If this football season were a meal, liver was the main course and creme brûlée the dessert. There were few big games and they seemed to occur on the same day. Most failed to live up to the hype. The polarization between haves and have-nots has not narrowed.
But the last three days made it all worthwhile. Darien outlasted Greenwich in the snow on Saturday in a memorable Class LL final that led to the Blue Wave today being voted the No. 1 team in the state for the third straight year. The Cardinals, who were undefeated and occupied the top spot, were the surprise team of the season.
If Darien-Greenwich was the best game between two FCIAC schools, last night’s St. Joseph-Ansonia Class S final was the best involving just one, with the Cadets overcoming a 21-point second-half deficit to forge a memorable 42-36 win.
The Cadets ended up No. 2 in the poll because of a 42-10 loss to Darien early in the season.
Greenwich finished fourth and New Canaan eighth (for what it is worth, my top 12 picks were the same as the final poll except for twice flipping two schools one spot; I had Greenwich third and Hand fourth).
I also had Ridgefield 13th; it failed to qualify for the playoffs because of three losses — to the teams that ended up in the top four.
The FCIAC had more top teams than any conference, but otherwise there was not a lot to distinguish this season. Other than Trumbull, which was afflicted by turmoil from opening day, every team finished just about where expected.
Early storylines for next year? The usual suspects will again be the preseason favorites. Greenwich is returning an All-Star team. Will someone emerge from outside of the past two seasons’ top five? Danbury, Trumbull and Brien McMahon will be looking for new coaches. Hopefully all of the biggest stories stay on the sports pages.
Now, my postseason awards.
Player Of The Year
David Summers, St. Joseph
We changed the name of this category because during different parts of the year I had three different quarterbacks as MVP: Darien’s Jack Joyce at midseason and Greenwich’s Gavin Muir near the end of the regular season. With strong supporting casts, the value of Joyce, Muir and Summers at St. Joseph were probably equal to their teams.
But in terms of having the best season, the line becomes less blurred and it is difficult to dispute the selection of Summers, further cemented by his five-touchdown performance to rally the Cadets to a 42-36 over Ansonia last night for the Class S title.
It is almost impossible to overcome large deficits — 21 points in the second half last night against Ansonia and 25 points in the fourth quarter during the regular season in a win over Ridgefield — without an otherworldly effort at quarterback.
Summers was outstanding: he completed 220 of 340 passes for 3,208 yards, with 49 touchdowns and just five interceptions. He is poised in the pocket, does a good job of sensing pressure — and is only a junior and will be back next year.
Some made the argument that Summers’ success has been made better by a strong stable of receivers. You can counter that those receivers benefited playing with Summers.
A valid case can be made for Muir, whose numbers are misleading because the Cardinals were close to a 50-50 run-pass split. Mike Neary dominated on both lines for Darien, linebacker Grant Morse had a great season for New Canaan and I’m a huge fan of Ridgefield receiver Jackson Mitchell.
We are letting the fans have their say in our Player of the Year vote. Mine goes to Summers.
Most Underrated Player
Connor Tienken, Darien; A.J. Pykosz, Wilton
There were a number of players who received postseason honors whose body of work got overshadowed either by being part of a strong ensemble or playing for a team that was not a postseason contender. That is the case for our runners-up, Ridgefield linebacker Austin Cali (first team) and Fairfield Warde defensive end Joe Gjinaj (second team).
Our winners also made first team (Tienken) and second team (Pykosz).
One of the highlights of Saturday’s Class LL final was a leaping touchdown catch by Greenwich’s Jael Negron. He out-jumped Tienken on the play. It took an acrobatic effort because that is one of the few times Tienken got beat all year. He was a lockdown cornerback who, other than punter Andrew Donovan, probably got the least attention of the Blue Wave’s seven all-league players.
The work by Darien’s secondary holding St. Joseph’s Jared Mallozzi to one reception was the best defensive collaborative effort I witnessed this year. The best by an individual was delivered by Pykosz in a loss to Ridgefield. He finished with 12 tackles and 1.5 sacks. And countless pressures that went unrecorded as he spent most of the day in the Tigers’ backfield.
Coach Of The Year
John Marinelli, Greenwich
This one is a lock. The Cardinals grabbed the eighth playoff spot and lost to eventual champion Darien in the Class LL quarterfinals last year. Prevailing wisdom was they would finish a little higher and maybe get a postseason win and be positioned, with a number of sophomore and junior starters, for a championship run next season.
Well, Greenwich again lost to eventual champion Darien in a final that could have gone either way. It was a two-point game until a late Blue Wave touchdown after the Cardinals failed on a fourth-down try deep in their own territory.
Marinelli batted close to 1.000 this season with his calls, deployment of personnel and player development. He coached to his skillset. There was parity running and passing because of a strong offensive line and the development of Muir.
The defense was the biggest surprise, almost immediately going from promising to dominant. The Cardinals ran off 12 straight wins and were the No. 1 team in the state until Saturday.
In the big picture, Greenwich is positioned for the long haul. Depth will help it offset graduation losses. Right now the Cardinals would appear to be the favorite to be No. 1 in next year’s preseason poll.
Marinelli wanted to be No. 1 in today’s final poll. That it almost happened was in large part due to his work.
Ruden Report All-FCIAC Team
QB: David Summers, St. Joseph
RB: Tysen Comizio, Greenwich
RB: SaQuan Kelly, Westhill
WR: Jared Mallozzi, St. Joseph
WR: Jackson Mitchell, Ridgefield
TE: Henry Saleeby, Greenwich
OL: Mike Neary, Darien
OL: Kyle Woodring, Greenwich
OL: Kyle McDonald, New Canaan
OL: Jack Conley, New Canaan
OL: Jack DiNanno, Wilton
DL: Mozi Bici, Greenwich
DL: Tyler Blizzard, Greenwich
DL: John Schneider, Ridgefield
DL: George Harrington, Staples
LB: Connor Fay, Darien
LB: Jack Feda, Greenwich
LB: Grant Morse, New Canaan
DB: Brian Minicus, Darien
DB: Jeremiah Harris, Greenwich
DB: Connor Tienken, Darien
DB: Matt Lombardo, Ridgefield
K: Zach Moore, Greenwich
P: Andrew Donovan, Darien
First Team (2)
QB Gavin Muir, Greenwich; WR Noodles Metayer, Westhill; WR Quintin O’Connell, New Canaan; WR Mikey Riddle, Stamford; WR A.J. Hall, Norwalk; OL Michael Turner, Ridgefield; DL Nicholas McIntosh, Greenwich; DL Charlie Zuro, Darien; DL Seamus O’Hora, New Canaan; DL Joe Gjinaj, Fairfield Warde; DL A.J. Pykosz, Wilton; LB Alex Cali, Ridgefield; LB Jude Andrzejewski; St. Joseph; LB Garrett Braden, New Canaan; LB Marlon Brown, Norwalk; DB Kyle Phillips, Wilton.
All-FCIAC Analysis: The goal each year is to keep this to a 24-player team, and this year it was again impossible. I might have been able to make some hard calls if there weren’t so many great defensive linemen and linebackers, more than I can ever remember. Seamus O’Hora not first team? Or Zuro? Leave off Alex Cali? You could easily plug them into the top 24. But who do you omit? I had 33 players initially. So rather than pare down the list, I added seven players and made it essentially a top 40. And that took removing four players who just missed the final cut. There are only two players here I did not see at all. Of course the eye-test is the best means of evaluation.
Final Fab 5
2. St. Joseph
4. New Canaan