Except for a few detours and side streets, the FCIAC football superhighway outside of Darien and New Canaan started on opening night at Tiger Hollow and could end there Friday evening.
Ridgefield hosts Greenwich in the biggest game of the season that will not be played at Dunning Field on Thanksgiving. All wins are of equal value, and what happened the past two months shaped the importance of a showdown that will bring the spotlight shining on the Tigers’ stadium Friday.
This is the biggest game ever for the players on both teams. Each has a 6-2 record. Ridgefield last made the state playoffs in 2013; Greenwich the year before. The Tigers finished at 7-2 last season, the same record as Staples, a team they had defeated. But the Wreckers advanced to the Class LL Tournament via the point rankings tiebreaker. Staples earned a first-round game with Darien. Ridgefield came down with an eight-month case of heartburn.
Now the Tigers control their own destiny. Win and all they have to do is beat Danbury on Thanksgiving to play December football.
“The kids are pretty aware, in this day and age, the kids are on top of what’s going on,” Ridgefield coach Kevin Callahan said. “It’s an easy sell. We are at a point right now where we are able to play to get in. They’re excited about it. I’m glad we’re home. You can feel the energy at practice. We’ve been fortunate where sometimes we’ve been waiting for people to do things for us and they didn’t happen. It feels a lot better to know it’s within our grasp and we’re the ones in charge of our future.”
The Cardinals also control their own fate, though their path is a steeper. They likely would have to follow up a win over Ridgefield with another against Staples on Thanksgiving.
Greenwich will face few surprises. Its setbacks have been against Darien and New Canaan. It is hard to be better prepared.
“You can’t treat it any differently, it’s just business as usual,” Greenwich coach John Marinelli said. “Maybe the difference is we are playing music for Tiger Hollow. It is an electric atmosphere. We were not prepared for New Canaan. We are 6-2 and our losses are to the one and two teams in the state. Those are big games. For what’s on the line, this is a really big game. It is parallel with those two games with New Canaan and Darien.”
While there are many similarities in the schedules, perhaps the most instructive common opponent to use as a measuring stick is Trumbull. The Tigers rallied with 29 straight points for a 46-33 victory over the Eagles on opening night. Greenwich won in a comparable shootout, 42-32, in game five.
The three schools can be linked together because they are so similar. Each has a high-powered offense that has occasionally been slowed but never stopped, compensating for defenses that have bent and once or twice even been broken.
That has, both coaches agreed, made the preparation this week a little easier.
“We are very similar teams,” Callahan said. “The difference is we are eight weeks out now going against Greenwich, where with Trumbull it was the first game. I feel comfortable with eight weeks we are playing better defensively and the offense is in a bit of a groove and doing good things.”
Marinelli, unsurprisingly, offered a near-carbon copy scouting report.
“I think you can judge the game on which defense is going to do a better job,” he said. “The offenses can put numbers up against anybody. I would hate to defend either one of us because there’s so much going on and so much talent and so many choices, so many critical reads that these kids have to make. It’s not easy. That’s why you see the scores where you see them.”
The FCIAC football world is anxiously awaiting the Turkey Bowl, which each year seems to reach a ceiling, and each Thanksgiving breaks through to a new plateau. This year there is no conference title on the line, but it does not matter.
But because of the importance of Friday night’s game at Tiger Hollow, the Darien-New Canaan countdown is not yet on the clock. If Greenwich wins, the Thanksgiving buffet adds another main course as the importance of its game with Staples swells.
And right now the Tigers don’t have to worry about point standings, ties or outside help. The future is in their hands.
“We’re a very senior-laden team and I’m kind of confident that they will play that way because they know what’s at stake,” Callahan said. “It’s their last year at high school and they want to make a memory.”