Is it possible that the New Canaan football team has an avenue to get the best of its neighbors in Darien following the humbling Thanksgiving Day loss?
Ironically, the strength of the FCIAC, with the preseason hype stamped by the conference placing the Rams, Blue Wave, Ridgefield and St. Joseph in championship games, makes the aforementioned question feasible.
Consider: Ridgefield defeats Darien to win the Class LL title. New Canaan and St. Joseph take home, respectively, the Class L and M championships.
Darien will have lost to Ridgefield and defeated one-loss New Canaan, which won against the Tigers, who have lost twice, during the regular season. The Cadets would be a bit of an outlier in the scenario.
Who would be the top team in the FCIAC, and thus in all probability the No. 1 team in the final state poll? It would be impossible to give that honor to a team that did not win a CIAC title, which would remove the Blue Wave from the picture. The prevailing feeling is if Darien were to lose, the winner of the Class L game between Windsor and New Canaan would assume the top spot.
How would that be for irony? If Saturday were to play out this way, the FCIAC could perhaps even end up with the top four spots in the poll, depending on how unbeaten Ansonia, currently in the No. 9 spot, makes out in the Class S final.
Just having the discussion is a testament to this being the FCIAC’s year in football. Three months ago we were talking about whether this was the season Darien and/or New Canaan took a tumble down to the rest of the pack. We knew the reputations, just not the players’ names. It turns out that the machine, otherwise known as the youth programs, keep churning out elite players.
We thought a team like Ridgefield, with its wealth of returning starters, could break up the border-town party. That was dismissed after the Tigers were easily handled by New Canaan, with the asterisk of quarterback Drew Fowler getting injured in the first half. A subsequent loss to Trinity Catholic at the time seemed to place Ridgefield alongside Greenwich as top-of-the-second-tier teams.
The Tigers have not lost since, defeating Greenwich in a game that gave them control of their postseason fate, unlike a year ago when they sat out on the narrowest of tiebreakers. In the state playoffs they have staged two dramatic come-from-behind wins, taking down SCC powers West Haven and Shelton. Ridgefield’s defense stepped up in the second half against West Haven, while its multi-faceted attack was responsible for dispatching Shelton.
The Tigers now get a shot at the other conference power. While we usually disdain intra-league state playoff matchups, seeing that they have not faced Darien, and the teams’ respective strengths, make this a most interesting matchup.
All these possibilities are predicated on Darien losing. Those of us who have seen Ridgefield are unsurprised by its current run. Yet despite the fun of playing out debatable instances for rankings, it would be more foolish to dismissively turn the Blue Wave into sudden roadkill. They have won 25 straight games and muddled through despite injuries to dominate thus far in the playoffs. Perhaps it was the second-half Turkey Bowl comeback by New Canaan that provides the thread for seeing the Blue Wave as potentially vulnerable.
Then you think of the way Southington quarterback Will Barmore was running for his life Monday night, and how his counterpart, Blue Wave quarterback Brian Peters, had enough time to watch one of the school’s many hype videos before finding an open receiver, and it is difficult to imagine any opponent getting the best of Darien’s lines.
New Canaan, accustomed to rolling over opponents, has now played three straight games decided by a field goal: the loss to Darien followed by state playoff wins over Masuk and Notre Dame-West Haven. That will be a useful attribute against unbeaten Windsor in the Class L final.
Notice how we haven’t even talked yet about St. Joseph? The Cadets have — for 13 weeks. Coach Joe Della Vecchia said at today’s CIAC media day that his team has been treated like a stepsister this fall, and he’s correct. While we assumed unknowns could hinder both Darien and New Canaan, the Cadets at the Class M level have been worthy of the same consideration, which they have earned by rebounding from a beating by Trumbull on Thanksgiving.
For the next five days, fans can mull the what-ifs at the top of the poll depending on the outcome of the Class LL final and a New Canaan win. The door could be ajar for the Rams to finish No. 1. What is indisputable is the FCIAC has made good to claim itself the best football league in 2016. It will be treated fairly in the polls.
That could even be true for Greenwich, despite losing in the CIAC quarterfinals and having four losses. Two to Darien, and one each to New Canaan and Ridgefield.