Darien is the No. 1 team in the state. New Canaan is just a game over .500. Greenwich looks like a legitimate state championship contender. Five teams have one win or fewer.
If this sounds like the state of FCIAC football at midseason a year ago, well, it was. Right now the only difference this year is a real absence of memorable games.
St. Joseph’s opening win over New Canaan last fall was dramatic and unexpected. The only surprise this year was that the margin was 28 points, the same as the Rams’ loss to Greenwich.
Not to be a kill-joy, but if you are in search of something to look forward to, circle Thanksgiving and be prepared for little inspiration in the interim. Blame it on the widening gap between the haves and have-nots.
New Canaan and Darien will be three to four touchdown favorites in their remaining league games before the Turkey Bowl (the Rams also have a road trip to New Jersey to play Pascack Valley, N.J., which is 3-3). Greenwich will also keep those clocks running in the second halves of games.
Last year Ridgefield provided the autumn entertainment, the victim of a fourth-quarter knockout after being on the brink of taking down St. Joseph, then coming close to a road win at Greenwich. The Tigers are going through a rare rebuilding season; their Super Bowl is Saturday when they try to continue their ridiculous hold over Wilton. They are 20-0-1 in the last 21 meetings.
The only hope for a little shakeup at the top comes on Nov. 12, when Staples hosts St. Joseph. The Wreckers played with Darien for a half before the bye week so maybe they can pull off the surprise. They are currently 8th in the Class LL point rankings.
Darien, Greenwich and St. Joseph can plan on playing football in late November. The question is whether New Canaan and Staples will have play-in opportunities on Thanksgiving.
After that rather grim assessment, there were actually some positives that caught our attention during the first half of the season. Here are a few.
Offensive MVP: Gavin Muir. I picked the right day to attend a Greenwich practice in August. Coach John Marinelli was running a drill with his quarterbacks in which they navigated an obstacle course before hitting a target while on the move. Muir executed those same moves perfectly in extending plays and finding open receivers during a 42-14 win over New Canaan.
Muir is cool, poised, accurate and has a strong arm. He is of course aided by having playmakers around him. If you look which team would most be affected by the loss of one player, it would be the Cardinals without Muir.
Marinelli after the New Canaan game mentioned how Drew Pyne and David Summers get most of the attention and Muir goes overlooked. He was not knocking the other two quarterbacks but standing up for his own.
A smart Ivy League school would be wise to make Muir an offer. They won’t be disappointed.
Defensive MVP: Connor Fay. New faces, same punishing Darien defense. The Blue Wave have allowed just 20 points and most impressively pitched a shutout following the opening possession against St. Joseph.
The one constant has been Fay, the All-State linebacker who continues to play at an extremely high level. Get the tape of that St. Joseph game and watch Fay get downfield to break up a pass intended for Jaden Shirden, the Cadets’ explosive running back. Fay had great coverage.
Fay and Muir have a lot in common, the most important being that, quite simply, they make plays.
Midseason Coach: Mitch Ross. You can make a compelling case for Darien’s Rob Trifone, who has his team back to No. 1 in the polls despite all the personnel changes. It would be hard to counter.
However, in his second season, Ross is bringing the winning culture from his days as the Blue Wave’s offensive coordinator to Fairfield Ludlowe. Anyone that thought the Falcons would have the same record as St. Joseph and a better mark than New Canaan at this point, raise your hand. You are all liars.
Yes, in a 4-1 start, three of the Falcons’ wins have come against teams with a combined two victories. It doesn’t matter. These are the games that Ludlowe did not win in the past, the kind you need to get accustomed to winning if you are going to take the next step in rebuilding a program and changing the culture. The large crowd of fans now going to Ludlowe home games would agree.
Best Game: Darien 22, St. Joseph 7. This was by no means a great contest — in terms of competitiveness the only close one I have seen is Norwalk’s 21-17 win over Trumbull — but it gave an indication that the Blue Wave’s defense remains one of the most formidable in the state. It also helped set the narrative for the remainder of the season and probably locked up a state playoff berth for Darien.
Best Storyline: The rise of Fairfield Ludlowe and Danbury. In an utterly unremarkable season, seeing teams that have been mired at the bottom of the standings have success for the first time in years has been encouraging. The Falcons and 3-2 Hatters, under new coach Augie Tieri, are setting roadmaps they hope will lead to at least sustainable success.
How the tier two teams shake out will provide some interest. Norwalk, Wilton and Fairfield Warde are also 3-2, with Ridgefield and Trumbull a game behind.
The game we most want to see: Greenwich vs. Darien. The hope here is that the Turkey Bowl, the state’s best rivalry, will have importance beyond bragging rights if New Canaan can qualify for the state playoffs with a win over Darien.
For now, who wouldn’t want to see the Cardinals and Blue Wave, last year’s Class LL finalists, meet in the postseason, particularly since they don’t during the regular season? Last year’s game in the snow was memorable, and another No. 1 vs. No. 2 showdown could provide the drama that has sorely been missing.