The FCIAC football season was split into two parts. The regular season was relatively flat, with few big games, many of which did not live up to the advanced billing. But there was a pleasant surprise: the league got six teams into the Class LL and Class L playoffs, with Wilton joining St. Joseph, Darien, New Canaan, Greenwich and Ridgefield.
Then came a dramatic postseason with rematches and memorable games. Darien’s Class LL quarterfinal win over Greenwich. Ridgefield fell to Southington in a quarterfinal defensive struggle.
And then there was Saturday. St. Joseph won a classic grinder against Daniel Hand in the first battle between the top two ranked teams in the state since 2005. That should have been the storyline of the day and season, until five minutes after the trophy presentation Newtown provided the touchdown heard about the nation in the Class LL final against Darien.
The biggest storyline in the offseason will be the regular-season schedule. Trinity Catholic’s status is very much in doubt. The basic plan right now is for the league to go to two eight-team divisions. My guess is each school will play everyone in its division, one crossover game and two alliance games.
The league wants more equality in strength of schedules, which will be helped by alliance games, so a team like Greenwich doesn’t finish as the sixth seed in Class LL. At the same time, the FCIAC does not want to cost deserving schools of postseason berths. It will be interesting to see what it put together.
As for The Ruden Report All-FCIAC Team, I first picked out all the players I thought were deserving of consideration. That made for difficult cuts. After that I trimmed the list to pick what is a 29-player first team. Everyone left from the original list is an honorable mention selection.
I really wanted to go 24. I came close on offense: I just couldn’t see denying either Jack Wallace or Drew Pyne first team status at quarterback. And the choices at wide receiver were extremely difficult. There were so many good ones of nearly equal ability. There is certainly room for debate. I have 10 in all. Look at the stats.
By far the hardest job was narrowing the defensive linemen and linebackers. There were so many great ones this year. Darien’s David Evanchick did not even get honorable mention status by the league and he was one of my last cuts for first team. I couldn’t decide who to leave off.
It was just as hard at linebacker. There were so many among the leaders in the state at tackles, though statistics is just one measuring stick. I got tired from staring at my list trying to remove one more player or two.
It is not as inflated as the FCIAC picking 36 players on the first team and better we did not cap the number of players honored. The best teams are going to have the most top players and they should be rewarded.
Here are my picks, and Players and Coach of the Year.
Ruden Report All-FCIAC Team
- QB: Jack Wallace, St. Joseph
- QB: Drew Pyne, New Canaan
- RB: Jaden Shirden, St. Joseph
- RB: Drew Phillips, Wilton
- WR: AJ Barber, Greenwich
- WR: Zach LaPolice, New Canaan
- WR: Kyle Atherton, Trumbull
- OL: Reid Englert, Ridgefield
- OL: Matt Gulbin, Wilton
- OL: Sam Papp, Norwalk
- OL: Nick DiIorio, St. Joseph
- OL: Grayden Overbeck, Darien
- DL: Mike Morrissey, St. Joseph
- DL: Jermaine Williams, St. Joseph
- DL: Eddy Iuteri, Greenwich
- DL: Jah Joyner, Danbury
- DL: Will Bothwell, Darien
- DL: Chris Carratu, New Canaan
- LB: Sam Wilson, Darien
- LB: Cole DaSilva, St. Joseph
- LB: Alex Pagliarini, St. Joseph
- LB: Chris Idieu, Fairfield Warde
- LB: Evan Weigold, Greenwich
- DB: Alex Hanna, Ridgefield
- DB: Jake Thaw, Staples
- DB: Tahj Morgan, Trinity/Wright Tech
- DB: Jackson Peters, Darien
- K: Austin Jose, St. Joseph
- P: Nick Radman, New Canaan
- James Bourque (DB), Fairfield Ludlowe
- Vince Ceci (LB), Greenwich
- Kobe Comizio (WR), Greenwich
- Will Diamantis (WR), St. Joseph
- David Evanchick (DE), Darien
- Jack Finnigan (LB), New Canaan
- Owen Gaydos (WR), Ridgefield
- Kyle Gordon (QB), Norwalk
- Peter Graham (QB), Darien
- Brady Hutchison (WR), St. Joseph
- Kyle Hyzy (WR/LB), Wilton
- Will Kirby (RB), Darien
- Artez Taft (WR), Danbury
- Michael Minicus (WR/DB), Darien
- Will Montesi (DL), Greenwich
- Walker Swindell (DB), New Canaan
Jaden Shirden, St. Joseph. Choosing the Cadets’ star running back here was by far the easiest decision I had to make. Shirden was merely sensational in helping the Cadets finish 13-0 and No. 1 in the state, rushing for 2,061 yards — an average of 9.2 per carry — and 34 touchdowns. He added another four scores receiving and on special teams. Shirden incredibly had 12 touchdowns in the postseason, 11 in the first two games. His value was never more evident than during the final week, with the semifinal and final games played in the rain. Coach Joe Della Vecchia kept feeding the ball to Shirden — who delivered — and let the defense do the rest. When it mattered most Shirden averaged 220 yards rushing in the three Class L games.
Sam Wilson, Darien. Wilson was my midseason pick and maintained the title in a year with so many good defensive linemen and linebackers. Wilson was a jack of all trades for Darien, used by coach Rob Trifone not just at linebacker but on offense carrying the ball. That versatility was the way Wilson played in leading the Blue Wave defense. He was terrific on run support and equally adept in pass coverage, able to get downfield and stay with wide receivers. Wilson ended up leading the team both in tackles and interceptions. And Wilson always played his best when it mattered most. No one will forget the end of the state quarterfinal win over Greenwich, when Wilson scored 62 seconds apart on an interception return and a long run. That was a microcosm of Wilson’s season.
Coach Of The Year
Joe Della Vecchia, St. Joseph. This is always a philosophical choice. Do you take the coach that helped his team exceed preseason expectations? Then the choice is Fairfield Ludlowe’s Mitch Ross; no one expected the Falcons to win six games. You could make a case for EJ DiNunzio, but the Warriors’ seven wins were less of a surprise, we just didn’t expect them to be good enough to earn a postseason berth. Ross was given careful consideration, but how do you pass on the coach that led his team to an undefeated record and the No. 1 ranking in the state? I’m not. Yes, Della Vecchia had the most talent to work with, but coaching is a lot more than just throwing players onto the field. Della Vecchia led the Cadets to the best season in school history.