The appetizers have been served and now it is time for the main course: 32 teams remain in the chase for four state titles, beginning with quarterfinal games Tuesday night at 6:30.
The FCIAC has five teams playing in four games with the hope of winning three CIAC crowns.
No. 8 Greenwich (7-3) at No. 1 Darien (10-0). No one is a fan of conference rematches in the state tournament, but if there has to be one, round two of what might have been the best game of the FCIAC regular season — save for the Turkey Bowl — is the rare exception.
Certainly Darien coach Rob Trifone would prefer not to see Greenwich again. The teams engaged in a heavyweight battle back in October, with the Blue Wave holding on for a 42-35 win. While it was a needed test for Darien, the game was also the real coming-out party for the Cardinals, revealing the scope of the turnaround after going 4-5 a year ago in coach John Marinelli’s first season.
So will the Cardinals again be competitive? And is an upset realistic?
Greenwich first wanted to get into the playoffs and then wanted this game, but be careful what you wish for. Thursday’s win over New Canaan was another indication of how well the Blue Wave play together. There are not as many superstars as a year ago, but the cohesion is on a comparable level. Greenwich’s defense can be passed on, and Darien quarterback Brian Peters had his best game of the year in the first meeting, throwing for 389 yards.
Darien will score its points, but it also gave up big plays in the first meeting. Greenwich quarterback Connor Langan threw for 355 yards — nearly twice as many as his next-best game — and three touchdowns. Matt Morganti and Anthony Ferraro were each over 100 yards receiving, while do-it-all back Kevin Iobbi had 98 and another 154 on special teams.
That was an atypical performance by Darien’s defense and special teams. The Blue Wave front, with Cord Fox, Quinn Fay, Justin Plank and linebacker Finlay Collins, will look to get Langan out of a comfort level.
Greenwich wants revenge and the Blue Wave seek both a dominant performance against the Cardinals and to equal the accomplishments of last year’s team.
We will see what gives.
No. 7 Ridgefield (8-2) at No. 2 West Haven (10-0). The holiday was much kinder to the Tigers than a year ago — and they never took the field. After losing out on a state tournament berth by the narrowest of tiebreakers a year ago, Ridgefield took care of Danbury on Thanksgiving eve and then sat back to see where the buses would be headed.
The Tigers will get to prove their mettle right away: they face West Haven, which has been the only school besides Darien and New Canaan in the conversation this year for the best in the state.
Ridgefield has proved itself to be the most complete team in the conference outside the orb of the state’s best rivalry. The return of Drew Fowler at quarterback has made a good team even better. Fowler has the best pair of receivers in Chris Longo and Collin Lowe, while Shane Palmer has been outstanding carrying the ball, catching out of the backfield and on special teams.
West Haven gutted out a 28-21 win over Fairfield Prep on Thanksgiving after coming off a wild 59-52 win over Shelton.
This is a tough spot for the Tigers, but their strength of schedule should have them prepared for an opponent that will be No. 1 in the state if it can win out.
No. 7 Masuk (7-3) at No. 2 New Canaan (9-1). It is possible the road to the Rams’ fourth straight state title will prove easier than ending its Turkey Bowl losing streak, but much could depend on how quickly they shake off Thursday’s devastating overtime loss to Darien. The bad news is that New Canaan gave up 27 points in the first half against the Blue Wave, more than half of what the first team had yielded in the first nine games. The positive is that the defense pitched a second-half shutout to spark the comeback.
New Canaan has been the most successful team on the state level the past decade, with seven championships dating back to 2006. Its last loss to a team other than Darien was in the semifinals to Windsor in 2012. If form holds the teams could meet in this year’s final; the Warriors are the top seeds.
The guess here is that the Rams are going to be much more anxious to get back on the field than still reeling from last week. How much Ryan O’Connell’s ankle injury will affect his time on offense is uncertain, but his younger brother Quintin has been a breakout star as quarterback Drew Pyne’s favorite target, and Graham Braden has done a fine job handling the running duties.
Anything short of a state title and this season becomes a disappointment for New Canaan. The Rams should be poised to take the first step.
No. 5 St. Joseph (8-2) at No. 4 Wolcott (8-2). What to make of the Cadets? Their best wins have come against Staples and Wilton, and they have certainly been helped by one of the easier FCIAC schedules. Still, no team can control who it plays, and St. Joseph was riding an eight-game winning streak since an opening loss to Darien, the state’s No. 1 team.
Then came Thanksgiving morning, and a 39-7 pounding by a Trumbull team that has flourished offensively but struggled against the best passing attacks.
How good is St. Joseph? Right now it only matters in regard to other Class M teams, and it is quite possible the most difficult games are in the rear-view mirror. The Cadets dropped from being the top seed to becoming road warriors. It will be interesting to see how they rebound from Thursday.