Football AwardsBest Team: Ansonia Chargers. There's no doubting this one. We knew Ansonia was going to be good in 2011, but we weren't sure how good the Chargers would be with the loss of Montrell Dobbs. But sophomore Arkeel Newsome was even better than his predecessor, setting a number of state records and being named a MaxPreps Sophomore All-American, while the Lavender's defense was perhaps the best in the state with studs like Tyler Wood and Jake LaRovera. Ansonia didn't win a game by fewer than 29 points all season in becoming the first team in state history to finish 14-0. Chalk up state title No. 17 for the Chargers.
Most Surprising Team: Wolcott Eagles. We knew who the winner of this award was going to be about midway through the season. With nearly two dozen graduating players from the best three-year stretch in school history and a first-time head coach, most bloggers expected Wolcott to be under .500. But coach Jay Pace (more on him soon) and quarterback Mike Nicol (him, too), the Eagles qualified for the playoffs for the first time in school history and won the only overtime game of the postseason against Ellington/Somers. With Nicol and others returning, any Wolcott success in 2012 won't be nearly as surprising.
Most Improved Team: Seymour. The Wildcats were coming off a combined 1-19 record over the last two seasons, including an 0-10 mark in 2010. But third-year coach Tom Lennon helped bring a turnaround to DeBarber Field with a 5-5 record that could have been even better. Quarterback Luke Grabowski and running back Jon Wilson were a strong one-two punch while players like Josh Tilton, Dylan Sadick, Zack Sirowich, and Nick Burns made for a strong interior. We'll see how well Seymour deals with losing most of its key players to graduation.
Best Overall Game: Holy Cross 34, Cromwell 27 (Class S championship). If you were at this game, or watched the replay on CPTV Sports, you know how good this game was. It was the best of the four state championship games, by far. Dave DiGiorgi would not let the Crusaders lose, rushing 30 times for 314 yards and four touchdowns en route to earning the game's MVP honors. Ryan Byrne's last-minute interception, that was first tipped by Isaiah Wright, sealed a thrilling, back-and-forth victory for the Crusaders' second state title.
Best Brass Division Game: Watertown 36, Seymour 28 (Week 9). In the most thrilling comeback of the year, the Indians rallied to score 15 points in the final 30 seconds to beat Seymour at DeBarber Field. Watertown drove 97 yards on 13 plays over 4:02 to pull within one before Steve Niele's two-point conversion gave the Indians a one-point lead. On the ensuing play from scrimmage, Paulo Villanueva intercepted Luke Grabowski and returned it for a touchdown to seal the game. The incredible comeback capped a wild, back-and-forth game in which Anthony Avoletta rushed for 229 yards and two scores.
Best Copper Division Game: Torrington 31, Naugatuck 27 (Week 5). Brenden Lytton and Jake Yourison squared off in one of the best two-man-show games of the season. They combined to score eight of the nine touchdowns in the game, but the difference came in the interception column, as Lytton picked off two passes and Yourison threw a pair of turnovers. Lytton ran for 287 yards and scored four total touchdowns while Yourison rushed for 147 yards and also scored four times. But it was the Red Raiders' defense that ultimately came through when it mattered most, stalling Naugatuck's last-minute drive to seal what was an important Copper Division win in the middle of the season.
Best Interdivision Game: Naugatuck 14, Derby 13 (Week 2). Although this wasn't the prettiest game of the season, it was definitely one of the top defensive games of the year and one of just a few games that came down to the final seconds. The Greyhounds ran the ball all game before Jake Yourison hit Zac Mercer on a 35-yard gain before Yourison ran in the game-winning touchdown from 12 yards out with fewer than two minutes to play. Naugy held Ray Kreiger to 249 passing yards and just one touchdown.
Upset of the Year: Watertown 18, Torrington 13 (Thanksgiving). We know there were some mysterious, mutinous circumstances in this game, but nobody thought this game was going to be especially close, never mind a Watertown win. But the Indians took their momentum from the previous week's comeback against Seymour and exacted the revenge they so badly wanted on the Red Raiders to send Brenden Lytton out with a disappointing loss.
Play of the Year: Ryan Byrne's interception to clinch the Class S state title. Dave DiGiorgi was the force that won the state championship for Holy Cross, but Byrne's pick of Cromwell's Anthony Morales made sure the game didn't head to overtime. Morales drove down the field seemingly with ease but his pass over the middle was tipped by Isaiah Wright before Byrne leaped at the goal line to secure the title.
Bone-Cruncher of the Year: Woodland's Taylor Tucciarone hit on Naugatuck's Matt Harris. The two hardest hits (that either of us saw, anyway) came at Woodland this season. Honorable mention goes to the hit Torrington put on Tanner Kingsley, but Tucciarone absolutely stood up and drove Harris to the ground. It's nice to see some awesome, clean, hard hits once in a while.
"WTF" Moment of the Year: Torrington scoring 80 points against St. Paul. This was just a really sticky situation that had many fans' opinions split. By all accounts, the Red Raiders took out both varsity units after going up, 61-18, but the Falcons kept in both of their varsity squads and Logan Marchi proceeded to score four touchdowns and threatened another with the score at 61-39. So with the game potentially back in doubt, Torrington re-entered its starters and re-stretched the lead, with the last score coming on an interception-return touchdown. At the very least, it gave us some conversation topics for the next week.
Head Coach of the Year: Jason Pace, Wolcott. This one is another no-doubter. With just three returning starters this season, very little was expected of first-year coach Pace and his Eagles. Pace responded by leading Wolcott to its first-ever playoff berth and added a playoff win for good measure. It was clear that the players enjoyed playing for him very much, and things are undoubtedly looking up for the Eagles with plenty of players returning this year.
Assistant Coach of the Year: Robert Lisi, Ansonia. The Chargers' coaching staff often gets overlooked because of the seeming pipeline of great players that always rise through the ranks. But how can we not recognize Ansonia defensive coordinator Robert Lisi this season? His defense was one of the best in recent memory, giving up most of its points with the junior varsity on the field. Ansonia would have had a half-dozen shutouts had its starters not been sitting for most fourth quarters, but the Chargers gained shutouts in the two games that mattered most: The NVL championship against Holy Cross and the Class M championship against Ledyard.
Best Quarterback: Ray Kreiger, Derby. We were pretty confident in Kreiger as our preseason pick in this category, and he didn't disappoint. The Class S All-State selection threw for 2,608 yards and 26 touchdowns while running for 522 yards and eight more scores. Without Kreiger, it's tough to think that Derby would have won a single game last season, but his dual-threat abilities and experience helped the Red Raiders in tough times. It will likely be up to Kreiger's younger brother, Mike, to take over as Derby's next quarterback.
Best Running Back: Arkeel Newsome, Ansonia. Do we really need to explain this pick? Newsome set state records in rushing yards, touchdowns, and rushing touchdowns, earned New Haven Register State MVP honors as well as being named to every all-state team there is. And for good measure, he's a MaxPreps Sophomore All-American. Not bad for a guy who still has two years to play.
Best Wide Receiver: Justin Gonzalez, St. Paul, and Dillon McMahon, Derby. It was too tough for us to make a decision between these guys because of the different things they were able to do. Gonzalez was a potent threat on the outside of the field to help Logan Marchi develop in his sophomore season. McMahon could exploit the outside, too, but he was tough enough to venture into the middle of the field as Ray Kreiger's favorite target.
Best Lineman: Dylan Vano, Ansonia. We couldn't have gone wrong with Vano's line mates, Hakeem Martin and Tyler Williams, either. Ansonia's entire offensive line was its best in years and made things pretty easy for Arkeel Newsome. Rarely did opponents gain any measure of penetration at the line of scrimmage, meaning Newsome had plenty of room and time to get his legs going in his state-record season. Vano was right in the middle of it all and made few visible mistakes all season long.
Most Valuable Offensive Player: Brenden Lytton, Torrington. Lytton's massive workload might make his season even more impressive. He finished with 2,333 rushing yards and 29 touchdowns, 233 receiving yards and three touchdowns, and even threw a pair of touchdown passes. Lytton was perhaps the toughest runner to bring down after contact and was absolutely one of the fastest players in the league. He earned CHSCA All-State First Team honors for his second straight huge season and will leave a huge hole in the Red Raiders' backfield this fall.
Most Valuable Defensive Player: Tyler Wood, Ansonia. Wood was simply a joy to watch on defense. He was one of the finest linebackers in the state (and was recognized as such) and made things happen on almost every play. He was right in the middle of the Chargers' incredible defensive season and put everything together in a magnificent Class M championship game in which he was all over the field. Arkeel Newsome provided the flash for Ansonia, but Wood was just as good at what he did.
Most Valuable Special Teams Player: Joe Parent, Holy Cross. Parent returned a pair of kickoffs for touchdowns and averaged 26 yards per return. He also scored a pair of defensive touchdowns, making him the league's most dangerous player when starting a play without the ball.
Out-of-Nowhere Player of the Year: Mike Nicol, Wolcott. Like many positions in Wolcott, we had no idea who was going to take over at quarterback for the Eagles after the graduation of Dom Gambino. Nicol was the man and turned into one of the top signal-callers in the league and one of the best dual threats in the state. Nicol finished with 1,652 passing yards and 17 touchdowns while leading the team with 911 rushing yards and 14 more scores. This all came in his junior season, so it should be exciting to see what he can do in his senior year.
Crunch-Time Player of the Year: Dave DiGiorgi, Holy Cross. DiGiorgi had a solid regular season, but he absolutely broke out during the postseason. In the three playoff games, he rushed for 628 yards and seven touchdowns, including his phenomenal, 317-yard, four-touchdown game in the Class S state championship. DiGiorgi was also splendid on defense in that game, forcing a number of key stops, especially early in the game.
Rookie of the Year: Isaiah Wright, Holy Cross. Wright was one of few freshmen who had a direct impact on games this season, and his impact was substantial. He scored 10 total touchdowns and made a whopping eight interceptions on defense. He very well may be the most athletic player in the league entering his sophomore season, and he figures to have an even bigger role in the offense this season with graduation losses to the Crusaders.
NVL Heisman Award: Arkeel Newsome, Ansonia. Duh.
Blog AwardsMost Represented Team: Ansonia Chargers. Maybe it's because the Chargers are perennially the best team in the league. Maybe it's because Remmy gets good advertising for the blog in Ansonia. Or maybe many fans have nothing better to do. But the Ansonia perspective is always covered front-to-back by our bloggers, usually creating an Ansonia-versus-the-world situation. We do like having you folks, though.
Least Represented Team: Kennedy Eagles. I can't remember more than a few Kennedy posts over the last few years. You guys are more than welcome, if you exist out there. Honorable mention goes to Wilby, Watertown, St. Paul, and Sacred Heart. We know you're out there!
Most Improved Blogger: Seeing Red. Whether or not Seeing Red has his love for brewed and distilled beverages under control, he was absolutely our most improved blogger in 2011. Most of the inflammatory posts were left behind in the Patrick Russo era and SR supported Jay Pace and this year's Wolcott squad like none other. Perhaps the Eagles fans who were ready to launch a private investigation into his identity are ready to accept the Red One.
Most Provocative Blogger: Johnny Ribbs. This guy always finds a way to rub Remmy the wrong way, but more often than not he speaks his mind without censorship and with facts. He is firmly rooted in the Valley and brings a strong historical perspective from that end. Even through Seymour's recent downturn, JR has remained faithful to his Wildcats and this blog, and we appreciate his persistence.
Blogger of the Year: CaptainObvious. Nobody can argue with the Captain's impeccable, .868 winning percentage in our Predictions Tracker last season. But besides picking each week's games accurately, CO clearly brings strong football knowledge to the table and contributes much of our strong analysis each week. Honorable mention goes to fisherman for his strong analysis, too (we like that, if you guys don't know it). We think Joe the Shot will be willing to peacefully hand down his crown to his Valley counterpart/colleague.
Thanks to everyone for another fantastic season on the NVL Blog! (And thanks for waiting about a month longer than we should have taken for these awards!) The two big weightlifting competitions will be the first two Saturdays of March, so we should have some coverage of those events here. And before you know it, we'll be heading to spring practices and previews!