There have been a number of memorable dominant stretches by local football teams over the decades. There were the Newington teams in the late 1970s, the unforgettable New Britain teams of the early 2000s and the dominant Southington groups of the early 2010s.
Such widespread success means we have plenty of parity in the top area football teams since the CIAC began awarding state championships in 1976. We have five different schools represented, some of which produced record-breaking talents that put up careers nobody in the state has replicated, making this list flat-out stacked.
In continuing with our series of the best local sports teams ever, here are the top groups to ever line up on the gridiron:
The CIAC football state championships began in 1976, and up until 1980, no team had ever repeated as state champions. That was before the Indians conquered that feat behind head coach Larry Marsh.
Newington rolled to a perfect 11-0 season in 1979, and capped off the program’s first state championship with a 21-14 victory over Fitch in the Class LL state title game at UConn. Looking to repeat as champs in 1980, the Indians suffered a setback when they lost to New Britain and needed to gut out a 13-12 win over Hamden to keep their state championship hopes alive. After winning their regular season finale, Marsh and the rest of Newington were still uncertain if the team had accrued enough points to qualify for the championship, but later learned they had made it, and would have a chance to repeat after a 10-1 regular season.
In front of a crowd of just over 4,000, the Indians made history at Kennedy Stadium with a 24-12 win over Ansonia, becoming back-to-back champions for the first time in the brief history of the CIAC football era.
BRISTOL EASTERN, 1988
Bristol Central reached two state championships between 1976 and 1987, but both times were unable to finish the job. That left the door open for the Lancers to become the first Bristol school to win a state title in football, which they did in 1988.
Eastern almost missed its chance for a first-ever state title because of the rival Rams, who battled the Lancers head-to-head in what was a 14-12 win for Eastern. A touchdown by Craig Ciquera gave the Lancers the lead in that game for good, denying Central of its bid to beat Eastern for the third straight season. The Lancers carries that momentum into the state championship, beating South Windsor in a 22-19 thriller to be crowned Class MM state champions, still the only football title in school history. The Rams are still searching for their first.
NEW BRITAIN, 1992
Here’s a fun fact: the Hurricanes have never lost in the state championship in the CIAC era, and they got their first-ever win in 1992 behind a star running back by the name of Tebucky Jones.
With Jones causing mayhem for opposing defenses, New Britain went 10-1 in 1992 behind 2,100 rushing yards and 25 touchdowns from Jones. That touchdown total was good for the most in the state, and Connecticut witnessed the power of the Hurricanes once they logged a convincing 31-15 win over Greenwich in the Class LL state championship game, while Jones went on to finish his illustrious career with 4,537 rushing yards and 45 touchdowns, and his three kick return touchdowns in 1991 are still tied for the third-most in a season in Connecticut football history.
Speaking of football history in the state, New Britain’s 31 (though that mark is unofficial with the majority of them not coming in the CIAC era) are still the most ever in the state. But 1992 was the first under the CIAC.
The Blue Knights were a dominant collective group in 1998, rolling to a 9-1 record and the top seed in the Class LL state tournament, all while having no entries on that year’s All-State group. This team didn’t need the individual accolades. They were going for the program’s first-ever state title and they did it in convincing fashion.
Behind head coach Jude Kelly, who recently retired from St. Paul and posted a career record at Southington of 115-62-2, the Blue Knights stymied opposing defenses with a passing attack few had seen before, thanks in large part to wide receiver Ed Reinhard, who logged nearly 2,200 receiving yards in his high school career.
With that electric offense, Southington suffered just one loss that season (a 40-22 defeat at the hands of Bristol Eastern), and really flexed its offensive muscle once the state tournament began. First came a 34-22 win over No. 4 Norwalk in the semifinals, then the Blue Knights dumped 54 points on NFA in the state championship. The win against Norwalk came after Norwalk posted four shutouts in its last five games, but they hadn’t faced an offense like Southington’s before.
NEW BRITAIN, 2001
The first season under head coach Jack Cochran turned out well for the Hurricanes, who were looking to get back to prominence with their football program. A one-loss season in 2001 helped catapult the team to its most successful stretch in program history.
Behind Cochran and quarterback Neil Johnson, who threw 34 touchdown passes that season, New Britain made it into the Class LL state tournament as the final team, but played like the top squad once the postseason began. First came a 20-15 upset victory over top-seeded West Haven in the semifinals, then a 26-9 stomping of second-seeded Greenwich in the state title game. Greenwich was coming off a convincing 33-7 win in the semifinal, but had no answer for the Hurricanes, who trailed 9-7 after the first quarter before flipping a switch.
Justice Hairston’s 44-yard touchdown run in the second half gave New Britain the lead for good, but another 73-yard rushing score in the fourth quarter put the game away, while the Hurricanes defense held Greenwich to just 24 yards through the air. Hairston finished with 252 yards on the ground in a historic season for the Hurricanes, who were just getting started under Cochran.
NEW BRITAIN, 2003
The Hurricanes boasted an electric offense in 2001, and in 2003, it was the defense’s turn to shine.
After a perfect 10-0 record through the regular season, New Britain entered the Class LL state tournament as the No. 2 seed, and once again spoiled Greenwich’s hopes of a state title with a 20-0 shutdown performance in the semifinals. JonJon Morales caught two touchdown passes in the win, while the defense held Greenwich to just 22 yards, thanks in part to Josh Jennings, who had six tackles for a loss, and ended the year with six fumble recoveries for touchdowns, tied for the sixth-most in Connecticut football history.
The overwhelming defense was in top form again in the final, blanking top-seeded West Haven 13-0 in West Haven’s own backyard. An 88-yard fumble recovery by Andrew Jackson gave New Britain a cushion in the third quarter, but the way the defense was playing, David Reed’s touchdown reception in the second quarter was really all the team needed to seal up the win and the state title.
NEW BRITAIN, 2004
The team’s run of success under Cochran reached its pinnacle, and its end, in 2004. Behind the electric talent of Mike McLeod, the Hurricanes went 9-1 in the regular season and scored at least 48 points in all nine victories. McLeod scored eight touchdowns in one game against Manchester on Oct. 29, still the third-most in state history. That dominance carried into the state tournament, where New Britain routed second-seeded Bridgeport Central in a 59-7 victory, setting up yet another clash with Greenwich, who just never could shake the Hurricane cloud hanging above their heads.
New Britain took an early 13-0 lead in the championship game behind two quick rushing touchdowns from McLeod, but Greenwich battled back to tie the game after three quarters. The Hurricanes found themselves trailing with five minutes to play, and instead of feeding McLeod once again, New Britain took to the air as Ed Campbell caught a 27-yard touchdown pass from Chris Roberts for what proved to be the game-winning score, which also gave the Hurricanes their second straight state championship, and third in four years.
The Redcoats came into the 2009 season still searching for their first state championship, and entered the Class M state tournament as the No. 3 seed after an 8-2 regular season, which concluded with a 14-point loss to rival New Britain. But the Redcoats quickly recovered, holding off second-seeded Avon for a 35-28 win in the semifinals to set up a match with Bethel, the No. 4 seed, which had just blown out top-seeded New London.
This time, it was Bethel’s turn to get blown out.
Behind Max DeLorenzo, one of the greatest football players in Redcoats history, Berlin destroyed Bethel 46-6 after DeLorenzo rushed for more than 380 yards and scored four touchdowns.
The Redcoats’ offense appeared to stall on the first drive of the game, but a 23-yard pass from Dan Hackett to Tom Undercuffler on 4th-and-16 kept the drive alive, and sparked what would become an all-out offensive onslaught.
DeLorenzo finished the season with 2,143 rushing yards, and finished his career with 77 touchdowns.
The Blue Knights went 9-1 in the 2013 regular season and earned the No. 4 seed in the Class LL state tournament, where their electric offense took center stage.
Behind the dynamic tandem of quarterback Stephen Barmore and wide receiver Alex Jamele, Southington torched fifth-seeded NFA 52-14 in the quarterfinals, then destroyed Ridgefield 45-0 to put the program on the cusp of its first state title since 1998. But after two quarters of play in the championship game against Fairfield Prep, it looked like the title quest would come up just short.
The Blue Knights trailed by two touchdowns heading into the second half, but the offense came to life in the third quarter behind the Barmore/Jamele battery, which connected for two touchdown passes to tie the game, then for another in the fourth quarter for six of Southington’s 24 points in the final period. An interception returned 67 yards for a touchdown by Barmore capped off a 52-34 win, and the Blue Knights were back on top of the football world.
Mike Drury’s group stayed on top a year after that 2013 championship win, and this time the Blue Knights wouldn’t need any second-half comebacks.
After rolling through the regular season with a perfect 10-0 record, Southington came into the Class LL-Large state tournament as the top seed, and immediately pounded Glastonbury 42-14 to get back to the state final. There, the Blue Knights dominated NFA 49-0 to repeat as state champions, outgaining the Wildcats 495-98.
Jamele shined again for Southington, catching two touchdown passes to give him 50 for his career, setting a new state record. Meanwhile, star quarterback Jasen Rose threw for 348 yards and five touchdowns to lead the blowout win, the last state title for Southington, or any local team for that matter.
Ryan Chichester can be reached at (860) 801-5094 or email@example.com