The state playoffs oftentimes features intriguing games between teams that haven’t played each other in quite a while.
Tuesday’s 6:30 p.m. Greenwich-Fairfield Prep game at Cardinal Stadium is one such matchup.
The quarterfinal-round of the CIAC Class LL football tournament includes a pair of unfamiliar foes with contrasting styles seeking to advance in the postseason for the first time in several seasons.
With the Cardinals playing in the FCIAC and the Jesuits competing in the SCC, the teams don’t face each other during the regular season. So Tuesday’s game marks the first meeting between the Cardinals and Jesuits since Greenwich posted a 34-0 win over Fairfield Prep in the Class LL semifinals in 2006.
Some other state tournament games, include Greenwich’s 35-14 win against Fairfield Prep in the 1999 state semifinals and the Jesuits’ 7-0 triumph over the Cardinals in the 1988 Class LL final. The Jesuits also beat the Cards, 18-6, for the state championship in 1982.
“I guess Fairfield Prep and Greenwich also had an old-school rivalry going back to the 1960’s and 1970’s,” GHS coach John Marinelli said. “We are the No. 1 seed, but we are getting a No. 8 seed in Fairfield Prep that could win the tournament. They are a phenomenal team that’s very well coached and like us, they play in one of the tougher conferences in the state.”
While Greenwich (10-0) clinched the top seed in the tournament with a 31-14 Thanksgiving Day victory over rival Staples, Fairfield Prep (8-2) earned the final spot in the Class LL playoffs by posting a 21-14 comeback win over West Haven on Thursday. This marks the Jesuits’ first appearance in the state tourney since they lost to Southington in the championship game in 2013.
“We are looking forward to the challenge of playing Greenwich on the road,” Jesuits coach Keith Hellstern said. “Greenwich executes at a high level offensively and defensively, so we know we are going to be facing a strong team at their home field.”
Those who follow the Cardinals know they utilize a fast-paced, up-tempo offense, with the goals of running a lot of plays and tiring out the opposition’s defense in mind. The Jesuits, meanwhile, are a run-oriented team that prefers to control the clock and the pace of the game.
“Each team wants to play their version of a game,” Hellstern said. “It’s like a chess match, we’ll try to match each other’s move and play to our strength.”
In Greenwich’s win against Staples, junior quarterback Gavin Muir (27 touchdown passes for the season) was sidelined the entire second half after sustaining an ankle injury during the opening half. Senior Matt Circelli replaced Muir in the second half and turned in a strong performance, passing for 86 yards and one touchdown. Marinelli said Muir was day-to-day on Saturday and X-Rays on his ankle came back negative, but expected that he would be able to play on Tuesday. Monday, Marinelli said Muir was “good to go.”
Fairfield Prep, whose defensive unit is led by senior middle linebacker Anthony Mastroni (team-leading 75 tackles on the season), senior defensive end Tom Donohue (52 tackles) and senior defensive back Tairece Somers, hopes to be up to the task of containing the Cardinals’ high octane offense. Behind Muir (2,158 yards passing) and junior running back Tysen Comizio (1,034 yards rushing) Greenwich is averaging 46 points per game.
“Offensively, Greenwich shows very good precision, they are very sound and they have enough balance offensively,” Hellstern said. “They can exploit you with both the run and pass. Their crispness and their tempo is impressive. Technically and schematically, they are very sound. Defensively, we have to get after it and be physical.”
Last week’s win over Staples saw junior wide receiver Lance Large catch two touchdown passes for Greenwich, which knows it must execute efficiently to contend with the Jesuits’ defense.
“They are multiple, they use a lot of different fronts,” Marinelli said. “They are also very physical, not many teams have success running against them. As far as pass coverage, they do a good job of defending the pass.”
The Jesuits boast a multi-faceted running attack. Justin Keith, quarterback Will Lucas, Connor Boyle and Mastroni have each run for more than 200 yards on the season, with Keith leading the way (441 yards). Junior Douglas Harrison gained 306 rushing yards in just two games for Fairfield Prep, before suffering a season-ending injury.
“We have utilized a running back-by-committee system and it has worked well,” Hellstern said. “It’s been a next-man-up scenario for us.”
Junior linebackers Gramoz Bici (82 tackles, 11 sacks) and Jack Feda (81 tackles), along with junior defensive back Charlie Ducret (61 tackles) are the Cardinals’ leading tacklers, while senior defensive end Tyler Blizzard has recorded eight sacks.
“We are coming off a very physical game against Staples and Fairfield Prep is just as physical,” Marinelli said. “They are big, physical and they out-weigh us at the point of attack, so we have to be able to use our athleticism. They formation you and try to control the ball, so we have to try to limit their third-and-short situations.”
Said Hellstern: “Greenwich is just as athletic on defense as they are on offense. They are a speed defense that brings pressure and they’re technically sound on all three levels.”