By Dave Ruden
Arguably the most highly anticipated opening week in state high school football history generated the expected buzz, even if too many of the games ended in blowouts.
A surprising number of people, including a few coaches, said in private they thought the FCIAC-SCC Challenge would end up being a rout for the SCC. The more discerning pundits saw a contest too close to call. In the end, Ridgefield’s win over Cheshire late Sunday gave the FCIAC a 9-8 Challenge win, though there are still seven more games between the conferences so the overall series is very much up in the air.
If there was a letdown, it was that only four of the 17 games were decided by 7 or fewer points, which took away a lot of the anticipated drama. Eleven of the games saw winning margin of
18 or more points.
There was perhaps a record day as nine contests — including the FCIAC league game between Norwalk and Westhill — were suspended because of lightning or postponed because of the threat. It had the reverse effect of people who decry games getting postponed prematurely.
The best drama came from Greenwich, which rallied for a big 22-21 win over West Haven. Austin Longi — remember that name — scored the winning touchdown on a 1-yard run in the final minute, set up by his 24-yard reception. Earlier, he returned a blocked field goal attempt 88 yards for a score.
Football, more than any other sport, at all levels, lends itself to knee-jerk reactions. One bad loss can make you a disappointment with a dim future; a good win can harbor inflated expectations. A larger body of work is needed to make any grand pronouncements, though at this point there is reason to believe that more games are going to make a difference in the race for the two spots in the FCIAC championship game.
Some Week 1 observations:
— The New Canaan defense is for real. A front seven with Cole Harris, Michael Root, Connor Buck and Zach Allen figured to have a shutdown presence. Then there are players like Michael DiCosmo, Max Wilson, Beau Santero and Cass Knox, who stepped in for the injured Sterling Guynn, who have been overshadowed but are vital parts. It is hard to see teams scoring much on the Rams, which is a dangerous predicament when the offense is still very explosive.
The expectation was that the Rams would end Daniel Hand’s 26-game winning streak with a little cushion, but no one expected them to jump out to a 43-0 lead en route to a 50-21 win. Hand has some rebuilding to do, but it is hard to tell whether it is a big project or, more likely, it ran into the wrong opponent on opening night.
— With Darien and New Canaan the next two opponents, Greenwich’s win over West Haven was huge for its postseason chances. Assuming the Cardinals get at least a split, they should be able to buzz through the remainder of their regular-season schedule prior to their Thanksgiving game with Staples.
— Nick Lombardo’s five-touchdown performance was less surprising or comforting than Darien quarterback Silas Wyper’s 16-for-27, 219-yard passing performance with four touchdowns in his starting debut in the win over Hillhouse.
— The prospects for Stamford’s season will hinge a great deal on the play of the offensive line, which was down two starters in a 28-0 loss to Fairfield Prep, which has a mammoth defensive line that created matchup problems. Jack Rakoczy, according to coach Jamar Greene, will be back this week for Harding. The talk is that Roger LaBella is out for the year, though Greene said he is hopeful to have him back for the final few games.
— Warren Harding is 1-0. That is not a mistake. Keep an eye on the Jack Cochran-led Presidents. The schedule is favorable.
— Don’t write off Staples just yet. The Wreckers were not manhandled by Xavier, which many expected. There are a lot of new faces, but they will be the favorite in every game, except for New Canaan, until Thanksgiving.
Game Of The Week
Greenwich (1-0) at Darien (1-0), Saturday 2 p.m. A big test to get a read if Darien is a good team or one capable of being a factor in the FCIAC race. The Blue Wave are a dangerous opponent for Greenwich, which must guard against a post-West Haven letdown.
The Fab 5
1. New Canaan (1-0): By the way, Nick Cascione threw for 173 yards and 3 scores, Frank Cognetta rushed for 102 yards and nine different players caught passes. Just saying.
2. St. Joseph (1-0). Jordan Vazzano had a strong showing at quarterback, but the Cadets have to be encouraged by the 118-yard rushing performance by Mufasa Abdul-Basir, which will diversify the offense.
3. Greenwich (1-0). Assuming the Cardinals get by Darien on Saturday, the game with New Canaan is a must-see.
4. Ridgefield (1-0). Another player who didn’t get enough preseason attention: senior running back Will Bonaparte, who rushed for 160 yards and two touchdowns against Cheshire.
5. Darien (1-0). The Blue Wave lead the FCIAC in players lost to cramping. They are going to need that talent on the field this weekend.