FARMINGTON – Back in the CIAC playoffs for the first time since 1999, the Farmington High football team faces a huge challenge when they travel to New Canaan to take on the Rams in the Class L quarterfinals Tuesday night at 6:30 p.m. at Dunning Field.
New Canaan (11-1), which was the No. 1 team in the state a week ago, is smarting after a 28-24 loss to Darien in the traditional Thanksgiving game between the two schools. The Rams had won 11 consecutive games and had beaten St. Joseph-Trumbull, 31-20, about five days earlier for its first FCIAC championship since 2008.
But the Blue Wave were able to control the ball and keep New Canaan’s high-powered offense off the field. The Rams are ranked No. 2 in the state in touchdowns scored (74) and points per game (45.6).
The winner of Tuesday night’s game will face either undefeated Platt High (11-0) or North Haven (9-2) in the semifinals on Saturday at 2 p.m., at a site to be announced.
Farmington (9-2) earned a spot in the CIAC tournament after two close calls, finishing ninth in 2011 with a 9-1 record and ninth in 2012 with an 8-2 mark.
The Indians won their first seven games of the season with a come-from-behind win over Simsbury, 26-14, over two days on opening night and a hard-fought 13-7 decision over then No. 7 Windsor. But they lost to Middletown, 21-7, earned a hard-fought 20-15 win over Bristol Eastern before stumbling in a 44-24 loss to Manchester.
Farmington recovered to dominate an undermanned Plainville team, 34-0 on Thanksgiving morning.
Like Darien did on Thanksgiving morning, the Indians will need to control the ball offensively and keep the ball away from the New Canaan offense. Rams QB Nick Cascione has completed 125-of-216 passes for 1,979 yards and 28 touchdowns. He is also the second-leading rusher on the team with 487 yards and 10 TDs.
In the FCIAC championship game, Cascione was the team MVP, throwing for 141 yards and a touchdown and rushing for 117 yards and two touchdowns.
Five-foot-ten junior Frank Cognetta is the Rams’ top rusher with 958 yards and 12 TDs. Cascione has a bevy of receivers to throw to including seniors Jack Gilio (33 receptions, 476 yards, 6 TDs), senior Cole Turpin (27-470, 8 TDs) and junior Alex LaPloice (25-463, 7 TDs).
They also have one of the state’s top kickers in Peter Swindell, who has set the new single season mark for points for a kicker (92) with 65 extra points and nine field goals, including a season-long kick of 45 yards.
Offensively, Farmington is led by QB Jeremy Buck, who has completed 111-of-124 passes for school-record 1,572 yards and 14 touchdowns. He has scrambled for 347 yards and six touchdowns.
Running back Ivan Guadalupe has rushed for 1,007 yards and nine touchdowns. He is the first Farmington back to run for over 1,000 yards in consecutive seasons since Brandon Bliss in 1995 and 1996. Kenny Jones has rushed for 463 yards and seven TDs on 33 carries.
Jones is more dynamic as a wide receiver, where he has pulled in a team-high 31 receptions for 501 yards and six touchdowns. Anthony Carpenter (29 receptions, 414 yards, 4 TDs) and Elijah Johnson (22-325, 1 TD) are the other main targets along with Guadalupe (19-198, 2 TDs).
Farmington has been a big-play team. They’ll need some big plays offensively against the Rams and be able to play well defensively. Senior defensive end Jayson Martin (93 tackles, 6 sacks) and linebacker Colin Gratton (73 tackles, 3 sacks) lead the defense along with linebackers Jack Sucato (75 tackles) and Connor Martin (64 tackles, three forced fumbles).
Against Windsor, the Warriors ran for just six yards. Farmington gave up just 16 yards in the second half. “We just had to play hard,” said Martin, who recovered a fumble, had two sacks and a tackle for a loss. “We just kept grinding throughout the game.”
They’ll need a similar performance against the Rams.
CIAC Class L quarterfinals
No. 6 Farmington (9-2) at No. 3 New Canaan (11-1)
Site: Dunning Field, New Canaan
Time: Tuesday, 6:30 p.m.
Series: Began 1941. New Canaan leads 5-3-2.
Coaches: Lou Marinelli, New Canaan; Chris Machol, Farmington
Of note: The Rams (11-1) are in the CIAC playoffs for the ninth straight year and have won eight state championships since the CIAC began the playoffs in 1976. The most recent titles were a run of four in a row from 2006-09. … The Indians are making just their third-ever appearance in the postseason. Farmington lost to Masuk in the 1998 Class L semifinals. In 1999, the Indians beat Holy Cross, 33-0 in the semifinals before losing to Fitch-Groton in the championship game, 50-7. …The two teams last met on the field 49 years ago in 1954 when the Rams took a 54-13 decision. … Marinelli is ranked No. 3 in Connecticut history with 294 career victories. Machol is in his fifth season and the Indians are 35-16.