Upon Further Review: Three Burning Questions After A Shakeup Weekend

Darien quarterback Jack Joyce runs for a first down Friday against Staples. (Photo: Conrad Kaplan)

We are coming off the biggest football weekend of the regular season and left with just a handful where state playoff contenders will be facing off.

Most expected Darien to leave Westport with a win, and it made good with a 32-6 decision. Most considered Ridgefield and St. Joseph to be a toss-up, but the field goal difference took a back seat to the manner in which it occurred, with the Cadets scoring four straight times in the fourth quarter to rally for a 38-35 win.

And most were curious if Greenwich was for real, capable of not just playing competitively with but defeating New Canaan. The Cardinals were, fashioning a 36-21 win with a big-strike offense and superior special teams play.

As we get ready for the second half of the season, each game led to a lingering question for the next five weeks.

1. 

Can Anyone Stop Darien? This was certainly not something anyone thought was a given to be asking a few weeks ago, but the Blue Wave have established themselves as the standard-bearer until proven otherwise. Darien right now is without any exploitable weaknesses and the biggest question may be is a third straight state title and No. 1 ranking inevitable.

The Blue Wave have outscored their opponents by a 212-35 margin, and what might make them so dangerous is they have flourished with perhaps the most balance during this 25-game winning streak.

Who do you key on? Quarterback Jack Joyce, who is having a great season, is their most indispensable player right now. None of the numbers put up by the running backs and receivers stand out individually, but they do collectively.

The same is true on defense. The line has four new starters and they have all made impacts. The back seven has lived up to expectations.

Looking for an unsung player? Our pick is linebacker Kevin Grune, who stood out in Friday’s 32-6 win over Staples with three sacks, half of his team-high total.

Unfortunately, Darien and Greenwich don’t meet during the regular season, but how great would another meeting in the state playoffs be, especially if it is later than the first round? A game against the Cardinals right now might be more anticipated than the Turkey Bowl with New Canaan.

2.

What Is Wrong With New Canaan? If anyone has an answer to this one, Rams coach Lou Marinelli would like to talk to you. You have to go way back in search of the last time the team had two losses at midseason. It has had one just three times in the last decade.

But after Saturday’s 36-21 loss to Greenwich, the Rams find themselves sitting at 3-2 and and at least for now with more questions than answers in what is probably the biggest story so far in the season. The conversation has deviated from whether the team can win a fifth straight title to whether it will even get the chance. A state playoff berth right now is no given. A 7-3 record with a loss on Thanskgiving might still be enough, but that is in the long term.

Right now, the Rams have to be thinking short term and addressing their issues. They may have a rare combination of underachieving but having been overrated at the start of the year. The former if true may be fixable and it is still too early to tell about the latter.

New Canaan’s offensive line was supposed to be one of its strengths, but quarterback Drew Pyne was under pressure against Greenwich and St. Joseph, which came away with a 38-35 win at Dunning Field on opening night. The defense has also been inconsistent. Both times the Rams got within eight points of Greenwich, it yielded a touchdown.

Most maddening are the penalties, 16 in each of the two defeats. The repeated false starts are hard to explain. The Rams had two touchdowns nullified on Saturday.

The Rams are at a crossroads. They will be favored in their next four games, including a week from Saturday against Pascack Valley from New Jersey. But they need to not just sweep them, but pick up the necessary habits that will give them a chance both against Darien and, they hope, the state playoffs.

Jackson Mitchell had 17 catches for Ridgefield in Saturday’s loss to St. Joseph. (Photo: Matt Dewkett)

3.

Will Ridgefield Recover From Saturday’s Loss To St. Joseph? Relinquishing a 35-10 lead in the fourth quarter against St. Joseph had to be a crushing blow for the Tigers, particularly after their offense was so dominant until the end.

It is the kind of outcome that can prove crippling for some teams, and the truth is Ridgefield lost the chance for some cushioning as it tries to return to the state playoffs.

But there are a number of factors in the Tigers’ favor. For one, they have Wilton on Saturday, and this may be the perfect time to have their biggest rival scheduled. No time for self-pity or letdowns. And the Warriors have playmakers.

Second, Ridgefield has a lot of talent. That’s how it got the big lead in the first place.

And with a win over Wilton, the Tigers will be heavily favored in all of their remaining games save for what will now be an even bigger one on Nov. 4 against Greenwich. Three losses might still get the team in the playoffs — the Cardinals got in at 7-3 last year.

Winning out is also within Ridgefield’s reach. So while the Tigers put themselves in a hole, their task is just more difficult, not impossible.

Fab 5

1. Darien (5-0). Remember when we all wondered how the Blue Wave was going to rebuild both lines, handle a new quarterback…

2. St. Joseph (4-1). The Cadets’ season was in danger of a downswing entering the fourth quarter against Ridgefield. Then they put together one of the best comebacks in state history.

3. Greenwich (4-0). The Cardinals answered all the uncertainty about how good they really are with the win over New Canaan. Now the question is how high is up.

4. New Canaan (3-2). With backs to the wall, we now find out what the Rams are really made of.

5. Ridgefield (3-2). A game against Wilton could not have been timed any better as coach Kevin Callahan looks to get his players refocused after a crushing loss.

 

2 Comments

    • You have to wait and see how this plays out. So far Westhill has victories over two winless teams and a Class S school. That means few bonus points. They will be out there the second half of the season. Greenwich will be a tough spot. I think the Wilton and Trumbull games are the keys.

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