By Dave Ruden
NEW CANAAN — The question was both premature yet somewhat fitting. Moments after New Canaan’s surprisingly easy 62-21 rout of St. Joseph on Friday night, Rams coach Lou Marinelli was asked by some reporters if this was the best team he has coached.
Given that the Rams have only played eight games, they are barely past the halfway pole in what would be a 15-game season if they were to go unbeaten. That question might be timed better on the eve of a state championship game.
Yet at the same time, you can’t blame the media for mining new story angles. The Rams’ closest game to date has come against their opponent with the weakest record, a 42-20 win over Bassick. That was also the fewest points they have scored this year.
New Canaan’s average margin of victory so far: 33.5 points. The second half of most games has been spent navigating the score management rule.
Friday night’s win was especially telling because of the caliber of competition. The Cadets were ranked third in the state (New Canaan jumped this week from second to the No. 1 spot). Many were ready to jump off their bandwagon Friday night.
What did we learn by the end of the night? Not that St. Joseph was overrated, but that New Canaan is this good, and on the path to a special season.
“I don’t know whether I would call it shocked,” Marinelli said of the reaction to his team’s win. “I think we played well in a big game. I would say surprised but not shocked, if that makes sense.”
Many are comparing the Rams to the 2008 team that went undefeated.
“In all my time coaching here, and I have been coaching 41 years all together but a head coach for 36 years, I have never had a team been as dominant as we’ve been.”
In terms of personnel, the main show has been what was hinted from the coming attractions. Offense? Explosive. Defense? Stifling.
Marinelli actually pinpointed one area that has exceeded expectations.
“How well the receivers are playing,” Marinelli said. “I wasn’t sure coming in. I thought we’d have a good offensive line. Four starters played last year. (Quarterback) Nick Cascione, I thought he’d be good, but he’s ahead of schedule. Our two running backs have done a good job and we thought our defense would be good. But the receivers have really stepped up.”
Cascione threw six touchdown passes against St. Joseph, to five different players. Nine different players caught passes. Jack Gilio, Cole Turpin, Alex LaPolice and Seth Neeleman have been a solid group by committee.
“When your offense is playing well and your defense is playing well and you don’t know which one is more dominant, you have a really good team,” Marinelli said.
Marinelli will keep being asked to compare this team to its predecessors if the narrative stays the same.
“If we continue on the path we’re on you’d have to make a case for that, but we have a long way to go,” Marinelli said.
Sizing Up The Playoff Picture
St. Joseph had not even departed the New Canaan campus Friday night when the text messages, direct messages and phone calls started coming in: who was going to be playing in the FCIAC championship game?
The initial reaction: We’re not sure. The reaction now: We’re not sure.
The easy part of the equation is the Rams need just one more win, against Wilton or Trinity Catholic, to clinch their first spot in the final since winning the championship in 2008.
The tricky part is whom they will be facing. The inside track belongs to Brien McMahon, the league’s only other unbeaten team. If it wins the final two games, we will get a championship between teams that have not yet met.
The problem for the Senators is they will be facing their two toughest opponents, Ridgefield on Friday followed by St. Joseph.
If McMahon should lose once, we go on the bonus point watch because there could be as many as five teams with one loss.
The favorite, because of available bonus points, would be St. Joseph. Staples is in the next-best position, with Trumbull, Darien and McMahon long shots.
A rematch for New Canaan against St. Joseph or Staples would be a hard sell, first because of the short time frame since their previous meetings, next because of the decisiveness of the Rams’ wins.
New Canaan seemed to be hoping for a Trumbull win over Staples last Friday, just to get a chance to face someone different.
Game Of The Week
Brien McMahon at Ridgefield, Friday 7 p.m. This is the Senators’ first chance to silence the skeptics who believe they are a product of an easy schedule. The Tigers need a win to keep their fragile state playoff hopes alive.
The Fab 5
1. New Canaan (8-0): As the Rams demonstrated Friday night, there is a chasm between them and the rest of the league.
2. St. Joseph (7-1): We’re still high on the Cadets, who are not on the same level as New Canaan but have an excellent chance to win a state title.
3. Darien (7-1): The Blue Wave are currently in the sixth position in the Class L point rankings.
4. Brien McMahon (7-0): The Senators are so close, yet so far away, from a berth in the FCIAC final.
5. Staples (6-2): The Wreckers showed tremendous character with their overtime win against Trumbull. Will it be enough to carry them into the postseason?
THE WEEKEND SCHEDULE
Stamford at Norwalk, 6
McMahon at Ridgefield, 7
New Canaan at Wilton, 7
St. Joseph at Fairfield Warde, 7
Danbury at Trumbull, 7
Staples at Bridgeport Central, 7
Westhill at Greenwich, 7
East Haven at Fairfield Ludlowe, 7
Bassick at Trinity Catholic 1
Darien at Harding, 2:30