Ray Curren’s Inside the SCC: Not everything is a zero-sum game in high school football

Photo by John Vanacore/ North Haven quarterback Mike Halloran looks to break a tackle by Foran linebacker Nik Griswold during the Indians' 28-14 victory last Friday night.

Photo by John Vanacore/ North Haven quarterback Mike Halloran looks to break a tackle by Foran linebacker Nik Griswold during the Indians’ 28-14 victory last Friday night.

In game theory, the definition of zero-sum games is simple enough, they must end in a net zero, basically guaranteeing there is a winner and a loser. It sounds simple, but eight mathematicians have captured Nobel Prizes for theories involving games over the years, all of them in economics, where it’s known better as “decision theory.”

Unfortunately (or fortunately), the zero-sum games we deal with are much simpler, there are no complex theorems for us to pore over for hours. At the end of our three hours of watching (two if we’re watching North Haven), there will be a winner and there will be a loser in the Darwinian world of athletics. Even ties have been eliminated these days.

And so, Shelton, two plays away from being 8-1 and in great shape for a return to the CIAC playoffs, got nothing out of tremendous overall efforts against Hand and Xavier, and now needs to get a ton of help (and beat West Haven) to have a shot at playing after Thanksgiving.

Conversely, the Falcons (who have given their opponents nothing over the last three seasons in these zero-sum battles on their way to state titles) grabbed everything last Friday against Shelton despite being unable to score for the first three-and-a-half quarters of Friday’s contest.

We love the drama it commands, but it’s a very cruel system, as anyone with an advanced degree in economics could probably tell you. (Side note: There’s good money in advanced degrees in economics, kids, if you’re into that kind of thing.)

Not everything in Connecticut high school football is a zero-sum game, and it’s a lesson we sometimes learn the hard way in the SCC.

While eight teams will qualify for the state playoffs in each of the four classes, computing who is in and who is out is not an exact science. There are too many teams around to allow everyone in each class to play everyone else, or even to let them to play the same exact same schedules.

And so when the dust of SCC Armageddon finally dissipated on Saturday morning, teams like Shelton, Fairfield Prep, Hand, and Foran are likely going to need plenty of assistance from other teams to get into the playoffs, despite having very good teams and tremendous overall seasons (none of those four is out right now, though, there may be a few three-loss squads sneaking in with an 11-game schedule).

I’ve said this before over the last few seasons, but it’s the price we pay to: a) keep things as fair as possible for everyone in the SCC; and b) give the kids the best experience possible. We know that playing a different schedule in a different conference, it’s likely that the SCC would send more teams to the state playoffs each season. But it’s not worth sacrificing everything else that makes it what it is to do it.

There is no real dominant team in the conference this season like Xavier and Hand were last season and Xavier two seasons ago. However, all the close games we’ve seen have made things that much more interesting. I personally wouldn’t want it any other way.

More difficult math

Your advanced degree in mathematics would also help you decipher the CIAC playoff hieroglyphics, but thankfully technology has helped matters and the CIAC has helped us out by giving us “Realtime” updates on where everyone stands with two weeks still to play.

Here they are:


Of course, we don’t know the outcomes of all these games, and that’s where the fun part will kick in for us. But here’s my look (and speculation) as to where we stand right now.

Class LL
West Haven has sufficiently recovered from its opening loss to Greenwich and will be in the postseason by winning one of its last two games (someone is going to write me and tell me not mathematically, but they’ll be in, trust me). They are against Shelton and Fairfield Prep, so they’re not of the woods, but I like their chances.

Despite playing only 10 games, Xavier has racked up (where the difficult schedule helps) enough points, that an 8-2 record appears like it will outpoint some of their FCIAC rivals who might finish 9-2 like Ridgefield, Staples, and Trumbull. It will be particularly difficult for Staples, whom the Falcons defeated and get 10 points for every Staples victory. But obviously Xavier must beat Fairfield Prep Saturday night.

(Our worst nightmare here, by the way, is how the playoff standings stand now, with Xavier checking in at No. 7 and West Haven No. 2. While Xavier at West Haven would be a great game, it would be unfair to have them play again in the Class LL quarterfinals. But we’ll see.)

Fairfield Prep is currently only 12th in the LL standings and is hurting for quality victories other than Shelton. However, if they beat Xavier and West Haven to finish the season, they’ll be in as they should be. Winning one of two will put them closer than many people might think, but I don’t think it would quite be enough.

Shelton is 13th, only 50 points behind Prep despite one more loss, so if they beat West Haven and Derby, they just might be able to get there in the end. They’ll have to do it without Jason Thompson, who was injured against Xavier.

Class L
Even if North Haven only wins one of its last two games, the Indians are probably safe for postseason play after missing out last year. But they likely wouldn’t have enough with three losses, so they do have to beat Darien or Amity to qualify, and would likely have to win both to get a home game in the quarterfinals. The Foran win last Friday was obviously huge, though.

Hand, sitting 10th, only has to jump two teams to make it into the playoff picture. Unfortunately, seven teams have one loss, but the Tigers — with perhaps the toughest schedule in the state — might be able to outpoint a two-loss team such as Bristol Eastern if it can win out. So don’t write the two-time champs off just quite yet, even with back-to-back losses. Of course, getting in at the eighth seed would likely mean Hand would have to travel to top-seeded New Canaan. I believe the two teams have introduced themselves already this season. Well, a one-sided meeting, but still.

Class M
Foran sits 12th with three losses, but even if it wins out, will likely end up on the wrong side of the playoff line even if it completes the season with two wins. Unfortunately, the Lions have exposed a flaw in the current playoff point system. Foran’s losses are to West Haven, Shelton, and North Haven, all very good teams, but Foran gets no points for playing them. Still a great season for Foran, though, no matter what happens.

Extra points
It may be tough to keep the SCC football divisions straight, but Guilford deserves to celebrate after capturing its first division title since 1999 by beating Hillhouse 35-20. The Acs, defending Class M champs, are 3-6… North Haven’s unique offense gets most of its publicity, but the Indians defense has been superb this season, stopping Foran 28-14 last week. The Lions had only 10 yards of total offense after halftime at Vanacore Field… Andrew Yamin ran for 204 yards on 20 carries as previously struggling Cheshire posted an impressive 34-13 win over Amity. The Rams could do SCC Class LL teams a favor by beating Southington on Thanksgiving, by the way…Fairfield Prep had 555 yards of total offense in pounding Hamden, 40-7. Colton Smith completed 11-of-13 passes for 303 yards for the Jesuits, who haven’t been big on passing this season… Drew Arciuolo scored four touchdowns — three consecutively in the third quarter, as suddenly red-hot Notre Dame thrashed Wilbur Cross 56-28. The Green Knights take a shot at Hand this week as they look to fight back and post a winning season… The SCC went 0-2 in non-conference games, with East Haven and Lyman Hall falling to Fairfield Ludlowe and Hyde, respectively. Hyde, huh? Still an opening for another Division II team in the SCC, right?… If you haven’t yet, follow me on Twitter at currenscc.

Ervin Philips, West Haven — Philips carried 26 times for 267 yards and five touchdowns as West Haven, as they seem to do every season, continues to get better as the season progresses, beating Hand 46-35 Friday night. Philips also recovered another fumble, as his defensive contributions have been incredibly valuable for the Westies this season.


Number of yards in Xavier’s game-winning drive against Shelton last Friday. The Falcons, who were blanked in the first three quarters and playing without their best receiver in Nate Gonzalez, got the ball trailing 12-7 on their own 2-yard line with less than 3 minutes left and went the length of the field, converting on a fourth-down deep in Shelton territory and winning the game when Joe Carbone ran the ball in with 9 seconds left. Survive and advance.

Xavier at Fairfield Prep, Saturday, 7 p.m. — Prep has been largely overlooked since falling to Hand, but — although it hasn’t been much in recent times — Alumni Field can be a very difficult place to play, and it should be Saturday night. The Falcons will have Nate Gonzalez back, and they may need him with Prep’s massive line.


  • 1. West Haven (8-1; Last Week 1)—Always get better as season moves on. Can’t take Shelton lightly, though.
  • 2. Xavier (7-2; LW 2)—Hope not to leave it so late against Prep, but won’t be an easy task Saturday night.
  • 3. North Haven (8-1; LW 7)—Indians hoping that the unfamiliarity of playing non-conference team helps with Darien.
  • 4. Fairfield Prep (7-2; LW 5)—Might be least talked about 7-2 team in the state these days. Could change Saturday.
  • 5. Shelton (6-3; LW 3)—As Don Meredith used to say, “If ifs and buts were candy and nuts.” West Haven awaits.
  • 6. Hand (6-3; LW 4)—I think they get in the playoffs with two wins to finish the season. But ND will challenge them.
  • 7. Notre Dame (4-5; LW 8)—Back healthy, Knights’ last chance to impress against a weakened Hand squad Friday.
  • 8. Foran (6-3; LW 6)—Tough night to throw and that was bad news for Lions. Guilford won’t be easy this week.
  • 9. Cheshire (4-5; LW 13)—Hey, Rams, didn’t know you had it in you. Chasing a plus .500 season next two weeks.
  • 10. Guilford (5-4; LW 11)—Won’t be good enough for playoffs, but beating Foran and Hand for 7-4 would be impressive.
  • 11. Amity (4-5; LW 9)—Will now have to beat North Haven if Spartans want to finish with a winning record.
  • 12. Hillhouse (3-6; LW 10)—It’s been a while since the Acs have finished with a losing record, but will this year.
  • 13. Sheehan (3-5; LW 12)—Last three opponents (all at home) have a combined one conference victory.
  • 14. Wilbur Cross (3-6; LW 14)—Defense just can’t stop anyone right now, which is a little bit baffling.
  • 15. Hamden (3-6; LW 15)—Things get a little easier for Dragons, but won’t be favorite in last two contests.
  • 16. Jonathan Law (2-6; LW 16)—Have a chance to get a couple more wins before they have to call it a season.
  • 17. Lyman Hall (2-7; LW 17)—Don’t want to get greedy, but probably think they should have won three straight now.
  • 18. East Haven (1-8; LW 18)—SCC losing streak is not at a league-high 15 games heading into final two weeks.
  • 19. Branford (0-8; LW 19)—Getting closer. Hillhouse up next, was a great game last season in Branford.

Further Reading


  1. ACL says

    Hat’s off to NH. Their defense was amazing on Friday night. Since Foran could not establish a running game (their #1 RB was out with a concussion), NH was able to drop 6, 7, or 8 men into coverage, neutralizing the spread offense. Plus, their offense kept the Lions off the field and chewed up time. I know they will give anyone they face fits in the QF’s.

    While the Lions played well, you bring up a good point about them not being able to get into states if they win out. Other than the loss to NH, Stonington’s upset of Ledyard might prove to be the final straw. I figured Stonington would lose to Ledyard and NFA, giving them four losses. New Fairfield’s comeback win over Bunnell didn’t help either. Plus, there are two Tech teams in the mix that feed off their brethren throughout the season. Now a miracle will be needed. All that said, they have to play Guilford first and that’s going to be a very good game.

    You also brought up the flaw in the system when it comes to a team like Foran (or NH last year). If they win out, their three losses have been to three top ten teams (I know Shelton isn’t there right now but they have been hovering there all season and were 8th when they visited Foran). It will be a great season and something to be proud of but the ultimate goal is to qualify for states. Can the system be fixed for instances like this? Or does this happen so infrequently that it won’t be looked at by the CIAC? Foran is on an upswing and will be good again next year but the crossover games loom every year and doom them to start every season at 0-2. Personally, I think the best thing to do is to adopt SPB’s district idea. There are flaws but I think they far out weighed by the benefits.

    I continue to enjoy your column every week. Keep up the good work.

  2. ciacfollower says

    I beg to differ on the tougher of Hand’s final two reg. season games. Their match on Thanksgiving eve. is gonna be a bit of a donnybrook since the Indians will be out for Tiger blood on their home turf, knowing this is their best chance in YEARS to walk away with a W, thus trashing their rival neighbor’s post-season chances.

      • ciacfollower says

        They are #1 D2 West & no one knows it better than them that this is their best chance in years. But if the Tigers arent victorious vs ND, the Guilford game wont have nearly as much meaning.

    • ACL says

      Guilford will not hang with Hand. I agree with Just Sayin, minimum of 3 TD’s. Guilford is going to have their hands full with Foran this week and I know that Foran can’t keep up with Hand.

    • ACL says

      Makes plenty of sense. I think NH has moved way past the point of a D2 team. They would benefit with the stronger schedule and Cross would be more competitive.

      • ansonia platt naugatuk says

        Why move to D1, stay d2 win games and make states, isn’t that the way it works? Can Nh get into the nvl,swc, or pequot? Undefeated for years!

        • Matt Glaszmattglasz says

          The SCC divisions are based primarily on the average enrollment of the schools. Obviously these numbers fluctuate each year but are generally within a certain range. Based on the 2013 male enrollment numbers (listed below) it seems to me that for football the most equitable division of the conference is to have three divisions:

          Hamden – 944
          Fairfield Prep – 896
          Xavier – 870
          Amity – 844
          Cheshire – 798
          West Haven – 794
          Shelton – 779

          Wilbur Cross – 653
          North Haven – 625
          Hand – 617
          Notre Dame-WH – 616
          Guilford – 551
          Branford – 531

          Hillhouse – 510
          Foran – 491
          East Haven – 468
          Lyman Hall – 468
          Jonathan Law – 466
          Sheehan – 437

          Play all 5 or 6 division opponents, 1-2 games against teams in the other two divisions (based on win-loss records in the prior two seasons) and have flexibility to schedule 1-2 out of conference games.

          I also wouldn’t mind Commissioner Carbone, adding two Class S schools (maybe Hyde, North Branford or ideally even Ansonia). He hasn’t been shy about league expansion and this would allow Hillhouse to join the middle division and give the SCC a chance at sweeping all four CIAC football Classes.

          Think about it Charger fans; you’ll get to keep roughly five of the easy wins against Class S or M teams, and get the chance to prove yourselves against 4-5 of the top teams in the state each year. Even if you win half of those you’ll still qualify in Class S and roll to (another) title. The only downside is that your days of getting the #1 ranking would likely be over.

  3. ciacfollower says

    I hate bringing up past years but, Curren says “There’s no dominant teams in the conference(SCC) this year like X & Hand were last year, and (only) X was two years ago”.
    I’ve always thought it was very fortunate for X that Hand was not on their schedule in ’11 since Hand would’ve spanked them worse than they did last year in the “GOTC”. Hand’s team was actually better in ’11 and was the true #1 at the end of that season also. Just ask Lou Marinelli & John Murphy.

    • Not Ray Brown says

      Saw them both play, ’11 X beats anyone in the state by 2 td’s that year, easy. Best D I’ve seen since the Dwight Freeney Bloomfield team. Just ask Marce Petroccio

  4. FauxRealism says

    FWIW, my 2 cents. I saw both Hand and X play a handful of games in 2011 and 2012.

    Xavier graduated a ton of players from ’11 to ’12. It was not even remotely the same team. Xavier ’11 was easily in the top 5 best teams I’ve ever seen in 35+ years of watching CT HS FB. Hand ’11 was great, but X ’11 was a truly outstanding team.

    Furthermore, sure Hand won the 2012 match up over Xavier and the #1 ranking, and deservedly so. But put me in the Don Boyle camp b/c I’m not so sure Hand ’12 would have beaten X if they played a rematch. But that’s the thing about football you only get 10 or 11 chances a year to show your stuff and you have to perform when the pressure is on. In 2012, Hand won and everything else is just opinion.

    Trivia question: Since the Hand football program was founded (c. 1970), what team has defeated the Tigers the most times? (total # of losses, not winning percentage).

    • Westie says

      I’m guessing Hand used to play North Branford, Morgan and Guilford a lot back then. NB always had a pretty good team. I will go with North Branford. And West Haven since the SCC was founded.

  5. ciacfollower says

    * I did research the Hand vs WH record before i made the trip to WH last Fri., & if I’m not mistaken, they were tied @ 8-8 (going into that game) So i cant think of another team that has beaten the Tigers that many times without looking up all their opponents. Shelton’s right up there too.

  6. roto says

    As of today, both WH and ND-WH have beaten Hand nine times. WH has a better winning %, Notre Dame has played them on and off since the late 70s

    • ACL says

      The scream you will be hearing later on is that of Ray after he reads the blasphemy Maxpreps has perpetrated against his beloved Chargers (or the Lavender as they were once known). This should fuel the blog for a few more days.

      Is it bad that I favorited the page for future use?

Leave a Reply