By Dave Ruden
We are now 55 percent — 50 if you play for Brien McMahon — through the regular season, and so far it has lived up to our high preseason expectations.
Exciting finishes? See St. Joseph-Fairfield Prep or Fairfield Ludlowe-Warren Harding.
Great games? Trumbull-Greenwich. Greenwich-West Haven.
Great performances? Too many to list.
Great races? Ah, great races. Remember the days when there seemed to be just three teams contending for the two spots in the FCIAC championship game? There are currently five schools unbeaten in conference play and two with just one loss. Many have played each other already, and many more will in the weeks ahead.
What follows is The Ruden Report Midseason Report Card.
New Canaan. The Rams have been everything they were built up to be, and more. The Rams have outscored their six opponents by a 202-68 margin. The starting defense has not allowed any first-half points — and has seldom played in the second half. Cole Harris, Michael Root, Connor Buck, Zach Allen…the unit is like an All-Star team, overshadowing an offense that has zipped along. The schedule gets tougher the rest of the way, but this team is Ram-tough.
Mark Evanchick. Darien’s sophomore lineman and Harris have been the FCIAC’s two dominant defensive players. Evanchick has spent most of the season disrupting opposing backfields, with a team-high 48 tackles — 8 for losses — and 6 sacks. Did we mention he is only a sophomore?
St. Joseph. The Cadets needed a last-second bomb to escape Fairfield Prep and got a first-half test from Darien. Their offensive and defensive lines have been dominant and running back Mufasa Abdul-Basir has complemented quarterback Jordan Vazzano and a potent passing attack.
Mikey Arman. The Ludlowe receiver, who never played football before this year, caught a 66-yard pass off a pool ball-like carom that gave his team a 35-32 win and Arman his 15 minutes in the national spotlight.
Trumbull 50, Greenwich 44. The game of the year in the league to date. The teams combined for 987 yards of offense. The Eagles’ Nick Roberts threw for 410 yards and three scores and MJ Cesare finished with four touchdowns, including the game-winner with 1:49 left. The Cardinals rushed for 474 yards, with 337 of them coming from Austin Longi, who scored five times and was absolutely magnificent in defeat.
The FCIAC schedule. Everything has broken right this year. In recent seasons you could circle three or four games that would decide the two teams for the championship game. This year there has been a big game almost every week. And it is only going to get better. New Canaan, St. Joseph, Staples, Trumbull and Brien McMahon are all currently unbeaten in league play, and there are four games in which two of the teams face off over the final four weeks. And Darien and Ridgefield, who meet on Saturday, each have one loss and are waiting in the wings.
Brien McMahon. The Senators have not received much respect because of their schedule, but they are taking care of business. With back-to-back games looming against Ridgefield and St. Joseph, the Senators will get to stake their claim on the field.
Will Bonaparte. The Ridgefield senior has rushed for 729 yards and 9 touchdowns, a big reason the Tigers are still in the postseason hunt.
Staples. This was supposed to be a rebuilding year for the young Wreckers. At times they have looked like a championship contender, at others like, well, a rebuilding team. With New Canaan on Friday night followed by a trip to Trumbull, we will get a good read whether there is December football in Staples’ future.
The FCIAC-SCC Challenge. In terms of the concept, these matchups to take advantage of the extra week in the schedule get an A++++. Unfortunately, there were more blowouts than intrigue. The FCIAC won the first-week challenge, 9-8, and have since won three of four more games between the conferences. But we are not complaining.
Fairfield Ludlowe. At 4-2, the Falcons, under first-year coach Vinnie Camera, have picked up where they left off last season. They are not a championship contender, but they are no longer an opponent teams count on as a certain win.
Greenwich. The Cardinals have struggled against the big boys this fall, with decisive losses to Darien, New Canaan and Trumbull. Coach Rich Albonizio made a good move emphasizing the ground game and getting Austin Longi more touches. The defense is more problematic. If Albonizio can find a solution there, a strong finish is still possible.
Fan turnout. The coverage of high school football by the state media has never been better, with newspapers devoting more space in their sports sections and on digital platforms. The reason: there is a strong demand. So it is puzzling that attendance at games continues to dwindle. That has been the case in all sports, but Friday Night Lights used to be a big deal in the FCIAC. It has been disappointing to see stands half full so often.
The Jack Cochran situation. Word is we will have an announcement soon, but Bridgeport school officials have grossly mishandled the lingering uncertainty regarding the status of the controversial Warren Harding coach, who was the biggest story of a busy offseason but has been absent from the sideline since a 2-1 start. Bridgeport school superintendent Paul Vallas said Cochran has a heart condition and was undergoing tests — aren’t there privacy rules about schools revealing an employee’s medical condition? The vague nature of the statement and comments from those close to the program have fueled rather than calmed speculation. Cochran has not returned phone calls from the media or to several friends in the coaching community who have reached out. Because of Cochran’s past indiscretions, the rumors swirling and the tendency from others privately has been to assume the worst, which is grossly unfair to Cochran. It is time to just bring a resolution, which should have been done from the outset.
St. Joseph at New Canaan. The showdown a week from Friday is the most anticipated game of the regular season. Barring the Rams getting upset by Staples on Friday, the winner will most likely finish the regular season unbeaten and occupy one berth in the championship game. The loser, if it wins out, still has a strong chance of creating a rematch in the final two weeks later. This should be the elixir for the empty stands we discussed.