This season has been full of ups and downs for both the New Milford and the New Fairfield high school football teams — and unfortunately for both teams, there have been far more downs than ups.
There will be no state tournament to look forward to for either team, no banner to be raised on the gym wall.
That’s what makes this year’s installment of their annual Thanksgiving rivalry game — set for 7 p.m. Tuesday at New Milford High School — so important. Because this is the end of the line. Win or lose, the season will end for both teams with this game. For the seniors, it will be their last chance to strap on the pads, run onto the field and make a memory.
And regardless of what has happened over the last three months — New Fairfield is 1-8 and New Milford is 3-6 — a win on Thanksgiving over a fierce rival will be remembered for a lifetime.
“The game is going to be very emotional, for sure,” New Fairfield senior linebacker Cameron Mancuso said following Monday’s practice. “It’s the seniors’ last game. I know we’re going to play hard, and we’re looking forward to it. It’s going to be a good game.”
NEW FAIRFIELD (1-8) AT NEW MILFORD (3-6)
WHEN/WHERE: Tuesday, 7 p.m., New Milford High School.
NEW FAIRFIELD PLAYERS TO WATCH: The offensive line. The running game has been the Rebels’ bread and butter for years, and the injury to junior running back Zachary Buffington makes it even more imperative for the New Fairfield front line to blow open some holes so the running backs can move the chains. “If we can move the ball on the ground, keep their offense off the field, move the sticks and pop in a couple scores, I like our chances,” New Fairfield coach Anthony Fata said.
NEW MILFORD PLAYER TO WATCH: Senior quarterback Tyler Sullivan. He’s thrown for nearly 2,000 yards and 13 touchdowns, and he has a stable of receivers at his disposal. If he can stay on target, he could be primed for a big day. Having junior running back Kendall Greene back at 100 percent this week — he has been playing hurt since Week 5 but is finally back at full speed — will be a big plus. “As long as we can protect, I have all the faith in the world in Tyler Sullivan,” New Milford coach Larry Badaracco said. “He’s thrown for a ton of yards, he’s got a really big arm and he’s a really good kid. Our receivers are really good, so as long as we can protect, I think that’s a big mismatch for us.”
STORYLINES: New Fairfield has won the Candlewood Cup each of the last five years by a combined score of 188-54... New Fairfield junior running back Zachary Buffington, who ran for 162 yards and four touchdowns in the Rebels’ 57-8 victory, is sidelined with an injury... Both teams are coming off lopsided losses, with New Milford losing 50-0 on Nov. 11 and New Fairfield falling 27-0 to Weston.
LAST YEAR: New Fairfield 57-8.
THANKSGIVING SERIES: New Fairfield 8-2.
New Fairfield has won the annual battle between the two teams each of the last five times in relatively lopsided fashion, including last year’s 57-8 triumph in New Fairfield.
“Even though our season hasn’t gone as well as we thought it would, this is a big game for us because we haven’t won the Candlewood Cup in a few years and this year would be a good time to get it back,” New Milford senior wide receiver Matt Brevard said prior to Monday’s practice.
New Fairfield coach Anthony Fata knew entering the season that this year’s squad would be young and inexperienced, the product of graduating a large and talented senior class that had led the Rebels to the 2015 South-West Conference championship — which they clinched at New Milford on Thanksgiving — and back-to-back appearances in the Class M state playoffs. Season-ending injuries to key personnel, including junior running back Zachary Buffington — who was well on his way to his second-straight 1,000-yard rushing season before being injured in Week 7 — have further hampered the Rebels.
“If there’s one thing this sport has taught me over 20-plus years is it’s humbling,” Fata said. “I got spoiled the last four or five years with a team that could stay on cruise control until they needed to. This year wasn’t like that. We had a lot of young kids in places, we had a lot of injuries, a lot of sloppy mistakes along the way. You name it, we did it this year.
“But one thing I told the guys is, forget the records,” Fata continued. “We’ve had this cup for the last five years. Let’s make it a sixth. This is your Super Bowl.”Read Full Article
On the other side of Candlewood Lake, the Green Wave has had its own share of struggles and setbacks this year. New Milford lost thee games by eight points or fewer, including a 16-7 loss to perennial powerhouse Newtown. Turn those close losses into wins, and this season takes on a whole new complexion. At 6-3, New Milford might have still been mathematically alive in the Class LL playoff race entering Tuesday’s game. But that’s irrelevant. What matters now is the opportunity to go out with a win.
“We’re really excited for it,” New Milford coach Larry Badaracco said. “It’s definitely a big rivalry, and it’s a fun game to play. I think it’s going to be exciting, with a good crowd on a Tuesday night. We’ll be the only game in town, so it’ll be a good opportunity for us to get a good crowd, and good opportunity for our band to come out for a Thanksgiving game, which will make it a great atmosphere. With the bragging rights and the Candlewood Cup, it comes down to each team trying to finish its season the way we wished it had started.”
firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter @DanburySports