STONINGTON — When Stonington High steps on the turf field to face Ellington in the state championship game, it will be facing a member of Class M boys soccer royalty.
The contest kicks off Saturday at 10 a.m. at Dillon Stadium in Hartford.
The top-seeded Knights (19-0) have been among the premier programs in Class M for years. They lost in the title game last season, finished as the runners-up in 2016 and were the champs in 2014.
Since 2003, Ellington has played in seven Class M championship games, winning three times. Before that, in Class S, the Knights appeared in four title games and won twice.
No. 2 Stonington (18-0-2) last appeared in a Class M title game in 1994, losing to Rocky Hill, 2-1. The Bears shared the title with RHAM, 3-3, in 1993 and lost to Avon, 2-1, in the 1988 championship game.
"They are a perennial power," Stonington coach Paul deCastro said of the Knights. "Suffield and Ellington have had some major runs in the last 15 years with Granby. They are always right at the top of the list in Class M.
"You don't get to be 19-0 and not have good players. And their coach (Roy Gurnon) has been around forever."
Ellington's Ryan Zahner, James Maznicki and Alexander Karaja are midfielders and forwards the Bears will have to contend with.
Stonington is coming off one of its best defensive performances of the season in a 4-0 win over No. 19 Plainville, the defending Class M champion, in the semifinals.
The Bears limited the Blue Devils to four shots and just one on goal that keeper Peter Fernholz handled with ease. Stonington has outscored its three playoff opponents 17-0.
"We played well as a unit. We played in layers very well," deCastro said. "You don't defend with four players; you defend as a unit."
Ellington has allowed just nine goals in 19 games.
The Bears were intent on making the title game this season — losing in the semifinals would have been a bitter disappointment. Saturday's game could be less stressful for the Bears than the semifinal contest.
"We wanted to play on Nov. 23. That was our goal. Obviously, we are excited," deCastro said. "We are going to play loose and free. I feel we are in a good place."
Stonington does have some history with the Knights. Ellington eliminated Stonington in penalty kicks in the quarterfinals in 2017 when the Bears missed a pair from the penalty spot (12 yards from the goal). They haven't practiced PKs since that loss.
The state final won't come down to penalty kicks, however. If the teams remain tied after regulation and two 15-minute overtimes, they are declared co-champions. The overtime periods are played to completion, too; there is no sudden victory.
Sam Montalto, who scored twice in the semifinal win, has a school record 33 goals this season. Tyler Fidrych has 25 goals and a school-record 33 assists.
Coach deCastro is uncertain how Ellington will defend his dynamic duo.
"I think [Plainville] tried to man mark Tyler," deCastro said. "When you are that creative and shifty, it's hard. Change of possession happens so quickly.
"They know how to create space. We have confidence in all our players."