kingsley is looking to go out a winner in the final game of a career that ranks as one of the best ever by a quarterback in the state if Connecticut.
"It was our goal to get here especially after making it to the semifinals last season," Kingsley said. "We have a tough test ahead of us, but we've watched the film of the first game and know there are a lot of things we can do better."
Woodland will have to be better, at least trying to limit Newsome's big plays while getting Kingsley and the offense going. If the Hawks are going to spring the upset it will likely have to be in a shootout with Kingsley going off and Ansonia offering a little help.
The familiarity factor could come into play as well. Woodland knows what to expect and really can only play better than it did in the NVL title game. But it's a two-way street and Ansonia will also be familiar with what Woodland likes to do.
In the end it will be two teams who know each other well playing for a state title.
"Any time you earn a game with Ansonia it's for something big and you did something right," Shea said. "We know we have a tough task ahead of us an we are excited for he opportunity."
"We both know each other and I'm sure both teams will make some adjustments," Brockett said. "We have some things to prepare for and they do some things that concern us, but in the end, it will come down to who plays e better football game Friday night."