And then there were three.
The FCIAC’s hopes of getting all four of its state playoff entrants to championship games were derailed yesterday with New Canaan’s loss to Masuk, ending the Rams’ bid at a fifth straight title.
The conference will have at least one winner, with Greenwich and Darien meeting in Saturday’s Class LL final. At the same time, St. Joseph will face Ansonia in the Class S championship. Both matchups were highly anticipated and will hopefully live up to the inevitable hype.
Today is a good time for reflection on the teams’ varied roads the past two months. Some were neatly paved and others bumpy.
From a plotting standpoint, the most intriguing study is Darien, which went almost instantly from being off the charts to front-page news. Unfortunately the focus the past 11 days has not always been on the sports pages.
Comment boards and social media have exploded since the arrest of three starters on Thanksgiving Eve that have been well chronicled — and would have been put on the back burner soon after if not for the handling by the Darien school administration. It is possible we are looking at a return tomorrow with the scheduled court dates of the three players and speculation about who will and won’t be playing Saturday.
A good percentage of what I will call the rational Darien defenders have made a good point: the current players have not received enough attention for a season that was perfect before the New Canaan game and has been perfect since. Unfortunately, in these type of instances bad news seems to overshadow good when occurring simultaneously.
The Blue Wave went dark for a month when they beat up on four overmatched opponents by a 134-0 margin. There was no buzz to any of the games, which made Darien one of the least-talked-about No. 1 teams in state history. Now they haven’t been able to escape the headlines.
Darien is a win away from a third straight state title in large part because of a defense that has remained unyielding. The defensive front, led by Mike Neary, Charlie Zuro and Drew Evanchick, picked up where last year’s four graduated starters left off. Connor Fay has been outstanding at linebacker and defensive back Connor Tienken may have been the FCIAC’s most underrated player — as well as one of the best.
The offense has been an ensemble, with few stars but a number of really solid players that maximize production.
I think more than a few people expected the Blue Wave to run out of gas yesterday against West Haven, but quarterback Jack Joyce accounted for three touchdowns with his arms and legs and the Blue Devils’ offense was stymied.
Now Darien gets a chance for a three-peat against Greenwich. A win could also put it in line to finish No. 1 in the state. It will be an interesting debate if both Darien and St. Joseph win. The Cadets are a spot ahead in the current poll, but the Blue Wave defeated them soundly in the regular season.
Let’s not make any assumptions about the outcome against Greenwich, however, because it has been exceeding expectations all year. It was reasonable in early September to pencil the Cardinals in for eight or nine wins and a postseason win.
Good thing that wasn’t written in ink.
The bottom line is Greenwich has better players and more of them than we thought before opening day. Maybe coach John Marinelli knew this all along. Or his non-seniors, of which they are plenty, matured quicker than hoped.
There are so many compelling matchups Saturday against Darien that we will delve into later in the week.
If you want to pinpoint a moment symbolic of what has made the Cardinals’ special, it came at the end of yesterday’s win again South Windsor. There was no rousing celebration. It was almost difficult to tell which team had more points on the scoreboard. This is a level-headed bunch that expects victory.
In contrast, New Canaan started the season No. 1 in the state, lost to St. Joseph on opening night and never recovered. At this point it is hard to say the Rams underachieved because there were few games where all elements were in sync.
This was a fairly strange New Canaan team that never really had an identity and too often succumbed to its penchant for penalties that the talent base could not overcome. Linebacker Grant Morse was outstanding and defensive lineman Seamus O’Hora had a good season. Defenses were able to key too often on receiver Quentin O’Connell, who is much better than his very good numbers would indicate.
O’Connell is part of a strong junior class that should next year lead a rebound, if that is the right term for a state semifinalist.
As far as St. Joseph, it played out to script more than any of the league’s playoff teams. The win over New Canaan was a surprise at the time, but otherwise most expected the Cadets to be sitting exactly where they are, getting ready to play Ansonia in what should be a fantastic Class S final.
In a year when the FCIAC’s four playoff teams traveled different roads, the Cadets took the straightest path.