STAPLES (10-1, Class LL semifinalist)
Friday, Nov. 22 at McDougall Stadium, Trumbull, 7:30
TEAM BY TEAM CAPSULES (coming soon)
TOP 5 PLAYERS TO WATCH
- JORDAN VAZZANO, QB, St. Joseph — Built more like an NFL linebacker, the 6-foot-3, 210-pound Vazzano has a howitzer for an arm. He threw for 2,110 yards and 27 TDs last year and should have all day to throw behind his equally menacing O-Line.
- MUFASA ABDUL-BASIR, RB, St. Joseph — The junior juked his way to 687 all-purpose yards and five touchdowns until a academic suspension cost him the last couple games of the season. He spent a semester at Stratford but transferred back to St. Joseph. The speedy 5-10, 170-pound back gives the Hogs a diverse offense as they chase their third state title in five seasons.
- JACK MASSIE, QB, Staples — The senior four-year starter is one of just two holdovers from Staples’ FCIAC championship season. He amassed 2,239 yards and 27 touchdowns of total offense (run and pass) as a junior. But he’ll have an entirely new team with which to work.
- JACK WYNNE, DL, Greenwich — The 6-4, 240-pound end anchors one side of the Cardinals’ ‘Two Jacks’ defensive line with teammate Jack Harrington. A UMass commit, he a huge (literally) reason why Greenwich’s D should be the one of the league’s best.
- COLE HARRIS, LB, New Canaan — The 6-2, 220 all-state backer led the Rams’ hard-hitting defense a year ago. Teamed with big Connor Buck and Michael Root, good luck scoring on the Rams this year.
KEEP AN EYE ON…
PATRICK LESCH, RB, Staples; NICK LOMBARDO, RB, Darien; AUSTIN LONGI, RB, Greenwich; COREY BARRETT, LB, Norwalk; EVAN ADAMS, OL, Norwalk; JEREMY LINTON, QB, Norwalk; TED BOSSIDY, WR, New Canaan; JOSE MELO, QB, Greenwich; JACK HARRINGTON, DL, Greenwich; SCOOTER HARRINGTON, LB/TE, Greenwich; CAMERON WEBB, RB, Stamford; TREVON FORNEY, RB, McMahon; MATT DOWNEY, QB, McMahon; BRETT PHILLIPS,QB/DB, Wilton; DANNY PAOLINO, WR/S, Trumbull; DARREN JACKSON, CB, St. Joseph; LARS PEDERSEN, WR/DB, St. Joseph; ELIJAH DUFFY, WR, Danbury; ANFERNEE ITH, QB, Danbury; VOCHAN FOWLER, QB, Bassick; BRANDON BISACK, QB, Warde; COLIN McKEOWN, OL, Warde; CONNOR BUCK, DL, New Canaan; MICHAEL ROOT, LB, New Canaan; RANDY POLONIA, DB, Trinity Catholic; NINO MERRITT, DB, Trinity Catholic; MARK HIRSCHBECK, TE, St. Joseph; NICK CASCIONE, QB, New Canaan; MIKE SCHUCHMANN, DL, St. Joseph; PETE MESTRE, OT, St. Joseph; MATT WHITE, QB, Ludlowe; STEPHAN ZADRAVEC, TE, Ludlowe; RYAN DUNN, QB, Ridgefield; AIDEN MAURO, DB, Ridgefield; WILL BONAPARTE, RB, Ridgefield; MICKEY CARBONE, RB/LB, Ridgefield; NICK ROBERTS, QB, Trumbull; ANDREW MARINO, DL, Trumbull; MYKEL MORRIS, RB, Central; RYAN COPPOLA, QB, Westhill
• NEW CANAAN – Eleven starters return from last year’s 9-3 team that surprised many with a roster of no-names. You should know who’s who by now: QB Nick Cascione will take over as the full-time starter, with Ted Bossidy bolstering the receiving corps. The defense is big and tough, with all-state LBs Cole Harris and Michael Root manning the middle and big Connor Buck in the trenches. If last year’s team figured out ways to win, this year’s version should just know how to win. The schedule is a monster, however, with dates vs. Hand, Greenwich, Staples, St. Joseph and Darien. Because the Surf Club wouldn’t be ready in time for the Rams’ Week 1 clash with Hand, the game was moved to Dunning Field, giving NC a seven-home game schedule.
- ST. JOSEPH – This group is right there with New Canaan. They’re big, fast, experienced…talented. QB Jordan Vazzano is the league’s most impressive passer. The line returns three monster starters — Peter Mestre, Steve Hashemi and Mike Schuchmann. Darren Jackson and Lars Pedersen are threats both wide and in the defensive backfield and Mark Hirschbeck is a bruising linebacker and receiver. The return of Mufasa Abdul-Basir at tailback completes what should be a legit state title contender and maybe its first FCIAC crown.
- STAPLES – The Wreckers’ superstar, two-time defending FCIAC championship team was dismantled by gradation. Aside from four-year staring QB Jack Massie and back Patrick Lesch, Staples is practically starting over, especially up front. But ‘starting over’ typically means they’ll be right in the thick of the FCIAC race. A week 1 clash vs. Xavier will show just how good the Wreckers will be. Unfortunately, they’ll likely be without Lesch for week 1 as he recovers from a spring shoulder operation.
- GREENWICH – The Cards have been close to regaining their fearsome reputation of the 2000s. They took another step last year by reaching the state playoffs after a four-year absence. But the FCIAC title still eludes them. Greenwich should feature a strong defense, by one of the league’s best defensive lines and the Two Jacks, Ends Harrington and Wynne. Shifty QB Jose Melo and the offense have some work to do replacing last year’s stars.
- RIDGEFIELD – Losing Sam Gravitte, the fuel that made the Tigers go last year, will be tough to replace. But enough playmakers remain, including Will Bonaparte, Mickey Carbone and Aiden Mauro, to take another crack at a playoff berth. Junior QB Ryan Dunn saw plenty of action last year and should be fine in a starring role. Ridgefield just needs to avoid its penchant for the late-season upset.
- DARIEN – The Blue Wave lost an outstanding senior class and is essentially starting from scratch. Luckily, Nick Lombardo is one of the FCIAC’s best brutes and should get a majority of the carries. The defense has been overhauled, but Rob Trifone’s teams have a way of reloading quickly.
- STAMFORD – The Black Knights always have talent and tremendous speed with senior RB Cameron Webb and WR Jake Bivona. How Stamford adjusts to a new coach in Jamar Greene will be key, as will breaking in a new QB and dealing with a small offensive line.
- McMAHON– RB Trevon Forney is one of the league’s best backs, but the Senators’ biggest concern is blocking for him.
- FAIRFIELD WARDE – This is a sentimental pick. The Mustangs have one of the league’s biggest teams, including their tall QB. To make inroads, they’ll need to find playmakers in a league that typically likes to sling the ball down field.
5 CAN’T-MISS CONFERENCE GAMES
- NEW CANAAN at GREENWICH (Week 3, Sept. 28) – The last time these heavyweights met in 2009, thousands showed up to see New Canaan rally from two touchdowns down and won on a 2-point conversion. The result of this early clash will set the tone for the rest of the FCIAC season.
- DARIEN at ST. JOSEPH (Week 4, Oct. 5) – This was going to be St. Joseph-Ridgefield in Week 5, but then we thought back and realized this battle is guaranteed to deliver excitement and intrigue. The underdog somehow always springs the upset (See: Darien’s 13-10 win in 2010, St. Joseph’s 35-28 2OT win last year.).
- NEW CANAAN at STAPLES (Week 7, Oct. 25) – Staples is the two-time FCIAC champion. New Canaan will be fighting to end that run. These programs have had a long, contentious history. But they haven’t faced since 2008.
- ST. JOSEPH at NEW CANAAN (Week 8, Nov. 1) – It’ll be a showdown of the FCIAC’s top two contenders in this late-season tilt. This matchup annually has become one of the league’s best. The Hogs will be in the middle of a SIX-game road trip when they head to Dunning Field.
- GREENWICH at STAPLES (Week 12, Nov. 28) – It’s a long way off, but this Thanksgiving Day battle rarely disappoints. The early returns says this won’t be the FCIAC championship for the first time since 2010, but who knows how this season will play out? You can at least believe there were be some major state playoff implications.
Coaching shakeup: There was movement aplenty in Bridgeport, where the state’s biggest offseason move was the polarizing hiring of Jack Cochran at Harding. The mere presence of the seven-time state championship coach has everyone speculating on how long it will take for Cochran to turn the dormant program dominant. (The answer: maybe a year or two). …Across the city, Brian Gordon is charged with keeping Central’s program at the level established by predecessor Dave Cadelina. …Jamar Greene, a former Westhill assistant, is the new coach at Stamford. Former Platt Tech Vincent Camera is in charge at Ludlowe. …Behold: The FCIAC-SCC challenge: The long-awaited league-wide fight between Fairfield and New Haven counties is finally upon us. Seventeen teams from each side will engage in an unprecedented battle for bragging rights and playoff points. Among the more juicy match ups are New Canaan-Hand, Staples, Xavier, Ridgefield-Cheshire, St. Joseph-NDWH, Greenwich-West Haven and Darien-Hillhouse. ….Westhill and Norwalk will not participate. The two schools bowed out of the arrangement when Amity of the SCC refused to partake. They’ll play each other in Week 1. …. Other non-conference games: The league’s smallest teams are shouldering the rotating bye this season. Several have picked up SCC teams to plug the holes. St. Joseph plays Fairfield Prep in Week 2, Ridgefield faces Notre Dame-WH in Week 4, Trinity Catholic plays Foran in Week 5, Fairfield Warde will play Sheehan in Week 8. Ludlowe faces East Haven in Week 9. North Haven will play Darien in Week 10. …New Canaan went outside the state to fill its bye. The Rams will host Chicopee Comprehensive (Mass.) in Week 6. …Because the Surf Club renovation project in Madison won’t be completed in time for Week 1, Hand agreed to play New Canaan at Dunning Field. That arrangement gives New Canaan seven home games. Conversely, St. Joseph plays seven games on the road, including six in a row beginning Week 5. …All-FCIAC teams shrink slightly: The league agreed to contract the size of its all-league teams in 2013. There will now be a first team followed by All-Division first teams and honorable mentions. Before, the FCIAC’s all-league was divided into three divisional teams (First, second and honorable mention).
- Divisions — West: Greenwich; Central: Ridgefield; East: New Canaan
- Championship – New Canaan over St. Joseph