Football

Upon Further Review: At Midseason, ‘The Haves’ Continue To Rule FCIAC

Quarterback Jack Wallace is a big reason why St. Joseph is 5-0 and ranked second in the state. (Matt Dewkett)

Saturday feels like a river in a desert right now for FCIAC football fans thirsting for a big game or two to live up to the hype.

The polarization of the sport has left us with fewer big games to circle on the calendar. And those we’ve had have mostly failed to live up to the hype.

The game with the biggest impact by far was Ridgefield’s 17-14 win over New Canaan. It served to elevate the Tigers’ status while for the third straight year dropped the Rams into an early hole.

Then came St. Joseph’s dismantling of New Canaan in one of the most anticipated games since the schedule came out.

Now the haves are again in their own penthouse, which makes this weekend’s doubleheader so prized. First comes Ridgefield, ranked seventh in the state, traveling to No. 2 St. Joseph. That is followed by arguably the top game until December, third-ranked Greenwich hosting No. 4 Darien.

That will set the tone for the rest of the regular season, which should continue to feature more blowouts we must endure to get to the postseason.

On the floors below, resurgent Danbury is off to a great start, Stamford is a feel-good story at 3-2 following its preseason tragedy and Fairfield Ludlowe remains both entertaining and better than expected.

Jack Warren and Greenwich have been running over the competition so far. (Gretchen McMahon)

Here is who and what I have liked most so far.

Offensive MVP: Jack Wallace, St. Joseph. The Cadets are the consensus pick as the best team in the FCIAC — too bad they don’t play Greenwich or Darien — and seem on an inexorable path to a state final showdown with Daniel Hand for the No. 1 ranking in the state.

There are no areas where you say the Cadets need improvement, but the seamless transition Wallace has made from cornerback to quarterback has been the biggest domino to their success. Behind a strong offensive line that has made his life easier, Wallace has flourished, basically putting games out of reach with his long first-half scoring connections to Will Diamantis.

Wallace has already thrown for 1,147 yards playing about three-quarters of the time by completing 72 percent of his passes. Wallace has 21 scoring passes and just two interceptions. He has had a mystic-like connection with Diamantis, Brady Hutchison and the other receivers.

The aerial attack has made Jaden Shirden (511 yards) even more effective rushing the ball.

St. Joseph’s defense is good enough to take the pressure off the offense, but Wallace is the key reason why the team has outscored opponents, 243-48.

Defensive MVP: Sam Wilson, Darien. This is an eye-test pick because there are so many good defensive players this year and it is hard to pick one over the rest. Eddy Iuteri has been dominant on Greenwich’s defensive line. There are three or four St. Joseph players, but which one is best? And my most underrated player coming up is another standout.

Whenever I see the Blue Wave play, Wilson is near the ball. Sometimes it is chasing down the quarterback from his linebacking spot. Sometimes it is making tackles behind the line. Sometimes it is in coverage; Wilson has a team-high three interceptions.

Wilson is the product of a strong unit that plays well together. Like the other top players mentioned, it is hard to tell if they stand out more because of the players around them or make the others better. It is a little of both.

Wilson had seven tackles in the Blue Wave’s biggest game, a 24-8 win over Southington. When an opponent has the ball, Wilson is usually close by.

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As Sean Gifford proves, Darien has been a step ahead of the competition. (Hailey Hires)

Most Underrated Player: Alex Hanna, Ridgefield. I was writing my story on Ridgefield’s win over Wilton Friday night at a restaurant not far from Tiger Hollow. The team’s assistant coaches were at the next table discussing their belief Hanna, an undersized but relentless cornerback, is deserving of All-State status.

I can’t compare Hanna to the rest of the state at this time, but the conversation was not unreasonable. Hanna has dominated in the games I have seen. He had an interception at his own 9-yard line that stopped a long Wilton drive in the first half and defended several passes.

Hanna has sound fundamental techniques and seldom gets beaten. Danny Moroney and Reid Englert may get more attention, but Hanna is also deserving of having his name on the marquee.

Midseason Coach: Joe Della Vecchia, St. Joseph. It is always a dilemma when picking a Coach of the Year: do you choose the one that has the most talent or the one that has taken his team farther than expected.

If you go with the latter, the choice is Danbury’s Augie Tieri, who has his team on a four-game winning streak following a season-opening loss to Greenwich. The Hatters were seen as a team that could make the biggest climb in the standings, and it is difficult to argue giving the nod to Tieri, who has done wonders with the program in a year and a half.

So why Della Vecchia? First, he deserves the credit for having his team playing at such a high level. A 51-0 second-quarter lead at New Canaan?

Second, last year John Marinelli deservedly was the state Coach of the Year after leading the Cardinals to an undefeated season and No. 1 ranking.

If the Cadets go undefeated and defeat Daniel Hand in the state playoffs it would be a surprise if Della Vecchia was not honored.

Since he is nearly halfway there, Della Vecchia is my pick.

Owen Matthews has helped pass Ridgefield to an unbeaten start. (Matt Dewkett)

Second-Half Storylines. In the short term, everyone is focused on Super Saturday. In a regular season with few interesting games, we get a treat with a pair featuring top seven teams.

Ridgefield travels to St. Joseph looking for the upset. Then Cardinal Stadium will be rocking.

Next up, how many teams will the FCIAC get into the state playoffs? St. Joseph is a lock. The Greenwich-Darien winner will make it two, and it is difficult to see how the loser will lose more than one more game. That would make three.

Then there are Ridgefield and New Canaan. The Tigers have possible losses to St. Joseph and Greenwich. If that happens, the final game against Danbury could be for a postseason berth.

The Rams have been disappointing, but at 3-2 they are in the same position as the last two years, when they won out and qualified. The manner of defeat to St. Joseph has caused many to write them off, but they should be able to win the next four, which would likely make the Turkey Bowl against Darien a play-in game.

Danbury is currently ninth in Class LL, but they have Newtown and Darien the next two weeks. If the Hatters somehow get a split, they are in the conversation.