Football

CIAC Quarterfinal Game Plan: Four FCIAC Schools Enter From Different Paths

Greenwich’s Mozi Bici records a sack against Staples on Thanksgiving. (Photo: Gretchen McMahon)

The FCIAC occupied the top four spots in the GameTimeCT/New Haven Register Top 10 preseason football poll. And for the second straight year, Greenwich, Darien, New Canaan and St. Joseph will all be participants in the state playoffs, which begin tomorrow with 16 quarterfinal games.

The Rams have moved up to Class LL this season, giving the conference three of the eight spots. Greenwich and Darien with wins would meet in the semifinals, a rematch of last year’s championship game. The Rams could only play one of the other two schools in the finals. The Cadets have made the jump to Class M and as the top seed are a heavy favorite.

All four FCIAC schools are entering the postseason on different paths. We break down each game with a look at where they stand — and what the future might hold.

Class LL

No. 7 New Britain (9-1) at No. 2 Greenwich (10-0)

The Cardinals have been in cruise control since the opening kickoff of their first game. The closest any team has come to them was a 42-14 decision over New Canaan — and the Cardinals had a 21-0 lead in the opening minutes.

Greenwich has no exploitable weaknesses. It is strong on offense, defense and special teams. The Cardinals have scored only 67 points in their last two games, the fewest in consecutive outings. Quarterback Gavin Muir is having another MVP-type season, running back Tysen Comizio has returned from an injury, there is a stable of solid receivers and the offensive line gets little notice, which means it is getting the job done quite well.

The defense may be the team’s strongest element, whether it is Mozi Bici or Emilio Camou coming after the quarterback or linebacker Jack Feda sweeping the field for tackles.

The special teams are always an advantage and provide the important edge for field position.

Perhaps the only question mark is how the Cardinals will respond in a close game in the second half, because they have not been put in the position of having to make a big play. It is a reasonable guess that will not be a problem.

As for opponents hoping to play a team with swelled heads, the Cardinals have been driven from the start by last year’s loss to Darien in the championship.

Bruce Ferguson is the leader in Darien’s secondary. (Photo: Mark Conrad)

No. 6 Darien (9-1) at No. 3 Newtown (9-1)

The Blue Wave come into the postseason fresh off their first taste of adversity. With a 9-0 record and No. 1 ranking in the state, they were defeated by New Canaan on Thanksgiving, dropping them from the third seed, where they were last year, to sixth and the loss of a first-round home game.

Darien lost a perfect record against the Rams last year and rebounded to win their third straight state title.

The Blue Wave defense played well enough to win against New Canaan. The offense did not.

Under Hocter’s Tutelage, Greenwich’s Defense Has Become Championship Caliber

Quarterback Cooper Hancock, who has had an excellent season, struggled for one of the few times. Some of it had to do with the frigid conditions, some with the Rams’ pass rush and some with missing open receivers.

A narrative of the loss being a future indicator is not one with traction. It is hard to believe the Blue Wave will have any difficulty bouncing back.

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Led by linebacker Connor Fay, defensive back Bruce Ferguson and a gritty line, the defense has performed at a high level all season. Hancock is a confident leader and the offense has a strong group of receivers that didn’t get a chance to make an impact against New Canaan.

The Blue Wave take pride in their accomplishments the past three years. This group does not want to be the one to stop the delivery to the trophy case.

New Canaan’s Luke Morton looks for running room against Darien. (Photo: Mark Conrad)

No. 8 New Canaan (8-2) at No. 1 Shelton (10-0)

The Rams have repeated their path from a year ago: overcoming a 3-2 start because of losses to St. Joseph and Greenwich with a five-game winning streak, including a win over Darien to clinch a state playoff berth. New Canaan remarkably will be making their 14th straight appearance.

The Rams are on an upswing, and Thursday’s hard-fought victory provided validation. The defense stepped up against Darien, even overcoming giving up a long completion on the Blue Wave’s final possession.

New Canaan has been at its best offensively this season when making the running game a priority. Few teams have the size to match the power of the Rams’ blockers, and that just makes Drew Pyne, who has had a great season, an even more effective quarterback. Receiver Quintin O’Connell has had another big year, and the complementary play of Wyatt Wilson — who had the game-winning Turkey Bowl touchdown — and Zach LaPolice has kept defenses on edge.

The Rams’ defense suffered badly in the losses to St. Joseph and Greenwich. Using Jack Stewart and Jack Conley on both lines has been an answer, while the secondary keeps improving as the season goes on.

New Canaan was on its heels at midseason, but the swagger has returned. The Rams were the preseason No. 1 pick and would like to finish off with a 10-game winning streak and a title in a different class.

Running back Jaden Shirden is a key to St. Joseph’s defense.

Class M

No. 8 Rockville (7-3) at No. 1 St. Joseph (9-1)

The Cadets barely remember what it is like to play a difficult game. There was a 17-14 road decision over Staples in the rain on Nov. 2. Erase that and since a loss to Darien in the third week St. Joseph has outscored its opponents by a combined margin of 277-12.

The offense, which appeared out of sync at times early, developed a rhythm. The defense has been a constant.

The Cadets have never struggled against an overmatched opponent or come up flat, an important quality heading into the playoffs. It remains to be seen whether their best competition is in the rear-view mirror, or another battle is looming.

Quarterback David Summers hopes to finish off his career by helping the Cadets again put up big postseason numbers. He has a top receiver in Jesse Bike — Phil Pasmeg is out for the season with a collarbone injury — and a stud runner in Jaden Shirden.

The defense is headlined by Jermaine Williams on the line and Jesse Lawson at linebacker.

The Cadets are the favorite in Class M, looking for a fourth state title in six years.