Greenwich’s 26-21 win over Ridgefield on Saturday was instructive, predictive and now it is time to be reflective. Perhaps no other FCIAC football game this fall has provided more talking points. That has much to do not just with the outcome but the timing, the latest meeting in the season so far between state playoff contenders.
Let’s start with the takeaway that has the broadest view and least immediate impact. There is a belief by a few that the conference should go to a divisional system, with all of the top teams playing each other. You would have a more exciting regular season — and, boy, this fall we have had too many droughts — but it would come at the expense of precious state tournament berths, with deserving schools going home after Thanksgiving.
The Tigers have played a modified version of that schedule. They have now lost to Darien, Greenwich and St. Joseph, three of the top five teams in the state. They are 5-3 and feel they should be 7-1, after having a 35-10 lead over the Cadets in the fourth quarter. But they failed to close out that game and lost a close one to the Cardinals.
Ridgefield sits here today 15th in the Class LL point rankings. Most rightly consider it a top 15 team in the state. The Tigers are two spots behind Westhill, which is having a terrific season but lost by large margins to Greenwich and New Canaan. It would be a multi-touchdown underdog against the Tigers.
Greenwich got the eighth seed in the state playoffs with three losses last year, but the Tigers would need extreme help the rest of the way to follow the same route. New Canaan, with a loss to Darien on Thanksgiving, would also be 0-3 against the same top 5 schools.
Ridgefield and New Canaan will have the days after the holiday to think of forks in the road they could have better navigated if there are no games left. The FCIAC is the state’s toughest league and the overall strengths of schedule for the most part this year have been pretty balanced. The solution to the widening gap separating the best teams from the rest is thorny. Putting all the best teams in one division — football welfare — is not the answer.
Greenwich coach John Marinelli gave his players a very audible postgame speech after Saturday’s game. Marinelli felt his team had not been practicing well and was displeased with his offense, especially in the first half. That emotion was tempered by the step the Cardinals took by still gutting out a win against the desperate Tigers. Especially satisfying was running out the final 5:10, with a pair of third- and fourth-down conversions, after Ridgefield had scored to get within a touchdown.
“I think the best thing about this team is we’re never going to stop fighting,” Greenwich quarterback Gavin Muir said. “When they scored we had our offense go right out there and run out the clock.”
Four of the team’s first five games were decided early and played with a second-half running clock. That could again be the case Friday night against Danbury.
From there, the games get difficult and then likely comes a loaded state tournament, with Darien possibly looming. Those last 310 seconds Saturday were a test.
“There was no celebration today, kids came in and we watched what was our worst game by far this year,” Greenwich coach John Marinelli said tonight. “Hopefully we learn we need to take everyone serious moving forward. I take full responsibility for not preparing them better emotionally.”
Two years ago Ridgefield finished 7-2 and earned the title as the best team not to qualify for the state tournament. Last season it was the eighth seed and made it all the way to the state final.
The Tigers feel confident they can follow the same road again this year, but as of right now having that dreaded label seems the more likely outcome. The seven schools separating them from the final seed all have difficult remaining games, so it is possible the stars could align just right and bring another meeting with Darien.
No Class LL team will or should want to face the Tigers.
“They know where they’re at,” Ridgefield coach Kevin Callahan said after Saturday’s game. “It is one of those things where it feels like last year everything went our way and this year a lot of little things are going against us. The kids are resilient and trying to persevere and overcome. This one is going to be tough because of what was on the line here.”