Upon Further Review: Some Midseason Standouts In Season So Far Low On Buzz

Charlie Zuro and Darien have been relentless in pursuit of a third straight state title. (Photo: Darien Athletic Foundation)

It has been the practice here to publish a midseason report card, handing out grades to individuals and teams based on performances through the first five weeks.

This year, we are going to deviate from the norm and point instead to some of the positives that have stood out so far this season, which to date has been a disappointment.

The top teams are a notch down, but that seems to be the trend statewide. Talking to some writers who cover all of Connecticut, the FCIAC remains the premier conference, with the five schools that qualified for the state playoffs a year ago deserving of being ranked in the top 15 in the polls.

But the big games have more often than not lacked excitement, with few dramatic endings. Darien has rolled with little difficulty, including easy wins over Ridgefield and St. Joseph, which was a measuring stick because the Cadets have the two biggest wins to date.

Right now nine of the 17 schools are either 3-2 or 2-3. Some of those are glass-half-full and some glass-half-empty. It is reaffirmation of the continued polarization with the contenders distancing themselves from the rest of the league.

As far as the postseason is concerned, right now there are just two games to circle between the top contenders. The first is Nov. 14, when Ridgefield travels to Greenwich. The second is on Thanksgiving, when Darien and New Canaan meet at Boyle Stadium. No school wants to count on earning a playoff berth with three losses, which will put the pressure on both the Tigers and the Rams.

For now, here is what has stood out for me thus far on my travels.

Jack Joyce. The Blue Wave are again No. 1 in the state because of the whole being greater than the sum of their parts. This is a program right now that can live off the motto of Next Man Up. Joyce started the year as a relative unknown to others but as a favorite of his coach, Rob Trifone. So far we have seen why. Joyce’s speed has lived up to billing, but it is his arm that has been a revelation. Joyce throws an accurate ball and offers an added dimension that keeps defenses off guard. Joyce is the pick here for midseason player of the year.

Greenwich. One got the sense that though he would be counting on a number of younger starters, Cardinals coach John Marinelli had a more positive view of the talent level than he was letting on. That has been the case so far. The team is unbeaten at 4-0 after Saturday’s win over New Canaan and the discussion has shifted from returning to the state playoffs to perhaps contending for a title in the third season of what Marinelli said was a five-year plan when he took over.


Jack Feda (8) has helped lead Greenwich out to a 4-0 start. (Photo: Gretchen McMahon)

Jack Feda, Robert Lanni and Evan Weigold. It would be easy to point to quarterback Gavin Muir when singling out players responsible for Greenwich’s start. Unsung has been the linebacking unit of Feda, Lanni and Weigold. The three have been outstanding in all phases and a key reason the defense has been so consistent.

St. Joseph 38-35 wins. The Cadets are available for hire to play parties that are certain to provide entertainment but may not end well for outside crowds. The two most entertaining games have been St. Joseph’s twin wins by the same score again New Canaan, which sent ripples throughout the state on opening night, and Saturday against Ridgefield in a rally from a 35-10 fourth-quarter deficit. In a hum-drum season, the Cadets have been a rare source for theater.

Tiger Hollow fans. There are a number of schools that get strong support from their student body, but few are as consistent as Ridgefield, as was evident on opening night against Darien. The large crowd coupled with the scenic Tiger Hollow setting are a perfect combination, and the Ridgefield fans don’t just show up but are loud. Shoutouts are due as well so far to the students at Greenwich and Wilton, who usually travel well. In all my years as a sportswriter, I don’t recall covering a Ridgefield-Wilton football game. I’m looking forward to my first one Saturday.

Wilton running game. In an era of spread offenses and 7 on 7, the Warriors are one of the few throwbacks that rely on their running game, and they have executed it well so far, averaging about 275 yards a game. They will need to ride the ground game to control possession and shorten the game against Ridgefield.

Garrett Braden. New Canaan is a disappointing 3-2 at this point for a variety of reasons, but linebacker Garrett Braden has been as good as any defensive player in the league. He has eight sacks, been a nightmare for opposing offensive coordinators and his continued dominance will be integral as the Rams look to have a strong second half of the season.

Westhill. Skeptics will contend that the Vikings are 4-1 because their wins have come against opponents with a composite 6-14 record. Still, they have not slipped up in the march for one of their best ever seasons. They didn’t fare well against New Canaan and Lou Marinelli and this weekend is a trip to son John Marinelli and Greenwich. Upcoming games against Wilton and Trumbull will likely dictate how high is up.

Danny Thompson. I have to be honest, I liked the dynamic Thompson gave Staples as a running quarterback in his spot starts before this year but wasn’t sure if his arm would be a strong enough complement in a year when the team has a number of playmakers at receiver. Thompson has been among the most improved players this season, completing over 65 percent of his passes.