The FCIAC football regular season can best be summarized as having been short on drama and absent of surprises.
Though many of the state playoff contenders went head to head, very few games lived up to the hype, including Thursday’s Turkey Bowl between Darien and New Canaan, regardless of the asterisks everyone wants to attach to it.
If it wasn’t for St. Joseph and Ridgefield, we would have little to talk about in terms of memorable contests. You can count the best games of 2017 on one hand: the Cadets’ opening-week win over New Canaan and their dramatic come-from-behind, fourth-quarter rally to defeat the Tigers. Then there was Greenwich’s victory over Ridgefield and the Tigers’ late drive to topple Staples.
That is it. Compounding the issue was all the best games, or at least the most anticipated, often took place on the same day. Though for the most part the strengths of schedules were pretty balanced across the board, there were too many weekends with an absence of games between schools with winning records.
If you look at the final standings, almost every school finished within a game of what was expected back in the preseason. I’m usually horrible with prognostications and was pretty close to the mark with my picks, which says less about me and more about the predictability that ensued after what at the time was the Cadets’ surprising win over New Canaan (which in retrospect now isn’t a surprise).
We figured there were five state playoff contenders and four got in. The fifth, Ridgefield, was one win shy of making this a repeat from last year.
Greenwich has been the biggest positive surprise. The Cardinals were rated by many (I had them fifth) as the fourth- or fifth-best team in the conference. No one had them as the No. 1 team in the state, their current ranking as of today in the polls for, according to GameTime’s Sean Patrick Bowley, the first time since November of 2006.
The Cardinals bagged their two biggest games, against Ridgefield and New Canaan. It would be a remarkable season if they won out. Standing in their way could be Darien. The two schools, who met in last year’s quarterfinals, would not see each other until the finals.
The Rams were a bit of a disappointment more in how they played than their final record. If you were told in August that they would enter the state playoffs with two losses — or that they would need to win on Thanksgiving just to qualify — oddsmakers would have made it a lock that one was against Darien.
Still, the four schools playing tomorrow are in the top seven in the polls. No surprise there except for the order.
On the other end of the spectrum, a two-win Trumbull team (three if you count a non-CIAC sanctioned game) ranks with Greenwich as the least-expected result. I had the Eagles sixth at the start of the season and missed that one badly. They were routed on the opening Saturday at Scared Heart by the Cardinals, setting the tone for both teams’ seasons.
The picks here for the 6-10 teams were Wilton, Staples, Westhill and Norwalk. Each finished 6-4.
Fairfield Warde played well most of the time against the toughest schools on its schedule and ended up 5-5. Stamford, an underdog against Westhill, won on Thanksgiving to capture its city title and finish up 4-6.
There was little remarkable about the past two months. It turned out to be a film where you could tell early on how it would end.
The FCIAC did prove to be the best league in the state. The season started with it having an excellent chance at winning three of the four state titles.
That may still happen in the lone remaining mystery.
1. Greenwich (10-0). John Marinelli was named league coach of the year, and deservedly so. The Cardinals had more playmakers than we expected, and Marinelli did a great job of putting the puzzle pieces of veterans and young talent together. Greenwich is No. 1 in the state, No. 1 in Class LL and could very well still be sitting in both positions in 12 days.
2. Darien (9-1). The Blue Wave drop a spot after getting routed by New Canaan, though missing three key starters. Would that have made a difference? Certainly the final outcome likely would have been closer. The question is when/if the players will return. Jack Joyce’s and Brian Minicus’ court dates are Dec. 5. That is two days after semifinal games.
3. St. Joseph (9-1). Do the Cadets have the best chance of any league school to win a state title? Everyone’s brackets have St. Joseph and Ansonia in the Class S final. From there, opinions vary.
4. New Canaan (8-2). An interception return for a touchdown on the first play from scrimmage set the tone for the Rams’ ending their Turkey Bowl drought against Darien and running their streak of state playoff appearances to 13. A fifth straight state title? Tomorrow’s quarterfinal against Middletown could easily be the title game.
5. Ridgefield (7-3). The Tigers were denied a Class LL playoff berth because of losses to three teams that could end up playing in state championship games. Which game would Ridgefield prefer the do-over: St. Joseph or Greenwich?