By Dave Ruden
It had been five years since the New Canaan football team had played in — and won — an FCIAC championship. That ended on Friday night, a 31-20 win over St. Joseph.
The Rams have been relative strangers in the conference final, seemingly coming away with one regular season loss that left them the in the third position in a two-team race.
The Rams, on the other hand, have been regulars in the state playoffs; they will be making their eighth straight appearance this year.
The extra game brings a new challenge: New Canaan has one less week to prepare for its biggest matchup of the regular season, Thursday’s annual Turkey Bowl with Darien.
“It’s not easy to get ready for them on a short week,” New Canaan coach Lou Marinelli said. “They do a lot of things, but I’d rather be in this position than not. We had been on the cusp of (the FCIAC final). When you win it, it is really good. We knew this was coming. This is what you work for. Many of the kids may be tired, but at this point in the year you stay focused. You have that game and then a single-elimination situation. The sad thing is it is all over pretty soon.”
Assuming the 11-0 Rams reach the state semifinals, they will play four games in 15 days.
The positive is there will be no trouble getting up for Darien in what many consider the state’s best rivalry. It dates back to 1928. This will be the 85th game between the teams, with New Canaan holding a 49-33-2 edge.
While Darien would appear to have an advantage in being better rested, its coach, Rob Trifone, who gave his team three extra days off since its last game, a win against North Haven on Nov. 15, said it may not be that pronounced.
“It’s hard to tell,” Trifone said. “I don’t think it is going to make any difference. He’s had two days to prepare for us. They are still going to be a force.”
New Canaan is currently in the top spot in the Class L point rankings, a position it will secure with a win. It could drop several places with a loss to Darien (9-1), which will wrap up a playoff spot with a victory but, barring a lot of strange occurrences, will still likely qualify.
Not surprisingly, neither coach provided any bulletin board material in assessing the keys to victory.
“They are very well coached,” Marinelli said. “No matter who they’ve played, they’ve been in every game and they would be undefeated except for St. Joseph. They are dangerous, they can throw, have good receivers and (Nick) Lombardo is as good a back as you will find.”
Trifone was equally effusive in his praise of the Rams.
“One thing we are going to have to be able to do is move the ball consistently on them and not go three and out,” Trifone said. “They are not only no huddle, but NASCAR no huddle. We have to slow down that portion of the game. We move pretty fast on offense too but not like them. They are the fastest I’ve seen.”
While the Rams were expected to be in their current position, the Blue Wave have been a surprise only in that not much was known about them, following heavy graduation losses, in the preseason.
“I like this team,” Trifone said. “We came in under the radar, starting a JV quarterback and the kids, except for a few, had no experience. They were untested and it is great they are 9-1.”
Staples: A Win And Scoreboard Watching
One team that needs to win on Thursday and then will be doing some scoreboard watching is Staples. The Wreckers host Greenwich in a game that for the first time in three years will not also serve as the FCIAC championship.
With two strong offenses and struggling defenses, it should be an entertaining shootout.
The Wreckers are currently in the ninth position in the Class LL rankings and if they win will likely get the necessary bonus points to extend their string of postseason berths to 11 in the last 12 years.
But beating the hot Cardinals, who have surged offensively since changing quarterbacks and featuring Austin Longi, is no certainty.
“You’ve got to stop Longi or at least slow him down,” Staples coach Marce Petroccio said. “He’s phenomenal. No one tackles him. If you can slow him down — I don’t think you can stop him — you have a chance to be successful.”
Because of the program’s recent success, the Wreckers have not been treated like a team that still has an 8-2 record and is on the cusp of again playing December football.
“We’ve been playing playoff games ever since we got beat by New Canaan,” said Petroccio, whose team has won three straight games — averaging 46 points — since a 43-7 loss to the Rams. “This is just another playoff game. If we lose we put away our shoulder pads. I don’t think anyone wants to do that.”
State Tournament Updates And Scenarios
The biggest questions going on right now are whether teams have qualified for the state tournaments and what needs to happen for them to do so.
A few important tools for you. By far the most important is the CIAC’s Realtime Qualifying Status breakdown. It is updated to the second. You can access and follow it here.
The three people who spend the most time covering the entire state are Sean Patrick Bowley, Kyle Brennan and Ned Griffen. They have spent countless hours working out all the scenarios that need to happen for teams to qualify.
Since we are an equitable site, we give you the links to all three writers. Bowley broke down all four classes in separate posts. They can be accessed off the Gametime CT home page here.
Brennan also wrote separate posts by class. They can be accessed off The Red Zone blog here.
Griffen has all of his breakdowns on one post. They can be accessed here.