This has been one of the strangest and thus far one of the less memorable FCIAC football seasons in recent memory. That made Ridgefield’s 24-20 win over Staples on Friday stand out more, a competitive game between two equally matched teams that was not decided until the end — and could have gone either way.
The Tigers jumped out to a quick 17-0 lead and a rerun of their 42-7 win a year ago seemed possible. The Wreckers, a team most observers have had a difficult time getting am accurate read on, tightened their defense and made some big plays on offense to answer with 20 successive points.
It was evidence that Staples quarterback Danny Thompson is among the candidates for the mythical title of Most Improved Player in the League. He was sharp, and his accuracy is a complementary skill to his running ability. It also makes the Wreckers less predictable to defend.
Ridgefield also came into the night with a looming question mark. Was an opening-night loss to Darien a case of the glass being half-full — everyone has been losing to the Blue Wave and they again may be the premier team in the state — or half-empty, proof that overcoming the personnel losses from a year ago would be too difficult to overcome? The Tigers’ two wins coming off Darien were against overmatched opponents.
This weekend may add further illumination on both teams, because each has a difficult game. The Wreckers must try and rebound against Darien, which has won 29 straight times. How will Staples’ offensive line hold up? Will it be able to put together a viable passing attack against one of the state’s best secondaries? And we haven’t even discussed the team’s defense yet.
The Tigers travel to St. Joseph in one of the more intriguing games in trying to assess the pecking order in the conference, which is still difficult to do.
Some writers have raised the question why the Cadets are ranked behind New Canaan in the state poll after they won the season opener. Part of it comes from the punishment-by-most-recent-loss school of thinking. What have you done for me lately? There are some that consider St. Joseph’s win an aberration. I have heard from a number of people, ‘If New Canaan had played up to its capability…’ ”
The bottom line is St. Joseph won the game and right now deserves the higher ranking.
Staples’ Jake Thaw attempts to make a reception against Ridgefield. (Photo: Chris Greer)
I think there is a consensus that Darien for now is the best team in the league. There is far greater disagreement on how to rank the next five or six schools.
That might soon be easier, because five of the teams ranked in the top 11 in the latest GameTime CT state writers’ poll will be going against one another in what should be the best week of the regular season.
The third game features the so-called Marinelli Bowl, with father Lou’s Rams going up against son John’s Greenwich team. This should be the first one where the focus will be more on the outcome and less on the family dynamic (which is the way each Marinelli would prefer it). New Canaan was heavily favored in the prior two meetings. After three blowout wins so far, many believe Greenwich is in a position to get the victory.
At least one state playoff contender will end the weekend with two losses, and that could possibly be the case for three schools.
One reason for the earlier thought about this being an undistinguished fall so far is that almost every one of the anticipated games has been a blowout, in part because a few schools have not lived up to expectations.
Hopefully this weekend will be one that lives up to the hype, and offers some greater insight on how to properly rank the league’s top schools.
Staples’ Ben Pearl (14) and Brandon Adrian defend against a Ridgefield receiver. (Photo: Chris Greer)
— There was going to be a good feeling coming out of Thursday’s game between Brien McMahon and Fairfield Ludlowe, two teams looking to end long losing streaks. That came for the Senators after a 32-13 win. Their coach, A.J. Albano, is one of the more popular in the league, so it was gratifying for him to have a positive evening.
— Westhill was considered a sleeper, and has lived up to the hope after Saturday’s 45-27 win over Capital Achievement. The Vikings were not expected to beat New Canaan, but a close win over Norwalk has positioned them going into a bye at 4-1 and with the opportunity to achieve their goals.
They will be an underdog in two weeks against Greenwich, but finish up against Trinity Catholic, Trumbull, Wilton and Stamford. You cannot take games with city rivals for granted and the other two are by no means easy, but a seven- or eight-win season is certainly within Westhill’s grasp.
— With so many one-sided games, we have further proof that the second-half running clock is much preferable to the former 50-point rule. One just hopes there will be fewer of them during the second half of the season.
— One follow-up to last week’s column that led to a misunderstanding and a few reader emails. I noted that both Darien and New Canaan have been successful in part because they have both maximized their resources. A few readers took that to imply a knock on the quality of Norwalk’s youth football program. Not at all. The point I was making: living in an affluent community doesn’t guarantee success. Likewise, living in a less-affluent community doesn’t automatically translate into being unable to sustain competitiveness.
1. Darien (4-0). Can Staples give the Blue Wave what likely would be their last regular-season test before Thanksgiving?
2. St. Joseph (3-1). The Cadets’ game with Ridgefield at least on paper looks close to a pick-’em.
3. New Canaan (3-1). New Canaan needs the offensive line to provide the dominance it is capable of to attain its goal of 12 straight wins.
4. Greenwich (3-0). The Cardinals looked strong against Norwalk after 16 days off. Will they be just as sharp after a 12-day break?
5. Ridgefield (3-1). With a couple of difficult opponents remaining, the win over Staples was huge to prevent being saddled with a second loss.