Trinity Catholic is currently 25th in the CIAC Class S point rankings. With 37 schools, the Crusaders are closer to the last spot than first.
It is realistic to think they could be competitive with Seymour, Ansonia and Bloomfield, right now the top three teams in the division. Certainly Trinity coach Danny Panapada thinks so.
But barring a strong finish and some help, the Crusaders’ status will be decided in the court of public opinion instead of on the field, their state playoff hopes dangling by a thread. Friday night’s 24-14 loss to Trumbull left them with a 1-3 mark heading into the bye week. The three losses have come to New Canaan, a three-time defending state champion, and two Class LL schools, the Eagles and Greenwich, each capable of qualifying for the state playoffs. Their combined record: 10-2.
Panapada said despite having arguably the state’s toughest first-half schedule, he thought he would be going into this weekend in a better position.
I still think we have a pretty good group of kids,” Panapada said. “Unfortunately we’ve played some very good teams and we haven’t played well. Maybe that’s a tribute to some of the teams we’ve played, but I thought we’d be able to execute at a higher level. A game comes down to blocking and tackling, and we’re not doing it well right now.”
Certainly none of Trinity’s defeats can be considered an upset. It had a 14-6 lead against the Eagles and played New Canaan evenly for a good part of the game before two mistakes led to touchdowns.
The Crusaders’ strengths — a big offensive line and a strong backfield, headed by Jonmichael Bivona — would be the best foil against the teams they have played, which like to pass the ball and can score in a hurry. Panapada said his players have yet to perform up to their potential.
“We return four starters on the offense line plus the three running backs from last year, so we thought we’d be able to run the ball better than we have this year,” Panapada said. “We’ve shown flashes of it but we’ve been very inconsistent. I would say consistency is the biggest thing. At times we’ve done it and at times we haven’t. We want to play good defense but we want to be able to control the clock, keep the other team’s offense off the field, shorten the game.”
Numbers have always been an issue for the Crusaders, and there have been games in the past against bigger schools where they have stayed close for a half or three quarters before getting worn down. This year, Panapada pointed out, that liability has been a detriment in another important way.
“I know it doesn’t seem that way on the surface, but in practice and trying to put a scout team together that’s where that depth hurts most,” Panapada said. “To have a competitive practice. It is nice to have good players but if they are not challenged in a practice setting I don’t know if it is doing you any good. That’s the biggest thing I don’t think people realize. If you don’t have the numbers it is hard to give your first team a look.”
This might seem like the right time in the season for a week off to recalibrate, but Panapada isn’t so sure.
“It’s good that we have the bye because there are things we have to work on, but you want to be able to get back on the field and get it going again,” he said.
The schedule does not get any easier for the Crusaders: their first game back is against Ridgefield, another 3-1 Class LL school making a postseason run. After that they will be favored in every game before facing Wilton, which is also currently 3-1, on Thanksgiving.
The question now is whether Trinity has enough time and a five-game winning streak in it to have a state playoff spot on the line against the Warriors.
“Not to take anything away from the teams that beat us, I still think I have a pretty good team but we’re not getting it done on the field right now,” Panapada said. “That’s what inconsistent will get you, 1-3.”
Around The League
If you go by the trend of the Greenwich football team through four games, Trumbull might be in trouble when the teams meet in a key showdown in two weeks. The Cardinals needed a late touchdown to beat Westhill, then dominated against Trinity Catholic. After a near-upset of Darien, the state’s top-ranked team, they only led Bridgeport Central 28-22 late in the first half Friday. A case can be made to an extent the Cardinals have been playing to the level of the opposition. With the Eagles on deck, expect a strong performance at home from Greenwich … This is the year of the haves and have-nots. There are still three unbeaten teams — Darien, New Canaan and Staples — and six more at 3-1. At the other extreme, there are five winless schools and two with just one win. Congratulations to Norwalk, the conference’s near-median team at 2-2. … Biggest surprise at the top? Stamford with a 3-1 mark. Biggest surprise at the bottom? Trinity Catholic at 1-3.
1. Darien (4-0). The Blue Wave defeated Norwich Free Academy, 45-6. It was their second-lowest point total of the season. Darien’s offense has picked up from a year ago. After the bye the team has three winless teams in a four-week span. The countdown to Staples on Nov. 11 is under way.
2. New Canaan (3-0). Freshman Drew Pyne was an efficient 10 of 16 for 226 yards and two scores in the win over Westhill. Barring anything unforeseen meet the Rams’ quarterback through 2019.
3. Staples (4-0). The Wreckers are the only league team playing next week, making the trip to NFA. The defense has given up just 8 points a game — and that average could go down.
4. Ridgefield (3-1). The Tigers come off the bye with Trinity Catholic and Staples. A pair of wins and they should be in a commanding position for a state playoff berth.
5. Trumbull (3-1). The Eagles will be involved in the biggest game in two weeks when they travel to Greenwich, a compelling meeting between tradition-rich programs. Trumbull did a nice job with its second-half rally against Trinity.