Fairfield Giants roll to 18-8 win, in season with 'big' changes
The Sullivan Bowl, the first Pop Warner football games of the season, may have been played the 43rd time in Fairfield this past weekend, but a big difference was apparent Friday on the playing field in the first clash between the Fairfield Giants and Seymour.
The difference: the size of the players competing with both the Giants and Tigers.
In that first Unlimited Division game for both programs, Fairfield prevailed under the lights at Taft Field, 18-8.
Fairfield Head Coach Tim Ihlefeld explained that Southern Connecticut Pop Warner created a division this season to help programs struggling to field Midget Division teams.
While players 14 and under over the weight of 160 pounds and 15 and under heavier than 140 pounds have to sit out Midget games, the Pop Warner's Unlimited Division teams allow players 12 to 15 years old compete despite their weight.
The result: Some players like 13-year-old Fairfield lineman Anthony Palazzolo can still play Pop Warner, even if they are bigger than their coaches.
"We were all running into shortages with kids, so now we're really playing freshman high school, JV-level football with boys who, quite honestly, could play at that level," Ihlefeld said. The division was "built out of necessity. The last thing you want to do is put a team out on the field with bare numbers."
The move to Unlimited also means programs were able to pull in players from bordering towns with Pop Warner programs. While Seymour had players from Oxford, Fairfield added athletes from Bridgeport.
But it also meant coaches like Ihlefeld had to hope that, despite the changes, there still be some kind of team chemistry. And it also meant a number of athletes were playing organized football for the first time.
Fairfield's roster of 20 has 12 players who suited up for their first game.
But Ihlefeld said his players have shown they are willing to learn the game and to get along with each other.
"We've got a lot of kids who never played football before and a lot of kids who never knew each other," Ihlefeld said. "What I'm most impressed about is from day one, despite the communities, despite the diversity, they gelled as a unit."
Fairfield controlled the ball for the entire first quarter, held an 18-0 halftime lead, then held on despite a strong fourth quarter for Seymour.
Zach Sullivan scored on a 27-yard run to end the first Fairfield drive and give the Giants a 6-0 lead.
The Giants kept possession when Colin Ihlefeld recovered the Fairfield kickoff, a free ball, at the Seymour 27-yard line.
Three plays later, Bryan Pacewicz ran a bootleg 20 yards for another Giants touchdown.
After Seymour's first offensive possession ended with a turnover on downs, Giants running back John Moten ran off right tackle for a 37-yard touchdown.
Moten led all Giants runners with 124 yards on 13 carries.
Ihlefeld was not particularly concerned with Fairfield's second-half effort, when it was outplayed. Instead, he focused on the way the kids came together as a team despite knowing each other since Aug. 1.
"We made a lot of mistakes out here that can be fixed," Ihlefeld said. "What you can't fix is the mental and the attitude aspects of these kids, and they got it. They pick themselves up, they're brothers out here."
Fairfield linebacker Gernovan Hevita led the Giants defense with five tackles and a fumble recovery. Pacewicz had four tackles for the Giants and iced the game with an interception with 40 seconds left in the game.
Sullivan had three tackles and Jack Dailey broke up a Seymour pass.