When the football team of Hand High in Madison last reached a state final, Tigers coach Dave Mastroianni was the defensive coordinator.
He remembers taking part in the annual media day luncheon with representatives of the other finalists in 2012, days before defeating Windsor 23-6 at Rentschler Field.
On Tuesday, he was back at media day at the Aqua Turf in Southington, this time as the head coach. With the Tigers ready to play for another state title, Mastroianni talked about the one important lesson he gleaned from that previous experience, one he shared with his team.
“I think it’s important that we keep in perspective for them that, on Saturday, we’re done,” Mastroianni said. “We’re done after this as a team; we’re never going to do this again. And that’s so important to me that they enjoy this experience for what it is.”
Hand will face Masuk-Monroe for the Class L title on Saturday at Veterans Stadium in New Britain, with the kickoff scheduled for 11 a.m.
“It’s awesome to be in this position. I never really thought we would be,” Hand linebacker Brian Casagrande said. “Coming into the season, you believe you’re capable of it, but to see it actually happen is awesome.”
History won’t just be for Hand on Saturday, though. Masuk is coming off a convincing, emotional win Sunday over four-time defending champion New Canaan, the same team the Panthers defeated to win their last title, back in 2010.
“They remember it. They had some brothers on that team,” Masuk coach Joe Lato said. “So there is a sense of tradition, a sense of what past Masuk teams have done, and we carry that with us.”
For either team to emerge victorious on Saturday, it have to find a way to shut down the other’s balanced and dynamic offense. Masuk running back Jack Roberge and quarterback Matt Hersch are both offensive threats for the Panthers. But Hand can also win the game on the ground or in the air.
“I think their quarterback has tremendous touch and puts the ball where it needs to be,” Mastroianni said of Hersch. “They execute very well, they don’t turn the ball over. They have some get-after-it in them and it’s going to make for a heck of a game.”
Lato, meanwhile, sees Hand teams of old in the way the Tigers have played this season.
“We saw them on film and we’ve seen them in person, and it’s like [former coaches Larry] Ciotti and [Steve] Filippone and all those old ghosts are still there,” Lato said. “Dave is a great guy and a great coach, so we expect a very well prepared Hand football team.”
Barlow Anxious For First Title Game
When Barlow-Redding takes the field at Veterans Stadium in New Britain to face Killingly in he Class M game, coach Rob Tynan knows his players are aware of what they’ve accomplished.
It is the Falcons’ first appearance in a championship game.
“It’s a great feeling,” Tynan said. “We’ve talked to the kids about it and they see how the school, the community has really taken hold of this and how special a moment this really is.”
The Falcons have reached this point, in part, because of quarterback Trevor Furrer and his comfort in running the triple option. They’ll need a strong defensive performance on Saturday to contain the pounding run game of Spencer Lockwood and Killingly, but Tynan says his team is ready for the challenge.
“Obviously, there’s a tough task in front of them. Killingly is undefeated; they’re a great football program,” Tynan said. “But I think they want to see it to the end. There are some nerves, but we’re trying to tell them to just enjoy the moment.”
Cardinals Look To Past To Fuel Future
Before Greenwich took the field against New Canaan on Oct. 14, a statement game Greenwich won 36-21, the Cardinals received a rather important visit.
“Those players that won the state championship [in 2007] came and talked to us about the culture back then,” quarterback Gavin Muir said. “They really gave us insight into what Greenwich football was all about and we’ve really tried to bring that back this year.”
Muir, a junior, has been a leading force, along with running back Tysen Comizio and a deep wide receiver corps, in bringing Greenwich back to the No. 1 ranking in the state and a chance to win another Class LL title. Two-time defending champion Darien will be standing in the way at Boyle Stadium in Stamford.
“We’re definitely looking forward to it,” Muir said. “Darien is an amazing football team. They’re a great program. And they’re the two-time defending champs, so we have to go out there and knock them off.”
Dobbs Seeks Strong Finish
Before he heads up to New Britain to lace his up cleats for Central Connecticut State University, Ansonia running back Markell Dobbs has one last mission: Carry on a long tradition and bring Ansonia yet another state title. The Chargers face St. Joseph-Trumbull for the Class S championship at West Haven High.
“It definitely means a lot [playing for another title] because, you know, it’s my senior year, and you want to go out a state champion. You don’t want to fall short,” Dobbs said. “Sometimes I think about [everyone who came before me] but then I realize I’m making the ones before me proud.”
Follow The Courant’s coverage of the state high school football championships on Twitter @CTHSFB and www.courant.com/varsity247.