FCIAC football beat: Defense, run game key for unbeaten McMahon

It’s been a while since McMahon has been relevant in the FCIAC. Their last truly good team was in 2004, coach Rob Trifone‘s last season before bolting to Darien.

McMahon is 3-0 for the first time since then, which has coach and alumnus A.J. Albano beaming.

The Senators have beaten Wilbur Cross (1-2), Central (0-3) and Danbury (1-2). And, though McMahon brought back one of the league’s best backs in Trevon Forney, Albano has credited his defense for the nice start. It has allowed a league-low 31 points.

“It’s been playing well,” Albano said. “We’ve faced, maybe not the best teams, but we’ve faced some dynamic players. …For us to be averaging 10 points per game on defense, it’s a good place to start. We bend but don’t break and that’s kept us in games.”

Middle linebacker Kenny Keen has been the key, Albano said. The 6-foot-1, 195-pound senior has averaged total 15 tackles per game, chasing down the likes of Central QB Mykel Morris and Danbury’s Anfreny Ith.

“He’s been all over the place,” Albano said.

Defensive tackle Matt Hargrove is averaging 12 tackles a game. He’s made three tackles for a loss. “The defensive line has been great eating up blocks, giving our linebackers a chance to be successful,” Albano said. “We’ve really played unselfish defense. Nobody cares who gets the tackle.”

McMahon might have to lean on defense and its 22 seniors a bit more. Forney, the team’s second leading rusher a season ago and team captain, fractured his forearm on the second series vs. Danbury and is out for the season. The school announced the news on Twitter Wednesday.

 

“I think he is one of the most dynamic players in the state, so it’s a big blow,” Albano said. “But I told the kids, Tre was an important part of the team, but he’s not the whole team. We need everybody — not just one person — to carry the load.”

Junior back Tim Hinton has filled in more than admirably. He ran for 144 yards and scored all three touchdowns vs. Danbury, including an 80-yarder that iced the game.

Albano said junior Kentrell Sinder (126 yards) and seniors Brian Gayle and Malik Whittaker will have to chip in.

“We’re a running football team,” Albano said. “Call it old school or almost extinct, that’s fine. It’s what we do. We have some talented running backs here and we’re really distributing the ball.”

McMahon faces Westhill (1-2), Harding (2-1), Stamford (0-3) and Ludlowe (2-1) over the next month. The Senators play just 10 games. It’s toughest is vs. Ridgefield (2-1) and No. 5 St. Joseph (3-0) in back-to-back weeks before the FCIAC championship game.

Albano, however, isn’t thinking big just yet. “I’m proud of our kids for fighting through adversity,” he said. “We’re turning the page and we have to get better. We’re really just taking it one week at a time because the FCIAC is the premier league in the state. I’ve coached in it for 10 years and I know anybody can beat anybody.”

Another big FCIAC tilt – OR – Can Darien sack St. Joseph?

In three games few, if anyone, has laid a finger on St. Joseph quarterback Jordan Vazzano in the pocket. His uber-huge offensive line teammates Peter Mestre, Steve Hashemi, Troy Vazzano, Chris Taylor and captains Tom Adzima and Mike Schuchmann, who average 6-foot-3 and 260 pounds across, have enabled the senior to pass for a league-best 912 yards and 12 touchdowns.

So who, if anyone, will ever touch him?

Rob Trifone is hoping it’s a Blue Wave.

Darien, one of the FCIAC’s better pass defense teams, meets St. Joseph in a clash of unbeaten squads Saturday afternoon at the Dalling Sports Complex.

Led by junior end George Reed  and sophomore end Mark Evanchick and nose guard Spencer McKeough, the Blue Wave has amassed 11 sacks so far. Three sacks have even come from senior safety Jay Harrison. The Wave has made five interceptions and recovered three fumbles. Senior safety John Reed leads the team with two picks and a fumble recovery touchdown.

Darien has allowed 63 points, a majority of which came in a 46-26 win over Hillhouse. Greenwich and Bassick only scored one offensive touchdown apiece when the games were still relatively close.

So if someone’s up to the challenge, it should be Darien. Maybe.

“We have a lot of speed on defense, including the defensive line,” Trifone said, noting all three down linemen run a sub 5-second 40. “So we’re hoping we can get to (Vazzano).”

But there’s a caveat, Trifone said. If Darien commits too much in developing a good pass rush, it will have to sacrifice in the secondary with man-to-man coverage. “And we’re looking at the four of the best receivers in the league,” Trifone said said. “So we’ll have to pick and choose when to do that. We can’t just let him sit back there and pick us apart, either.

“And then they can hit you with the running back Mufasha (Abdul-Basir). And, boy, he is good.”

Luckily, Darien does have the personnel should a shootout develop. quarterback Silas Wyper has seamlessly stepped into the quarterback role, throwing for 688 yards and nine touchdowns. Halfback Nick Lombardo is one of the league’s top offensive threats. He’s accounted for 10 touchdowns this year.

And, for the first time in over 30 years of coaching, Trifone says he’s been able to use two platoons, keeping both offense and defense fresh.

“Still, St. Joseph’s defense will be the best we’ve faced so far this year,” he said. “Coming into the year, I knew St. Joseph was going to be one of the best teams in league, if not one of best teams in state while we’ve been playing above my early expectations. But you never know.

“It’s a big game for both teams, no question. It’s homecoming at their place, so we’ll be going into a hornets’ nest. But I told the kids it’s a privilege to play in a game of this magnitude. You live for these types of challenges.”

Only three unbeatens remain

Jack Cochran and Harding lost to Norwalk 35-28, its first since 2012 (a feat given the program was 8-81 over eight seasons). But they didn’t go down without a fight.

Led by bulky back Cliff Joseph, Norwalk built a 28-14 lead with under six minutes left. But Harding sat at the goal line with three minutes remaining.

Feeling a rush, Harding quarterback Christian Hopkins lobbed a pass for the corner of the end zone. It was picked off by Tyquan Camacho and taken 99 yards the other way. Though Harding’s Reggie David returned the ensuing kickoff 80 yards for a touchdown, and the Presidents managed to score again, they couldn’t recover a second onside kick and Norwalk escaped.

The Presidents play Ludlowe (2-1) this week. Norwalk faces Trumbull (2-1) at home.

That leaves the FCIAC with just three overall unbeaten teams: St. Joseph (3-0), Darien (3-0) and New Canaan (3-0).

In the FCIAC standings, however, there are five, St. Joseph (1-0), Darien (2-0), New Canaan (2-0), McMahon (2-0), Staples (2-0) and Trumbull (2-0).

Norwalk’s opening-day victory over Westhill does not count in the FCIAC standings since it was scheduled outside the league.

Wilton is 2-1, but both victories have come against the SCC. They’re 0-1 in the FCIAC.

THIS WEEK

FRIDAY
Bassick at Wilton, 6:00 p.m.
Ffld.Warde at New Canaan, 7:00 p.m.
Bridg.Central at Danbury, 7:00 p.m.
Staples at Stamford, 6:00 p.m.

Ridgefield at Notre Dame-WH, Friday, 7:00 p.m.

SATURDAY
Harding at Ffld.Ludlowe, 3:00 p.m.
Darien at St. Joseph, 2:30 p.m.
Greenwich at Trinity Cath., 2:00 p.m.
Westhill at McMahon, 2:00 p.m.
Trumbull at Norwalk, 3:00 p.m.

LAST WEEK

Norwalk 35, Harding 28
Darien 51, Bassick 16
Ffld.Warde 13, Trinity Cath. 7
Ffld.Ludlowe 46, Bridg.Central 20
Trumbull 42, Stamford 6
Staples 63, Westhill 14
McMahon 21, Danbury 7
St. Joseph 41, Ridgefield 12
New Canaan 66, Greenwich 20

Further Reading

 

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