Saturday’s showdown between FCIAC football rivals Greenwich and Ridgefield features teams that both qualified for the Class LL tournament last season. At 6-0, the Cardinals are well on their way toward earning another postseason berth, but the 5-2 Tigers know they can ill afford another loss if they want to return to the playoffs, where they excelled last fall.
“It’s Game 7 of the World Series for Ridgefield,” Cardinals coach John Marinelli said. “We know from experience, they almost knocked us out of playoff contention last year, but we were able to make the playoffs with three losses and some help. But they know they can’t afford a loss.”
Said Tigers coach Kevin Callahan: “Our situation is pretty clear. We let one get away from us against St. Joseph (a 38-35 loss) and we have two losses. But I feel our team has gotten better every week. This is no question, a big game for both teams, especially us.”
Ridgefield has beaten Greenwich the past two seasons, including last year’s 31-20 victory at Tiger Hollow Stadium.
“We have had some success against Greenwich the past couple of years, which makes us feel pretty good. If you can do some nice things against Greenwich, you deserve a pat on the back. But they’re a very tough team this year. He (Marinelli) is in the process of bringing his program to elite status.”
Both squads run similar offenses which have flourished behind first-year starting quarterbacks. Senior Greg Gatto (6-3, 190) has emerged as one of the premier quarterbacks in the FCIAC, passing for 1,983 yards and 25 touchdowns so far this season. He is averaging 283 passing yards per game.
“He is an exceptional athlete, who brings a physical presence to the position,” Callahan said of Gatto. “He did a great job last year in four games that he played and he is the kind of player that makes good decisions and can make all the throws.”
Though the Cardinals and Tigers have produced impressive statistics offensively, their defensive units are among their team’s main strengths. Both have to be at their best Saturday.
“They have three receivers who can fly, which is a quarterback’s best friend,” Marinelli said of Ridgefield. “When you have good wide receivers and a very accurate quarterback, who gets rid of the ball on time and puts them in good situations, your offense is going to be successful.”
Through seven games, junior wide receiver Jackson Mitchell has a team-best 53 receptions for 742 yards and nine touchdowns. Senior Luke Gaydos has hauled in 25 passes for 296 yards and senior Matt Lombard has caught 20 passes to also pace the Tigers’ aerial attack.
Meanwhile, Ridgefield’s defense is focusing on slowing down Greenwich’s offense, which is led by quarterback Gavin Muir. The junior has thrown for 1,401 yards with 23 touchdowns and just four interceptions over six games. Senior Jael Negron has 21 receptions, 10 of which are touchdowns, while senior Henry Saleeby and Tysen Comizion have each caught 19 passes for GHS. Comizio has also pounded his way for 422 yards on the ground.
“They are pretty young and they do a lot of good things offensively,” Callahan said. “Their quarterback has put up big numbers and they have an outstanding running back. Defense is the strong point of our team, but we are aware of how tough they are offensively.”
The Cardinals know they will face an especially determined Ridgefield team on Saturday — a Tigers squad that advanced to the Class LL Tournament final last season, where they lost to Darien.
“We are expecting Ridgefield to be at their best,” Marinelli said. “Their seniors are playing for their legacy and their kids have been to a championship game, so they know what it’s like to make it to that level.
We haven’t been to a championship game, so they have a huge advantage in terms of the mentality of their players. I hope our kids pick up the intensity against a very dangerous Ridgefield team, whose backs are against the wall. It will be interesting to see how our kids respond.”