Football: FCIAC Preview Playoffs start now
Welcome to FCIAC football 2018 or as it may be come to known, the CIAC Class LL play-ins.
With New Canaan being bumped up to Class LL this year, joining FCIAC rivals Greenwich and Darien, the competition within the FCIAC will have direct effects on how the state football picture shakes out.
All three of those teams are expected to be ranked in the Top 5 of GametimeCT preseason poll.
However, it may be difficult for all three to emerge with post-season spots if they cannibalize each other first.
Oh yeah, St. Joseph (Class M) is also going to be highly ranked and takes on both New Canaan and Darien in the first three weeks of the season.
Those scenarios alone should have football fans excited about the upcoming season but wait, there is more.
Seven schools have new head coaches including prominent league programs like Staples and Trumbull.
That level of turnover in one season is unprecedented in league history and leaves a ton of questions that will only be answered once the games begin.
Can Trumbull and Wilton turn it around and get back near the top of the league? Can Staples get back on its feet after taking forever to hire a new coach last spring? Is Danbury ready for a renaissance?
It makes for great preseason fodder and should make for a very interesting 2018 FCIAC football season.
5 TEAMS TO WATCH
DARIEN: The Blue Wave are the three-time defending Class LL state champions and have run roughshod over the FCIAC in that time, only tasting defeat in last season’s Turkey Bowl against New Canaan. The team lost a lot of quality players to graduation and have an unsettled quarterback situation heading into the season but there is no reason to believe the Blue Wave will not be right back contending for a state championship come December. Tyler Herget returns as one of the top pass catchers in the FCIAC.
GREENWICH: The FCIAC regular-season champions and runners-up to Darien in Class LL, Greenwich is ready to make the next step and bring home some hardware this season. With a plethora of returning players and coach John Marinelli’s offense firmly in place, there is good reason for the optimism. Of the top four contenders, Greenwich only has to face New Canaan this season, missing Darien and St. Joe’s on the schedule. Among the many returning players is All-FCIAC first-team QB Gavin Muir.
NEW CANAAN: Seeing their streak of four state titles in arrow come to an end surely did not sit well with this group of Rams. Now, if they want to get back on top they will have to do it amongst the big boys, moving up from Class L to LL this season. The Rams are loaded with talent including four Division-I commits in Jack Stewart, Drew Pyne, Garrett Braden and Jack Conley, now they have to go out and win games.
ST. JOSEPH: The Cadets have played in four-straight state championship games, winning Class S last season and Class M (small) in 2014. Overall the school has taken home 13 CIAC titles, including five under Joe Della Vecchia since he took over as head coach in 1998. The Cadets lost a couple all-state players, but come back possibly even stronger this year. Having Maryland commit David Summers at QB helps as does returning All-State TE Phil Pasmeg, who will be a big target for the QB.
TRUMBULL: What to make of Trumbull? With longtime Staples coach Marce Petroccio taking over a program in a lull (no state playoff appearances since 2010) but with many returning seniors, hope is running high in Trumbull. 6-foot-4-inch QB Colton Nicholas is one of seven starters back on offense including senior linemen Justin Schwartz and Michael McHugh. The Eagles have arguably the toughest schedule in the state having to face Greenwich, Darien, New Canaan and St. Joseph this season, making the reclamation project that much harder.
5 PLAYERS TO WATCH
JACKSON MITCHELL, Ridgefield, Sr., WR/DE, (6-foot-2, 210 pounds): A CHSCA All-State, GameTimeCT/New Haven Register All-State First Team, First Team All-FCIAC, Walter Camp All-Connecticut First Teamer Mitchell was the state’s leading receiver, catching 80 passes for 1,124 yards (14.1 per catch) and 13 touchdowns, averaging 112.4 receiving yards per game. Defensively he made 38 tackles and had two sacks. Also made three interceptions. Has the size and speed to dominate on both sides of the ball as few can cover him as a receiver or block him as a defender. A leading candidate for state player of the year and is committed to UConn.
DAVID SUMMERS, St. Joseph, Sr., QB, (6-3, 210): The Maryland commit was a CHCSA and GameTimeCT/New Haven Register All-State first teamer, Walter Camp All-Connecticut first teamer and All-FCIAC second team selection. In his first season with the Cadets after transferring in, he completed 224-of-344 passes for 3,227 yards and 49 touchdowns with only five interceptions. Set the school records for touchdown passes in a season and most completions in a season. Additionally, he rushed for 265 yards and five touchdowns on 78 carries. A pro-style quarterback, Summers can shred defenses with his big, accurate arm while showing the ability to escape and run when called upon. Another state player of the year contender.
MOZI BICI, Greenwich, Sr. DE (6-2, 190): If Greenwich is to get back to the Class LL championship game, it will be on the backs of the defense. Anchoring the defense will be CHSCA All-State Class LL first team, GameTimeCT/New Haven Register All-State First Team, Walter Camp All-Connecticut First Team, USA Today All-Connecticut First Team and All-FCIAC First Teamer Bici. The defensive end had a breakout junior season with 120 tackles (9.2 per game), including 20 1/2 tackles for a loss. Lead the team with 14 sacks, caused four fumbles, recovered three fumbles and blocked two punts. A pure athlete with an unstoppable motor, Bici uses combination of speed, strength and smarts to dominate.
CONNOR FAY, Darien, Sr. LB, (6-0, 220): The Darien defense took some graduation hits, but the cornerstone of that elite unit is back in Fay. Fay led the Blue Wave in tackles with 86 (38 solo), including seven tackles for a loss, picking up 2 1/2 sacks, an interception and three fumble recoveries. Was named CHSCA All-State, GameTimeCT/New Haven Register All-State First Team, Walter Camp All-Connecticut First Team, USA Today All-Connecticut Second Team and All-FCIAC First Team. Fay has an uncanny nose for the ball, the speed to close and the strength and skill to take down anyone.
QUINTIN O’CONNELL, New Canaan, Sr. WR, (6-0, 195): Yes, New Canaan has four Division-1 commits on the roster, but the key to this season may be WR Quintin O’Connell. While the other four have grabbed headlines, it is O’Connell who may break one of the school’s sacred records this fall. Last season he brought in 61 catches (fifth most in a season all time at New Canaan) moving him to 106 career receptions. Legendary Ram Peter Demmerle (Class of 1971) holds the record for career receptions at 165. O’Connell can also eclipse the school’s career touchdown receiving mark of 30 set by Kevin Macari (Class of 2011) with 9 more touchdown catches. He found his way to the end zone 15 times last season and has an uncanny rapport with QB Drew Pyne, putting both records in sight.
5 GAMES TO WATCH
Darien at St. Joseph (Sept. 22, 1:30 p.m.): St. Joe’s has high hopes for this season but will have to take on both New Canaan and Darien in the first three weeks. This matchup has gone Darien’s way recently, but Cadets feel this is the year for revenge.
Trumbull at Norwalk (Oct. 5, 7 p.m.): Two teams sitting just outside the top four in preseason rankings would love to make the case they belong in the conversation with the big boys. Norwalk is young and Trumbull has a new coach, but by the first week of October both should be firing on all cylinders.
Greenwich at New Canaan (Oct. 6, 6 p.m.): The Marinelli Bowl hype has faded into the background in this matchup. Now it’s back to being about two of the all-time great football programs in state history going at it. With New Canaan now in Class LL, this also serves as Greenwich’s biggest game of the regular season state wise.
Ridgefield at Wilton (Oct. 20, 2 p.m.): Two more teams not among the top four, but with legitimate chances to make some noise this season. Ridgefield took heavy graduation losses and Wilton has a new head coach, but nothing can dampen the intensity of this border rivalry.
Darien at New Canaan (Nov. 22, 10:30 a.m.): Currently the best football rivalry in the state and it is not even close. Both teams will be raked in the Top 5 preseason, both teams hate each other and now both are in playing in Class LL together. Get your popcorn.