Holy Cross football faces New Fairfield in Class S quarterfinal rematch

The Holy Cross football team enters the Class S state playoffs in nearly the same position as a year ago.

The Crusaders finished the regular season with the same record, 8-2, that they had in 2021. Holy Cross earned a home quarterfinal, which it will play Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. at Municipal Stadium’s Ray Snyder Sr. Field. The opponent is once again New Fairfield, which ousted Holy Cross last season.

In fact, the only difference between last year and this year in terms of semantics is where the teams are seeded. Holy Cross is a No. 3 seed, up from the No. 4 slot it held in 2021. New Fairfield is the No. 6 seed, one down from the No. 5 it was in 2021. The Rebels went 7-3 this season, compared to 8-2 last season.

New Fairfield is a different looking team than last season. The Rebels lost All-SWC standouts Jason Caswell, Shane Rattigan and Johnni Bassani to graduation from the offense. All-SWC defender Kevin Martinson also graduated. Second team All-SWC performers Ryan Fata and Ian Baker graduated, as did All-SWC honorable mention Vince Sarro. Caswell was a huge loss, given he led the team with 1,874 yards rushing and 17 touchdowns.

Senior quarterback Justin McCormack, a second team All-SWC player as a junior, has stepped in big-time to fill the void left by Caswell. McCormack is about as dual threat a quarterback as you’ll find on a Connecticut high school football team. He threw for 1,731 yards and 20 touchdowns to just five interceptions while completing 122 of his 184 attempts. McCormack is also easily the team’s leading rusher with 100 carries for 913 yards and 15 touchdowns. Junior Kyle Martin is second in rushing with 763 yards and five touchdowns on 111 attempts. When McCormack goes to the air, his main target has been senior Christopher Kakos, who had 48 catches for 673 yards and eight touchdowns. Kakos had 873 all-purpose yards during the regular season (139 kickoff, 61 punt), and he posted a team-high three interceptions on defense.

Six-foot-five, 265-pound senior Douglas Traynor leads the team in total tackles with 85, including eight for loss, to go along with five sacks. Junior Drew Coleworthy is second with 83 total tackles (eight for loss). Coleworthy is a ball hawk, having caused five fumbles and recovered two to go along with an interception for the Rebels.

New Fairfield won seven of its first eight games before back-to-back losses to Newtown and New Milford to close the regular season. The other Rebel loss was to Joel Barlow. All three of those teams are in the playoffs, and they went a combined 24-6 in the regular season.

Holy Cross is also a different team than last season. Sure, senior running back Tom Ligi is the big threat (22 rushing touchdowns, 2 receiving touchdowns), but the emergence of both junior WR/RB/DB Marquis Campbell and sophomore quarterback Drew Caouette can’t be overlooked. Campbell totaled 17 touchdowns (11 receiving, 5 rushing, 1 interception return) while Caouette threw for 14 touchdowns and ran for another. Having threats other than Ligi has diversified the Crusader offense. Holy Cross scored 351 points in the regular season and yielded 148. Three opponents – Seymour, Ansonia, Woodland – scored 20 or more points against the Crusader defense this season. Holy Cross lost a back-and-forth classic to Ansonia, 31-28, on Oct. 21. The Crusaders also fell at Woodland, 20-7, on Nov. 4. Holy Cross bounced back with runaway wins against Torrington and Wolcott to end the regular season.

On defense, Holy Cross is led by juniors Campbell and Roehn Maldonado. They get plenty of help from seniors Ligi, Donald Shivas, Dillon Fernandes, Zak Morales, David Kacprzyski and Kevin Matiz. Matiz is also a wide receiver, kicker and punter for the Crusaders.

Holy Cross will need to establish Ligi on offense. A strong start from Ligi would mean the Crusaders are dictating the game style to the Rebels. The offense will also benefit from mixing it up and getting Campbell the ball in open space. New Fairfield scored 301 points, but gave up 192, so teams can score on them.

Holy Cross will need to contain McCormack as much as possible. McCormack doesn’t seem like the type of player who can be completely stopped, but slowing him down would be good. The Crusaders will need to avoid giving up the big play while making some of their own. Any opportunistic defensive plays – interceptions, fumble recoveries – would be most welcome.

Holy Cross is looking for its first playoff win since defeating Cromwell for the Class S state championship, 34-27, in 2011 at Rentschler Field in East Hartford.

Photo caption: A group of Holy Cross seniors pose with the trophy awarded to the winner of their annual Thanksgiving morning game against Wolcott. The Crusaders get another shot at New Fairfield in a Class S quarterfinal game Tuesday. (Photo credit: Joseph Lynch Memorial Facebook page)