By Dave Ruden
Derrick Lewis has a unique distinction: the Bassick coach is the only one who has faced both New Canaan and St. Joseph this year.
The Lions lost to New Canaan in the second week of the season, 42-20. They dropped a 49-6 decision to St. Joseph two weeks ago.
Lewis is as qualified as anyone to break down Friday’s much anticipated showdown between the FCIAC’s top two teams. Any he is voluble on the subject.
“To be honest, it’s a cliche but defense is really going to set it apart,” Lewis said. “I said at the beginning of the year, as good as they are on offense, New Canaan’s defense is probably the best in the state. They really are. They’ve got big guys and fly to the football. No discredit to St. Joseph, they play defense. New Canaan is able to switch out of the 4-3 to the 3-4 and dominate.”
The Rams’ 343 points are No. 1 in the conference. Their 119 points allowed are second to Brien McMahon, though almost all of them have come with New Canaan’s first-team defense out of the game.
The Cadets are second with 298 points scored and third with 121 points allowed.
“I think it will come down to who can control the ball on both sides of the line of scrimmage,” Lewis said. “How long will drives be? Can St. Joseph score points, which they can if they can ground and pound? The key to the game is if St. Joseph can keep the chains moving. They both play at the same tempo. New Canaan is a bit faster.”
New Canaan, by most accounts, is considered a slight favorite, especially with their home-field advantage. It also has not been involved in a close game all year. In contrast, the Cadets needed a last-second bomb to beat Fairfield Prep and were tested for the first half of their win over Darien. That might prove an advantage if the score is tight in the fourth quarter.
Asked what the Cadets needed to do to win, Lewis said, “The running game. I know they throw the ball a million times, but (Mufasa) Abdul-Basir may be the most underrated back in the state. He’s shifty. He can pop it at any time. He can change the game, and that big offensive line definitely helps.”
New Canaan, for all of its recent success, has not appeared in the conference final since winning the championship in 2008. The Cadets have yet to make an appearance.
When it was pointed out to Lewis that it sounded like he was predicting a New Canaan win, he laughed for a few seconds.
“Heck no. No way, Joe’s by buddy. Marinelli’s my buddy,” said Lewis, referring to St. Joseph coach Joe Della Vecchia and New Canaan coach Lou Marinelli. I’ll tell you one thing, I would love to be at that game if I wasn’t playing at the same time. It is one of those games you’d like to see both teams win. I know they are pumped up for the game.”
Based only on their pedigrees, a win may have more meaning for the Cadets to elevate their status, which was Lewis’ closing point.
“If St. Joseph really wants to validate themselves as a state power,” he said, “they have to bring their A game.”
Game Of The Week
St. Joseph at New Canaan, 7 p.m. Game of the week? Try FCIAC regular season game of the year. The two teams have been on an inexorable path toward this collision. The winner will almost certainly grab one spot in the league championship. The other will still have the opportunity to forge a rematch two weeks later. Game on.
The Fab 5
1. New Canaan (7-0): The Rams had a business-like approach to their first six games, but there was a lot more swagger last Friday night against Staples. They have been anxiously awaiting St. Joseph’s visit.
2. St. Joseph (7-0): This is the biggest FCIAC regular season game the Cadets have played. That it comes against a traditional league power makes this all the more important for the program.
3. Darien (6-1): The Blue Wave came away with a gritty win against a solid Ridgefield team to keep their twin postseason hopes alive.
4. Brien McMahon (6-0): No one believes the Senators are for real. They get Fairfield Ludlowe this week coming off a bye week, then go back-to-back with Ridgefield and St. Joseph.
5. Trumbull (6-1): While the spotlight will be on New Canaan, the Eagles, who barely escaped last Friday night against Wilton, have a pivotal home game against Staples. It is too bad both contests are at the same time.
THE WEEKEND SCHEDULE
Harding at Bassick, 4:30
Trinity Catholic at Stamford, 6
McMahon at Fairfield Ludlowe, 7
Norwalk at Ridgefield, 7
St. Joseph at New Canaan, 7
Greenwich at Bridgeport Central, 7
Staples at Trumbull, 7
Sheehan at Fairfield Warde, 7
Wilton at Darien, 1:30.
Danbury at Westhill, 2