Perhaps the surest sign of the respect Trinity Catholic has earned this season is no one has pointed out the relative weakness of its schedule. The Crusaders’ best win came against Ridgefield, which just missed out on a Class L playoff berth because of a lack of bonus points.
That victory came in the fourth game. The Crusaders have not since played a team with a winning record.
But no one has made any mention about whom Trinity has not beaten heading into Tuesday’s Class S quarterfinal game against Morgan because the team has maintained a consistent quality level.
“The kids are excited about the opportunity,” Trinity coach Donny Panapada said. “It is a goal we talked about in the preseason. We are happy about that. We are happy to get a home game.”
The No. 4-seeded Crusaders will play at Boyle Stadium since construction has started on their new turf field. Since losing to Greenwich on opening day, Trinity has run off eight straight wins. While the last five games were blowouts, there have been close victories over the Tigers and Norwalk, and a competitive contest with Trumbull.
The victory over the Bears in the second week, remembered more for the controversial late touchdown catch by Johnny Somers, internally was a big stepping stone for the Crusaders, who would have been 0-2 with a loss.
“It was huge,” Panapada said. “For us to come away with that game. We played well at times but we didn’t play close to our potential. To win in the manner which we did probably did more for us in the long run, especially because we came up short the week before.”
While quarterback Anthony Lombardi, running back Jonmichael Bivona and receiver Izaiah Sanders have received most of the attention, Panapada said the collaborative effort has been the most important reason the Crusaders are still playing football in December.
“A lot of guys are chipping in,” Panapada said. “We’ve got the headline players, Lombardi and Sanders and Bivona, but it has been a lot of unsung guys. Not just seniors, but juniors and even sophomores. Everyone is doing their job.”
Panapada said the two practices since the Thanksgiving win over Wilton have been spirited, which came as no surprise.
“Practices have been at a high level. We have had maybe two bad practices all year,” Panapada said. “We’re still getting better. They enjoy playing. When the whistle blows and the ball is kicked off we come ready to play.”
Panapada was voted by his colleagues as the FCIAC Coach of the Year, but he was disappointed that just two of his players were named to the first team.
“That kind of made me annoyed,” Panapada said. “Coach of the Year, that’s great, but I’d give it up if I could get another kid on the conference team to be honest with you. We’ve been flying under the radar, and I’m OK with that. We’re just doing what we’re doing. Only 32 teams are practicing today and we’re one of them. That’s enough recognition for us.”
Top-seeded Ansonia is the Class S favorite, and many consider No. 6 Seymour as the field’s sleeper. Panapada is happy to remain out of the spotlight — for now.
“If we play our game, if we play the way we’re capable of playing, we can beat anyone in the state of Connecticut,” Panapada said. “I truly believe that. If we play our game.”
1. Darien (9-0). The Blue Wave, by the narrowest of margins, seemed to pass the eye test for best in show in the FCIAC heading into Thanksgiving. In the biggest game of the year they summoned up a consistent performance and came away with their second straight FCIAC title. Now comes the chance to prove they are also best in state.
2. New Canaan (8-1). The Rams no longer have a rematch with Darien to chase in the state playoffs. They also have a difficult draw opening the Class L Tournament against Windsor in perhaps the best of the 16 quarterfinals.
3. Trinity Catholic (8-1). The same people who predicted the Crusaders would qualify for the Class S playoffs seem to agree that they will fall short in their quest to reach the championship game. A little extra incentive never hurt.
4. Staples (7-2). The beat-up Wreckers had to be a little disheartened to fight their way to the Class LL Tournament only to find Darien waiting again for them. Not a good draw to say the least.
5. St. Joseph (7-2). The Cadets also have one of the more intriguing quarterfinal games, against New Fairfield in Class M. And St. Joseph also has flown under the radar all year. It hopes to have a few surprises left.