Trinity Catholic, Wilton football set for annual battle

WILTON — The Trinity Catholic and Wilton High School football teams come into their annual Thanksgiving Day gridiron battle sharing a number of common goals.

Both the Crusaders and the Warriors enter the clash with 6-3 overall records. Both squads have come down the stretch run of the season on a roll.

Trinity Catholic has won five straight contests. Wilton is 3-1 in its last four games including a trio of shutouts at home.

But only Wilton holds a slim mathematical chance to qualify for the state playoffs.

Trinity Catholic was eliminated from contention in Class S after wins by Seymour, Bullard-Havens and Rocky Hill Wednesday night.

Wilton is No. 11 in Class L and will be in suspense Thanksgiving Day. The Warriors enter holding tiebreakers over No. 8 Notre Dame-West Haven (6-3), No. 9 Naugatuck (7-2) and No. 10 Harding (6-3) — who all play Thursday.

“In this digital age, the kids all know what the situation is,” Wilton coach Bruce Cunningham said. “It’s a longshot. But we’re in the conversation. What we know best is we have to win. That’s the bottom line.”

Trinity Catholic, which was 9-2 and lost to Ansonia in the Class S semifinals a year ago, faced a much tougher strength of schedule in 2016.

Trinity Catholic lost to current Class L No. 1 seed New Canaan, 20-6 in Week 1 in a game played at NC’s Dunning Stadium because the Crusaders’ new artificial turf Gaglio Field wasn’t finished for opening day.

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LOCATION, TIME: Wilton's Tom Fujitani Field, Thursday, 10:30 a.m.

STORYLINES: Wilton still has a slim chance to qualify for the state playoffs. The Warriors come in at No. 11 in Class L, holding tiebreakers over No. 10 Harding, No. 9 Naugatuck and No. 8 Notre Dame-West Haven. But the Warriors need a lot of help (ND-West Haven, Harding to lose to two-win opponents) for the dream to be a reality. All teams ahead of Wilton play on Thanksgiving.

Trinity Catholic was eliminated from contention in Class S following wins by Seymour, Rocky Hill and Bullard-Havens on Wednesday night.

The best Thanksgiving halftime show will be at Fujitani Field thanks to the Wilton High band.

PLAYER TO WATCH, TRINITY CATHOLIC: Running back and quad-captain Jonmichael Bivona (Sr., 5-8, 165). Bivona is the Crusaders' leading rusher and receiver and has 928 all-purpose yards this season. He is also the Crusaders second-leading tackler from his safety position.

PLAYER TO WATCH, WILTON: Running back and strong safety Will Litton (Jr., 5-10, 185). Litton is the Warriors' leading rusher and is No. 3 in total tackles on defense.

QUOTEABLE: "Thanksgiving Day football is an awesome tradition. Both teams are 6-3 with chances at the state playoffs. There's nothing better than football followed by family gatherings." - Trinity Catholic coach Donny Panapada

LAST SEASON: Trinity Catholic won 41-14 in a game played at Wilton HS so construction of Trinity Catholic's new Gaglio Field could get underway.

TICKET INFO: Available on game day at Fujitani Field

The Crusaders lost at Greenwich (41-20) in Week 2 and at Trumbull (24-14) in Week 4 to finish September at 1-3.

A 38-33 triumph at Gaglio Field over probable Class LL playoff participant Ridgefield was the springboard for Trinity Catholic’s current five-game win streak.

“It was a tough challenge early. But we left some opportunities out there,” Trinity coach Donny Panapada said. “One of our team mottos is ‘Turn the Page.’ There’s nothing you can do about the past. Look to the next play. Our leadership has been great and the success of last year showed the kids to look at the bigger picture.

“These kids have worked to improve every day in search of that bigger reward,” Panapada continued. “And they want to finish the job against Wilton.”

Trinity Catholic, which was a pass-first attack the last two seasons, has been more balanced under senior quarterback and quad-captain Nick Granata.

Granata has completed 59 percent (87 of 147) of his passes for 1,347 yards with 12 TDs and seven interceptions.

The Crusaders, blessed with a large offensive line, have done most of their damage on the ground behind senior Jonmichael Bivona (615 yards rushing, 107 carries, 9 TDs), junior Nick Melia (587 yards, 97 carries, 6 TDs) and Granata (318 yards, 39 carries, 5 TDs).

“Trinity’s big offensive line blocks well for Bivona and Melia,” Cunningham said. “Their quarterback Granata makes plays. And Frank Alfano adds a lot of dimensions to their attack.”

Bivona is also Trinity Catholic’s leading receiver (23 receptions, 242 yards). Senior Gerardo Gonzalez has 17 receptions for 342 yards and three TDs.

“Jonmichael (Bivona) has had a great season,” Panapada said. “Our terrific coaching staff has done a great job putting all our kids in the best position to be successful. And the kids have executed the plan on the field.”

Wilton has lost on the road to Staples (42-6), to Class M No. 1 St. Joseph (31-15) and Class LL No. 1 Darien (35-3). But three straight home shutouts says Trinity Catholic could be in for rugged Thanksgiving.

“Wilton is always physical. And we can’t have turnovers because Wilton never beats themselves,” Panapada said. “We will have to earn this victory.”

This season on the newly-installed turf on Tom Fujitani Field has been a success on multiple levels for Wilton.

The Warriors have had the overall roster numbers (53) to have depth on the varsity level. They have been successful in the present and have made strides for the future.

“Our 13 seniors have given their all. But I’m also excited about our underclassmen,” Cunningham said. “We’ve had great seasons on the junior varsity and freshman level as well. We’ve made progress in all avenues. We’ve had good development and growth while playing and rotating more people on the field.”

Wilton’s offensive preference is to run, highlighted by junior RB Will Litton (603 yards, 136 carries), junior RB Harvey Alexander (430 yards, 92 carries, 6 TDs) and senior QB Matt D’Elisa (252 yards, 76 carries, 7 TDs).

But junior wide receiver Robbie Herrmann (20 catches, 272 yards) and senior WR Joe Pozzi (12 catches, 180 yards) could play key roles if the weather is decent.

“This could be the best matchup of the 12 games we’ve played in this rivalry,” Cunningham said. “Both teams have big things to play for. There’s nothing better than Thanksgiving football then going home for turkey.”