With three FCIAC teams having secured state playoff berths, and Ridgefield a win over Danbury away, Greenwich has seen its status change after Friday’s 30-21 loss to the Tigers in what was a control-your-own-destiny Class LL play-in.
The Cardinals with a win would have been assured a spot in the tournament by defeating Staples on Thanksgiving. They still have a not-unreasonable path to the playoffs, but they now also need a lot of help.
The weekend stirred a case of reflection for Greenwich coach John Marinelli. There was the game against Ridgefield he felt could easily have had a different outcome. There was the opportunity, more remote, still at hand, and there was the state of his program at the end of his second year.
First the Ridgefield game: Greenwich turned the ball over four times in the second half, once in the red zone.
“We felt like we could have won the game,” Marinelli said. “I give Ridgefield a lot of credit. They are a senior-laden team and those kids made plays down the stretch. I have to do a better job as a head coach to get my kids in better situations where we are not turning the ball over four times in the second half of a playoff game. (Ridgefield coach) Kevin (Callahan) does a great job and Ridgefield did a great job and did what it needed to do.”
The Cardinals still have a circuitous road to returning to the state playoffs for the first time since 2012. First, obviously, is a win over slumping Staples, which has lost three in a row and four of its previous five games. Sitting in 11th place in the Class LL point rankings, Greenwich could make the leap if Southington (against Cheshire), West Haven (against Fairfield Prep) and New London (against NFA) all win. All three are highly competitive games, but it isn’t impossible.
“I’m still focused on Staples, and I believe if things go our way we are hoping to get in,” Marinelli said.
If the Cardinals should fail, their transcript will show they lost to Darien and New Canaan, the top two teams in the state polls, and Ridgefield. While Friday’s game should have been devastating, Marinelli said it has not been as hard to move on as, say, the 42-35 loss to the Blue Wave.
“This was probably the easiest to get over,” Marinelli said. “I don’t know why. You woke up Saturday morning and said you had your chances and we blew it. We had every opportunity to go out and change the momentum of the game in the second half. I’m not saying we would have won but it would have changed the way they called the plays. Not trying to take moral victories away from this but in year two I’m really glad we are in these games. Kids on the sideline are the next guys up in this program. We are going to be in these situations a long time and we have to learn how to win it. As a staff and players.”
It is premature for Marinelli to start thinking about next year, but whatever happens between now and the end of the season, whenever that comes, he feels there have been great strides made after the Cardinals’ 4-5 finish a year ago.
“There’s a lot of positive to be had out of this,” Marinelli said. “Year two of an overhaul of a traditional powerhouse and you’re playing a meaningful game in week nine. To be in that game at that point of the season is great. Even week 10, Thanksgiving day is meaningful. We don’t control our own destiny anymore but it is actually reasonable we can get in.”
Marinelli said the Ridgefield game was a setback in one respect, but a learning lesson in another. And his plans for year three — with the focus on the offseason programs — include an aspect you seldom hear out of a football coach.
“We have to be getting these guys playing other sports,” Marinelli said. “Helping the Greenwich athletic department and getting guys involved in other sports will be huge for us. The more these kids get into these situations, whether it be basketball, wrestling, lacrosse or baseball, and they are in tight games, it is only going to help us when we play Ridgefield in week nine in a playoff atmosphere and they can go back in their memory bank and remember the times they were in close games going down the stretch and pulling the good and bad out in how they should react and the character they should show. That’s all part of high school sports.”
1. Darien (9-0). After losing nine straight Turkey Bowls, the Blue Wave set out for their fifth successive holiday win. The defense stepped up in Friday’s 27-0 win over Staples.
2. New Canaan (9-0). The Rams will likely find it more difficult to win the not-FCIAC championship game than the Class L title.
3. Ridgefield (7-2). Assuming a win over Danbury, it is going to be interesting to see how the Tigers fare against a non-conference team in what will be a tremendous Class LL field.
4. St. Joseph (8-1). The Cadets, who escaped with a win against Westhill, are going to be an interesting follow in the state playoffs. They are currently No. 1 in Class M, but have beaten just two teams — Staples and Wilton — with winning records. Thanksgiving against Trumbull will be a good tuneup.
5. Greenwich (6-3). We are not one for postseason rematches, but if the Cardinals were to get into the Class LL playoffs and get a first-round game against Darien, those who were at the first meeting would probably not mind.