It is midterm time for the FCIAC football season, and the professor is passing out some very favorable grades. A good mood? It may appear that way, but there has been a lot to celebrate during the first five games. There haven’t been many great ones, but a lot of dominant performances by units and individual players, as you will see.
As we get down to the final weeks and the race for state playoff berths become more defined, so will the dramatic storylines.
Darien offense. The names and faces have changed from a year ago, but not the results. The Blue Wave are averaging 504 yards a game with a pretty nice balance of 59 percent coming through the air. Quarterback Brian Peters has completed 69 percent of his passes, while contributions are again coming from a variety of players.
New Canaan defense. Quarterback High has turned into the Doomsday Defense this year at New Canaan. The Rams have yielded just 48 points in five games, 21 of which came against Ridgefield. They already have 14 interceptions, four by the unsung Jackson Appelt. Linebacker James Freyre has been phenomenal. If form holds, the Turkey Bowl is going to provide a battle of great contrasts.
Staples offensive line. Wreckers coach Marce Petroccio’s favorite professional team is the Cowboys. That is fitting: the offensive line has allowed Staples to average 242 yards rushing a game. With all due respect to backs Harris Levi, Elliott Poulley and quarterback Andrew Speed, it is possible Petroccio could have a 100-yard day behind this unit.
Ryan O’Connell. Our choice in a close race for midseason most valuable player, in part because O’Connell has had as big an impact on New Canaan’s defense, where he starred a year ago, as on offense, with 689 all-purpose yards. That total is somewhat misleading with a number of second halves spent on the sidelines.
Kevin Iobbi. Anyone who wants to contend Iobbi is the MVP to date has strong ammunition. Iobbi has averaged a stunning 285 yards a game, with 824 coming on the ground. Throw in 14 touchdowns and Iobbi has had as much influence on his team as any FCIAC player. Which is the definition of an MVP.
Cory Babineau to Jared Mallozzi. Forty of Babineau’s completions for St. Joseph have been to Mallozzi. A quarter of them have resulted in touchdowns. That’s a primary reason why the Cadets are on a four-game winning streak.
Brendan Holtzclaw. In perhaps the most dominant individual defensive game of the year, Holtzclaw had five sacks in Westhill’s 21-0 win over Fairfield Ludlowe last Saturday. Holtzclaw also had several tackles behind the line of scrimmage and was all over the field. A virtuoso performance.
The Jamie Taylor touchdown. If you missed it, you can watch it again here. In one of the moments that reminds us about the transcendent appeal of athletics, Taylor, a four-year lineman for Brien McMahon with Down syndrome, ran for a 60-yard touchdown against Darien in a play that was arranged by both schools. If there is a more poignant moment this fall than Taylor running to the sideline and lifting coach AJ Albano into the air, we can’t wait to see it. Kudos to all involved.
Darien 42, Greenwich 35. There have been some very good games but this was one of the great ones, as the Blue Wave, the reigning and current No. 1 team in the state, got locked in a heavyweight fight with the Cardinals, absorbed a number of blows and came back to land a TKO in the final round.
Greenwich. The only reason the Cardinals don’t get an A is the loss to Darien, though they won points in defeat. Two strong wins against Trumbull and Trinity Catholic, and you can easily make a case for Greenwich coming away with a win at New Canaan on Friday night in Marinelli Bowl II. The defense has played very well at times — in this era of spread offenses, points allowed have to be put in a different perspective. So far it has been a good second season in Greenwich for coach John Marinelli.
Johnny McEvoy. The Trumbull quarterback has had a couple of rough second halves, against Ridgefield and Greenwich, but he has had an outstanding year for the Eagles.
Trumbull. The Eagles have lost to Ridgefield and Greenwich. They are 3-2 with a brutal schedule and might be a top 15 team that punches out after Thanksgiving because of the depth in Class LL — statewide but in the FCIAC as well.
Ridgefield. The Tigers have lost to New Canaan and Trinity Catholic. They are 3-2 with a brutal schedule and might be a top 15 team that punches out after Thanksgiving because of the depth in Class LL — statewide but in the FCIAC as well.
Stamford. Many will argue that the Black Knights’ 3-2 record comes with an asterisk because their wins have been against teams that have one victory combined. But the expectations were low this year after a lack of offseason work because of coach Jamar Greene’s uncertain status. More should be made of Stamford winning these close games that could have gone the other way. Only coaches going against the Black Knights have rooted against Greene.
Trinity Catholic. This grade comes with an asterisk, and one we expect will change dramatically for the final report card. It is hard to give a team with a 2-3 mark much more than an average grade. But consider that the Crusaders have fallen to New Canaan, the No. 2 team in the state, Greenwich and Trumbull, both Class LL playoff contenders. Trinity finally got a needed win over a larger school Saturday at home against Ridgefield. The Crusaders arguably had the toughest first-half schedule in the state. There is a very good chance they can run the table, finish 7-3, and then must hope bonus points will give them the chance to prove they are one of the best Class S teams.
Parity/Disparity. Darien, New Canaan and Staples are undefeated in league play. Two teams have just one loss. There has been a game with true impact on postseason chances almost weekly. There are also five teams that have not won a conference game. There is not much of a middle class.
Good teams possibly missing playoffs. There were eight schools that started the season considered to have realistic chances at state playoff berths. All remain in the chase, though some are teetering on the precipice. A number are likely among the top eight in their classes but will not get a chance to prove it. Cannibalization will prove good for the FCIAC during the regular season but hurtful in the long haul.
Bye weeks. There is nothing more important in football — or any sport — than player safety. The CIAC has introduced a number of rules to try and protect against injuries, in particular concussions. Contact in practice is regulated. Teams will no longer play 15 games in a season — a number of coaches bristle about this one but high school athletes should not be playing that much. However, there is no medical evidence to support byes producing any medical benefits. All they do is disrupt the flow of a season. If someone can produce proof that byes will help player safety, this F becomes an A.
1. Darien (5-0). Peters threw five touchdown passes as the Blue Wave kept purring right along. This week they travel to Danbury to play their second straight winless team.
2. New Canaan (5-0). The Rams put on a mixed-bag performance despite having little trouble against the Hatters. That won’t work in Friday night’s Marinelli Bowl II — and New Canaan could use a good test after a few easy weeks.
3. Greenwich (4-1). The Cardinals continue to improve. They have had a steady diet of shootouts, which will prove beneficial as coach John Marinelli returns this weekend to New Canaan.
4. Staples (4-1). The Wreckers rebounded well against Stamford. They head north Friday night to Ridgefield in what should be a terrific game against teams with contrasting styles.
5. Ridgefield (3-2). The Tigers get the final spot because of their opening-week win over Trumbull. They will also need wins over both Staples and Greenwich to get into the state playoffs.