class l quarterfinals: No. 8 bunnell at no. 1 danield hand, 6:30 p.m. It’s up to the defense
STRATFORD — It wasn’t the turkey that left the Bunnell High football team with a sour feeling last Friday morning. And it wasn’t the victory over cross-town rival Stratford on Wednesday, an effort that the coach referred to as “one of our poorer games.”
No, what gave the Bulldogs’ coaches, players and fans slightly upset stomachs five days ago was something completely out of their control.
After beating Stratford to clinch a Class L state playoff berth, Coach Sean Mignone’s team, which was ranked fifth, hoped that it would earn a top four seed and a quarterfinal home game Tuesday. Or, at least a No. 5, 6 or 7 seed. What Bunnell did NOT want was to fall to eighth and have to play at No. 1 Daniel Hand.
So, after the CIAC computer crunched all the numbers following last week’s games, guess where the Bulldogs ended up?
“I’m as perplexed as anyone,” said Mignone, whose team will face Hand Tuesday at the Turf Club in Madison at 6:30 p.m. “Three 8-2 teams that ended up ahead of us lost last week. We’re 9-1 and drop to eighth. I understand the points system but we sure didn’t get any help.”
Bunnell slipped because several of its opponents lost last week. That spelled fewer points gained in the eyes of the computer.
“The CIAC doesn’t take record into account, it’s just based on points,” Mignone said. “So, we’re 9-1 and seeded eighth and have to go to Hand. It’s a tall order but that’s the way the chips fell.”
Perhaps the lack of respect will work in the Bulldogs’ favor.
“We’re disappointed but we’ll be ready for Hand,” Bulldogs linebacker James Savko said. “People think we don’t play in a strong (SWC) conference but I disagree. Sure, there’s a lack of respect, so we’ll be playing with a lot of heart.”
Meanwhile, quarterback Brian Carrafiello, who broke his wrist Oct. 26 in the Bulldogs’ loss to Newtown, returned against Stratford but is not completely healed.
“He will be 75-80 percent for Hand,” Mignone said. “And Javon Eggleston’s ankle is not healed, so both quarterbacks are banged up. But we’ve lost our starting quarterback the last couple of years, so we’re experienced in trying to be creative.”
Carrafiello (1,322 passing yards, 12 TDs, four interceptions) has a strong stable of offensive talent around him. Running backs Christ N’Dabian has rushed for 1,112 yards and 12 touchdowns while Tyreek Smith has 540 yards and six TDs. Wide receiver Eli Alexandre caught 29 balls for 572 yards and six scores.
But if the Bulldogs are going to have a chance tonight against a high-scoring Hand offense (the Tigers average 49 points per game), it will be up to Savko and the defense.
“Our defense has been good all year,” said Mignone about the unit that has given up 13 ppg. “They’ve done more than their share. Hand is a well-oiled machine on offense so our defense will have to find a way to slow them down.”
Hand quarterback Phoenix Billings has thrown for 1,432 yards and 16 touchdowns and four picks. Running back Colin McCabe has 945 rushing yards and 24 touchdowns. Receivers Chris Bartosic, Ian Butler and Ethan Haberman have combined for 1,173 yards and 13 TDs.
The Hand defense is strong as well, having allowed just nine points per game while accumulating 32 sacks (Bunnell has 14).
“We’ve been practicing real hard so we don’t put on a performance like last week against Stratford,” Savko said. “But our defense has been good and our coaches prepare us for everything. Don’t worry, we’ll be ready to go on Tuesday.”