STAMFORD, Sept. 14
[aesop_character img=”http://www.gametimect.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/Headshot.png” caption=”SEAN PATRICK BOWLEY” align=”right” force_circle=”on”]
It took a few days before the emotions of a 22-15 season-opening victory over Danbury settled down. But soon it was back to work for coach Jamar Greene and Stamford. They needed t because they’re headed to face No. 1-ranked, defending Class LL champion Darien on Saturday.
“We’ll go and we’ll throw the kitchen sink at them,” Greene said. “I mean, what do we got to lose?”
At the time, Greene wasn’t referring to his backfield. But, looking back at last week’s victory over Danbury, that actually might be a good nickname for his bruising running tandem of senior Tyrell Diaz and junior Camron Freckleton.
The pair’s fingerprints were all over Saturday’s victory and Greene said Stamford’s plan is to ride his appliances as far as their broad shoulders will take the team as it attempts to defy the notion that it is a group in disarray.
As has been well-documented, the Black Knights didn’t know who their head coach would be through most of the winter and into spring when Greene was dismissed by Stamford’s administration. Stamford didn’t run spring practices and didn’t really get to camps. When the Stamford board of education allowed Greene to return, the Black Knights went into the preseason far behind their FCIAC opponents.
So they embarked on a preseason crash course. Though it got a little harried against the Hatters, the Black Knights passed their first pop quiz of the semester.
“Our kids were confident throughout,” Greene said. “For me, I think it was more a miracle that we were able to win, especially with the amount of time that we lost. We did throw a lot at these kids in a short amount of time.”
For Greene’s backfield, it was no big thing.
“I mean, it was tough not having coach Greene here and we had a lot to pick up once we got back, because we missed a lot,” Diaz said. “But once he got back, we got right back to work, stayed focused, paid attention and got the job done.”
Diaz, a hulking, 6-foot, 260-pound senior who ran for 853 yards and 10 touchdowns as a junior, was in midseason form in Stamford’s opening victory over Danbury. He ran 12 times for 87 yards and two touchdowns, including the winner with seconds remaining. He also caught an 80-yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback Troy Duncan.
“He’s a freak of nature,” Greene said of Diaz, who he’s watched since Diaz tore it up for Rippowam Middle School. “You don’t find too many running backs of his size to begin with. But then, when you add his breakaway speed… that doesn’t come around too often. I haven’t seen anybody who can run him down yet.”
Of course, Freckleton, who also starred at Rippowam, had something to say about that.
Above: Highlight reel for Stamford junior Camron Freckleton against Danbury, which including the winning touchdown run by teammate Tyrell Diaz.
“I’m faster,” the junior said, smirking.
Bold talk for a first-year starter, but Greene agrees. “He’s even faster than Tyrell. He’s not as strong at Tyrell, but he’s still real strong,” Greene said. “Especially when he gets a head of steam.”
Freckleton — who stands at 6-1, 190 — showed flashes of what’s to come in the first game against Danbury. Though Diaz stole the headlines, Freckleton often paved the way for him at fullback, especially on the winning touchdown run. Freckleton also busted through a few tackles to score the ensuing 2-point conversion.
“It was a real emotional beginning to the season,” said Freckleton, who also plays defensive end. “A lot of people were down on us. But we just came together and we balled out.”
Greene also credits new defensive coordinator John Prenderville — one of the many new assistants Greene had to bring on when his old staff broke up — for keeping the team composed and confident as Danbury threatened to score. Stamford recovered a fumble at the 1 and also had an interception for a touchback. “It looked bleak at times,” Greene said. “But he stayed calm and confident and it rubbed off on them.”
Now, Stamford will take its newfound confidence into Darien Saturday afternoon. “We’ll see what happens,” Greene said. “The pressure’s not on us. It’s on them. They’re the No. 1 team in the state.”
Because of a leg injury to senior James Crovatto, New Canaan coach Lou Marinelli said Wednesday he will hand the the keys to his fast break offense over to freshman quarterback Drew Pyne when the Rams face Ridgefield Friday night at Dunning Field.
Pyne, of course, arrived in New Canaan during the offseason, carrying with him offers from the likes of Florida State. What ultimately aided Marinelli’s decision was a nagging injury to senior James Crovatto, who started the team’s 20-6 opening victory over Trinity Catholic.
“We’ll see what he can do,” Marinelli said of Pyne. “If not, we’ve got we’ve got two more guys we can put in there.”
Marinelli still says the position is up for grabs. “We have four kids that are contenders” Marinelli said. “It’s a good problem to have. And we’ll let them fight it out. My seniors always get the first shot. The best player plays.”
New Canaan played three quarterbacks in its 20-6 victory over Trinity. They went a combined 8-for-17 for 100 yards and an interception. Pyne led the only legitimate offensive scoring drive. The other offensive touchdown was set up by a fumble recovery near its own goal line).
Jolly Good Show, FCIAC
Any time you venture into Fairfield County and scroll through or watch some of preseason previews, you’ll inevitably hear the qualifier, ‘As you know, the FCIAC’s one of, if not the best leagues in the state…’ before media questions or from the subsequent coach and team responses.
While that might not be true every season, the league has walked the walk come state time the last three years. Since 2012 — when the SCC dominated with three state titles — the FCIAC has claimed six state titles, more than any other league in that time (The CCC, which is double the FCIAC’s size is second with four).
You could argue, however, the league might have been top-heavy with New Canaan, Darien mostly dominating the league’s proceedings.
With Darien and, more specifically, New Canaan, taking slight steps back this year as other programs have elevated, it looks as though that could change this year. Staples, Trinity Catholic, Ridgefield and Trumbull, at the very least, look like strong contenders. And there might be others.
The FCIAC validated those feelings with a slew tight and exciting games in Week 1.
Incidentally, this was the week that was lopped off last year’s schedule to accommodate the playing of the FCIAC championship game. Now that the FCIAC title game has been canceled, and Week 1 restored, here’s what we were missing:
• Trinity Catholic, a Class S playoff team last year, hung tough with New Canaan in an eventual 20-6 New Canaan victory, which saw defense — not offense — rule the day.
• As mentioned, Stamford and Danbury (which broke out a new, option offense) went toe-to-toe for four quarters before Stamford won in the final seconds.
• For the second straight year, Fairfield Warde and Wilton battled to overtime. Wilton, which honored the memory of former coach Tom Fujitani in a ceremony before the game, won 21-14 on a 10-yard run from new quarterback Matt D’Elisa.
• Greenwich survived what would have been a tough loss to Blake Newcomer and Westhill. The Cards overcame struggles in its passing and kicking games and won on a 5-yard touchdown run by Kevin Iobbi (27 carries, 181 yards, 3 TDs) with 48 seconds left then secured a 22-16 victory with an interception by Zhaire House.
Incidentally, the Cards’ winning drive was aided by a borderline (but reasonable) blow to the head penalty, which boiled Westhill’s blood for a few days. They say they’re over it now.
“Playing Greenwich like that says something about our team,” Newcomer said. “You could say we got robbed. It’s been hard for me to get over and hard for some of our coaches to get over, but we know we didn’t play to our full potential, either. There are teams on our schedule we can beat and we will win if we move on and focus on the next one.”
• The game of the weekend, of course, was up at Tiger Hollow in Ridgefield — which we failed to reach as part of our coverage on opening day. There, Drew Fowler rallied the Tigers from a 16-point deficit with 256 yards and four touchdowns in the second half. Ridgefield won 47-33.
The SCC’s new Division I might be the state’s strongest league division, but the FCIAC as a whole will give SCC 1 a run for its entertainment dollar.
The moment after 200. (????: Shelley Burger Sports)
— SHSports (@StaplesSports) September 11, 2016
Marce Petroccio earned his 200th career victory in Staples’ 38-13 win over McMahon, giving him a 200-94 record since coming over from Cheshire in 1993.
“My daughters and my wife had a huge function going on at their elementary school. So they couldn’t be there,” Petroccio said. “So they put a video on the board at the end of the game with the kids saying good luck dad and the whole nine yards. So it was nice.”
Petroccio has won three state titles (2002, 2004, 2005) and has taken the Wreckers to eight state finals. “It’s a great milestone, I’m very proud of what we’ve accomplished,” Petroccio said. “I’ve been here for 24 years and I didn’t think I was going to last five here.
Petroccio, who played at Trumbull for Jerry McDougall, is 17th on the all-time Connecticut list and is fifth among active coaches including Darien’s Rob Trifone (208), Hand’s Steve Filippone (221), St. Paul’s Jude Kelly (228) and New Canaan’s Lou Marinelli, who tops the active list with 320. Former West Haven/St. Joseph coach Ed McCarthy tops the all-time list at 231.
Petroccio is two wins away from overtaking Hall’s Frank Robinson, Sr. (201) and six away from overtaking Greenwich great Mike Ornato (205).
“I got a lot of text mails from former players but, to be honestly, and not to sound corny, but it was really an honor to coach those kids,” Petroccio said. “They’re the ones who got me to 200. So it’s an honor that should be shared with a whole bunch of kids throughout the years.”
Following the game and the ceremony, Petroccio stopped off at a diner for a celebratory postgame meal. “And that was it, we’re moving on.” he said.
Staples heads to Clapboard ridge to play Danbury Friday night. Hatters’ coach Alex Trasacco has made good on his promise to “go back to my roots” and has installed an option attack, not unlike the one Petroccio runs.
…Fairfield Warde’s Bryan Azarian will apparently miss at least a month after suffering a broken fibula during the team’s overtime loss to Wilton, according to a report by Dave Ruden Wednesday. Azarian was lost in the first half after 72 total yards and two touchdowns. He was a 1,000-yard rusher last season and figured to be a huge part of coach Duncan Dellavolpe‘s offensive plans.
“Considering he scored our two touchdowns in 12 1/2 minutes of the game, we’re all pretty bummed out that he suffered a non-contact injury,” Dellavolpe told GameTimeCT.
…St. Joseph has returned, permanently, to Dalling Field, its old haunt atop Hog Hill and home of the school’s first eight state championship teams. Saturday’s opener vs. Darien was St. Joseph’s first game there since 2011, when it kicked off that season vs. Staples. The Hogs had called the lower turf field home since the athletic complex was built in 2006.
The upper Dalling Field — which has more fan-friendly stands gracing its sidelines — was resurfaced with turf during the offseason. The school also plans to install 70-foot lights for night games after a Bridgeport Superior Court judge overturned a denial by the Trumbull Planning and Zoning Commission back in October.
With St. Joseph set to install lights, Trinity Catholic and Darien will be left as the only league schools without them. (Not that they aren’t trying.)
…Darien is starting almost an entirely new lineup compared to the one that won the Class LL and FCIAC championship last season. But some of the names remain the same. And, no we’re not talking about the few returning starters, we’re talking about the kid brothers running around on the field.
One of the most noticeable against St. Joseph was junior defensive back Brian Minicus, the young brother of graduated all-stater Colin Minicus. Brian was all over the field on defense, making five solo tackles (one for a loss). He also had an interception for a touchdown which was called back due to a penalty. You also saw Junior Drew Evanchick made his first career varsity sack. Sure, he’s still 65 1/2 behind his older brother, Mark’s, state record. But who’s counting?
…Ridgefield’s victory over Trumbull was its first opening-day victory since beating Cheshire 17-14 in 2013. The Tigers had lost four out of their previous five opening week games.
Player of the Week
DREW FOWLER, Ridgefield
The senior quarterback shook off a rough opening half in which he completed just 3-of-8 passes for 40 yards. He finished the game with 20 completions in 30 attempts for 297 yards and four touchdowns. That’s 257 yards and four touchdowns in the second half. Three of those touchdowns went to Shane Palmer, who caught the go-ahead, 31-yard score with 4:25 remaining.
Game of the Week
RIDGEFIELD (1-0) at NEW CANAAN (1-0), Friday, 7 p.m.
Ridgefield charges into Dunning Field seeking to be the first team not-named Darien to win at Dunning Field since 2007 (more on that shortly). The Tigers certainly have the makeup and chemistry to do it, what with starring senior quarterback Drew Fowler and receivers Chris Longo, Collin Lowe and, now, Shane Palmer running an explosive offense.
“It’s certainly one of the better Ridgefield teams we’ve seen,” New Canaan coach Lou Marinelli said. “I think they’ve been building for this year and now this is their year. They’re going to be tough to beat for anybody.”
New Canaan had all kinds of offensive issues against Trinity Catholic. It played all three of its quarterbacks and mustered just 180 yards of offense. But defense, sweet defense, led by all-state caliber back Ryan O’Connell, looks like the real deal.
The Rams forced five Trinity turnovers, two of which led to scores. Ridgefield’s a much, much different offensive animal, famously using a strict, two-platoon lineup. “I think that really helped them in the heat against Trumbull,” Marinelli said.
We don’t want to get crazy here, but should Ridgefield clear this hurdle, team parents should clear their December calendars.
Inside the Numbers
42 Consecutive victories by New Canaan at Dunning Field against teams not named ‘Darien,’ since a 14-7 overtime loss to Staples in November 2007. The Blue Wave famously beat the Rams in the 2013 Turkey Bowl. But that loss merely makes the Rams 42-1 since the loss to Staples. Ridgefield isn’t Darien, so history is already stacked against the Tigers as they ride the wave of their comeback vs. Trumbull through Hawes Plaza. Bon Chance, Ridgefield.
The Fab 5
- 1. DARIEN (1-0) — Sure, there’s lots to clean up. But that was impressive.
- 2. NEW CANAAN (1-0) — Right now this is an honorary position for a team that has won three-consecutive state titles. We’re not convinced. Show us what you got, guys.
- 3. RIDGEFIELD (1-0) — Forget that first half. These guys are good.
- 4. STAPLES (1-0) — Took their time brushing back a rebuilding McMahon squad, but the Wreckers — especially RB Elliott Poulley — looked impressive once the mistakes were cleaned up.
- 5. TRUMBULL (0-1) — Everything just collapsed on the Eagles in that hot and humid second half. They’ll be back.
JUST MISSED — Trinity Catholic (0-1), Norwalk (1-0).
Ffld.Ludlowe at Trumbull, 7 p.m.
Ridgefield at New Canaan, 7 p.m.
Westhill at Bridg.Central, 7:30 p.m.
Staples at Danbury, 7 p.m.
Wilton at McMahon, 7 p.m.
Ffld.Warde at Norwalk, 7 p.m.
Trinity Cath. at Greenwich, 4 p.m.
Stamford at Darien, 1:30 p.m.
St. Joseph at Ledyard, 6:30 p.m.