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Without a dancing partner to open the 2016 season, Notre Dame-West Haven decided to go outside the box… at least the Connecticut box.
Bishop Hendricken, out of Warwick, R.I., happened to also be looking for a game on Sept. 9, and it made perfect sense for the two to be paired.
The Green Knights had been to the CIAC playoffs the past two seasons and play in perhaps the toughest league in the state, while Bishop Hendricksen was only five-time defending Rhode Island champs itching for a chance to test itself against a power from a neighboring state.
While it went a bit unnoticed here because it was played outside our state borders, it was a great high school football game that went down to the final minutes.
Eventually, it was Bishop Hendricksen that prevailed 26-21. But why not do this type of thing every year as a kickoff to the season? Why would Notre Dame coach Tom Marcucci — also the athletic director at ND — be upset about having played this game a few weeks later?
Most of you probably know the answer to this semi-hypothetical question already.
The loss, while to a non-CIAC member, still counted against them in the playoff standings, giving them a grand total of 0 points for playing a now 10-0 team to (by a pretty wide margin) its toughest game of the season.
Coupled with losses to West Haven (also, still undefeated) and Shelton, Notre Dame was 3-3, and although it’s pretty clearly it is one of the best teams in Class L, three-loss teams — even in the modern postseason format — have a tough time qualifying for the playoffs. The Green Knights still were faced with needing to beat teams like Cheshire and Xavier to even give themselves a shot.
So Marcucci wondered if he had done the right thing after all.
“We were kicking ourselves a little bit,” Marcucci said. “That’s on the athletic director, Tom Marcucci, maybe you should talk to him. I could have gotten another game, but nobody wanted to play. And it was a great game for us and for everybody, except that we fell one score short.”
As it turned out, justice appears to have been done in the end. After another impressive performance in a 20-0 shutout of previously hot Xavier Friday, enough things had gone Notre Dame’s way that — while not 100 percent mathematically assured — it looks like they will qualify for the Class L playoffs if it can beat 2-7 Hamden on Thanksgiving.
But you can’t help but wonder about the sanity of a playoff system whose set-up discourages playing good teams because — gasp! — you might actually lose once in a while.
To be fair, there isn’t a simple fix to the dilemma, but that doesn’t mean there’s none. Computer rankings and committees are one way to attack the problem, both of whom would have Notre Dame easily in the playoffs by now.
“That (Bishop Hendricksen) was a great team,” Marcucci said. “I wish that Connecticut had a way that you could have those games and they wouldn’t count against you. Then everyone would get a good game. That team is 9-0 now. Why wouldn’t we want more games like that?”
Such issues drew added importance this season with the SCC implementing the brutal Division I schedule (of which we are completely in agreement with), meaning teams like Cheshire and Fairfield Prep may find themselves on the outside looking in come December.
I’ve said before that your record doesn’t necessarily define you, and missing the playoffs is not necessarily something to be down about. But that does come with the stipulation that the system is equitable for everyone involved. And while you do get points for wins teams you’ve defeated accrue, North Haven (3-6) and Hand (1-8) show that pretty good teams playing vicious schedules can have poor records.
The SCC has led the way on making scheduling as fair as possible despite zero help from the CIAC in the matter, for which they should be commended. The league announced a scheduling partnership with the ECC and SWC this week, making the issue even more timely.
Next season, a Division I team will play six games (assuming Hand goes to Division II) against fellow Division I teams and then two more against the best two other leagues have to offer. There’s only two games left at that point, or one when you include Thanksgiving.
It’s going to make for some awesome weeks of action. It’s not going to make for a fair playoff system. When and if we get to the district model in Connecticut, this problem will go away. But for now, we have what we have, I guess.
Notre Dame looks like they’ll be one of the lucky ones, and could climb as high as sixth in Class L (avoiding New Canaan in the quarterfinals) before all is said and done on Turkey Day. And they’ve earned it.
“This league is really good, and we were able to go through it with only a couple of losses, and that’s a lot tougher than it looks,” Marcucci said.
More Playoff Talk
West Haven came out in a single wing (?!?) against Shelton and scored on its first two plays from scrimmage (both Anthony Godfrey runs), but the Gaels gave the Westies all they could handle in what has to be the Game of the Year in the SCC (although there have been plenty of candidates).
Kyle Godfrey finally won it 59-52 with a 1-yard run with 7 seconds left after the Gaels had made a furious comeback from being down two touchdowns in the final three minutes to tie the game.
However, the game appears to have meant very little in the Class LL playoff standings, providing Shelton can beat Derby on Thanksgiving. We actually don’t know much about the seeding, except that the Blue Devils will be at home (with a chance to finish second) while Shelton will be away. We hope they won’t have to play West Haven for the fourth time in two years, though meeting in the finals would be cool.
Xavier’s loss cleared things up a bit, as it looks like Cheshire and Fairfield Prep, who both had tough wins last week, now control their own destiny.
However, the Rams take on undefeated Southington while Prep plays fellow unbeaten West Haven on Thanksgiving. But might the scenario given above, with West Haven and Southing assured of both a Class LL berth and home game, cause them to let off the gas a little bit? Wouldn’t have to be much for Cheshire or Prep.
Elsewhere, Notre Dame would be the lone SCC representative in Class L. Hillhouse has all but wrapped up a spot in Class M and should get a home game if it beats Wilbur Cross on Thanksgiving, which would be quite the sight at Bowen Field.
Foran still has life after sneaking past Amity 22-21, but obviously must win its final two games (Creed, Jonathan Law) and then get help from teams like Gilbert/Northwestern, Berlin, Waterford, and New Fairfield losing. Three of those four losing, should do.
Hand and North Haven got to add to their long, long list of tough losses this season.
The Tigers led 14-0 at Cheshire and led most of the way, only to have Jack Raba hit Michael Jeffery for a 3-yard touchdown to give the Rams a 21-20 win and keep their playoff hopes alive.
Fairfield Prep trailed North Haven 42-35 before Patrick Conte found Chris Duffy for the tying score and Conte then hit tight end Bobby Haskins on the conversion to give Prep a 43-42 win. The Indians have outscored opponents 292-256 (292 is third most in Division I) this season, but are 3-6
… Six of the nine division games in the SCC were decided by a touchdown or less (three of four in the SCC).
… Sheehan will win the Division III title outright by beating Lyman Hall after stopping Creed 32-6, which is made more impressive by the fact that the Titans lost their first game to East Haven.
… With East Haven’s win over Guilford, all SCC teams except for Hand, Lyman Hall, and Hamden have at least three wins with at least one game to play, which certainly speaks to parity.
… Law, which knocked off Branford this week, can get a winning season if it wins its last two games.
Player of the Week
Anthony Godfrey, West Haven
With some playoff games, Godfrey would have an outside shot to break the old SCC rushing record and is having a remarkable season. Friday, he rushed for 345 yards on 30 carries and four touchdowns in the Westies’ 59-52 shootout win at Shelton. The Westies just have so many weapons offensively this season.
Inside the Numbers
829Number of yards Zach Davis will have to get to break Arkeel Newsome’s state record for rushing yards in a season. To be fair, Newsome will have played three more games than Davis when everything is done.
Still, after running for 370 more yards against Creed, Davis is now fifth all-time in state history in just nine games with 3,045 yards (and 43 TDs). He also ran for 520 yards on Thanksgiving last season against Lyman Hall.
Game of the Week
Fairfield Prep at West Haven, Thanksgiving, 10:30 a.m.
It was West Haven that knocked Fairfield Prep out of the playoffs two seasons ago in what turned out to be Ed McCarthy’s last game.
While Prep can’t return the favor here, they could join the Westies in the Class LL playoffs with a victory. Stranger things have happened this season.
- 1) West Haven (9-0; Last Week 1) — Have given up 101 points in last three game if you’re looking for signs of weakness.
- 2) Notre Dame (6-3; LW 3) — Complete domination of Xavier impressive which form Falcons were in prior.
- 3) Shelton (7-2; LW 2) — Not sure which of the four teams above them in LL Gaels would like to see most.
- 4) Fairfield Prep (6-3; LW 5) — Win over Hillhouse really helping them in points, but must win on Thanksgiving.
- 5) Cheshire (6-3; LW 6) — Ways they could be out with loss to Southington, but does not look very likely at all.
- 6) Xavier (5-4; LW 4) — Marinan said they “didn’t show up” against ND. Just not a season to remember for them.
- 7) Hillhouse (8-1; LW 7) — Will be tested against Wilbur Cross, but should be in M playoffs regardless of result.
- 8) North Haven (3-6; LW 8) — Somehow finished Division I play just 1-6 although they probably deserved better.
- 9) Hand (1-8; LW 9) — If they go to Division II, they will have finished their final Division I season winless.
- 10) Foran (5-3; LW 10) — Should be favorites in last two games, just have to hope for lots of help elsewhere.
- 11) Sheehan (5-4; LW 11) — Again, Davis gets all the attention, but Titans turnaround overall very impressive.
- 12) Amity (3-6; LW 12) — No quit in Spartans this season, so no reason to think they’ll be any on Thanksgiving.
- 13) Wilbur Cross (5-3; LW 13) — With Xavier out of playoff chase, maybe Governors can catch them on off day?
- 14) Jonathan Law (4-4; LW 19) — Might give Foran a little better game than Law has in last couple of seasons.
- 15) East Haven (3-5; LW 17) — Finally got a win and probably favorite over Branford given current form for both.
- 16) Hamden (2-7; LW 15) — Going to be a tough task, obviously, at Green Bowl trying to stop Ragaini and ND.
- 17) Branford (4-5; LW 14) — Tough run for Hornets after a bright start, would like to salvage campaign against EH.
- 18) Creed (3-6; LW 16) — No Thanksgiving game for Howling Wolves, will finish up first SCC campaign this week.
- 19) Guilford (3-6; LW 18) — Probably don’t deserve to be this far down, but it’s just so crowded down here.
- 20) Lyman Hall (1-8; LW 20) — Still looks like they’ll have to wait until next year to get another conference win.