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The rumor mill always did run faster than reality and with the proliferation of social media in recent years, it has tended to move tangentially as well, further skewing the lines between truth and fiction.
First, new Hamden coach Tom Dyer had gotten rid of three seniors in the lead up to the season opener against West Haven. After the Dragons got blown out, it was up to five. Following another lopsided defeat to North Haven, it was 10. By the end of the season, it might be 50.
Yes, Dyer has set out to change the culture of a Hamden football team that had gone 9-53 in the six seasons prior to 2016. But reports of a mass purging appear to get at least three Pinocchios on the truth-o-meter scale.
In fact, many of the top contributors for the Dragons have been seniors. While former quarterback and senior Stanley Arrington has been moved primarily to defense (and replaced by sophomore Josh Marshak), Hamden’s two leading rushers are both seniors in Virgil Harrell and Charles Pearson. Harrell carried 19 times for 136 yards Friday night.
“It’s not fair to the seniors to say I’m looking long-term. No way,” Dyer said. “We’re playing the best 11 on each side of the ball that we think can get us a win. The kids that have earned the right to play through what they’ve done all offseason, during the season, in practice during the week.
“If I said I’m looking forward to next year, I’m discrediting my seniors and I wouldn’t do that to those kids. That’s not fair.”
A 22-8 loss to Foran is hardly a result that the biggest school in the SCC and one with a proud tradition of at least intermittent football dominance at the highest levels would crow about.
But the Lions have been a Division II power for several years now and Hamden controlled the line of scrimmage much of the evening, it was just unable to execute inside the Foran 20-yard line. While the Lions caught the Dragons off-guard with the clinical nature of their passing game, Hamden eventually settled in and allowed just one score in the final 35 minutes of the contest.
It was a marked improvement from their first two games when they were outscored 96-0 (albeit against West Haven and North Haven) and it was a small sign that things will get better in Hamden, even if it’s not a job that can be completed overnight.
“We have a long way to go in order to be a competitive team in the SCC,” Dyer said. “It starts in practice and film, we have to get better there. Our day-to-day preparation is not there yet. I have great support and a great coaching staff and I think we have plenty of people buying into what we’re doing, but we have a long way to go.”
Hamden’s drop to Division II with teams like Foran was (and still is, to be honest) controversial just based on school size alone. But there were some concessions made.
The Dragons already play Notre Dame on Thanksgiving, of course, and also play West Haven, North Haven, and Fairfield Prep, making four Division I games in total. Of their four current Division II family members, Wilbur Cross and Amity were in Division I with them anyway last season, while Hillhouse and Foran (moving up) both have solid teams this season. So 80 percent of their games are against teams they probably would have played anyway.
“I’m glad we got them early,” Foran coach Jeff Bevino said. “They’re pretty big and physical and they’re getting better every week. I’m sure with Tommy, they’ll keep getting better, too.”
Hamden’s passing game has been virtually nonexistent this season, but Marshak did complete a few throws late (including a TD pass) and should get much better with experience.
After that a lot of it may come down to belief, the current bunch of Dragons have lost plenty in the last couple of seasons. Someone who hasn’t much?
Dyer, who finished his Hillhouse tenure with a record of 51-17 and no losing seasons. Even with his team improving, already at 1-3 with the likes of Fairfield Prep, Notre Dame, and Hillhouse remaining, it will be tough to avoid this time around.
Still, while Dyer does not want to get used to losing games, as an athletic director and now veteran coach, he can see the big picture as well.
“I have a headache right now,” he said. “I’m probably not going to eat for a while, but it’s still enjoyable if that makes any sense. What’s enjoyable most is helping kids. These are long days with the AD stuff, but it’s still fun. We’ll get better.”
Ragaini still a handful
The rumor mills also gave us news of a possible injury to Notre Dame senior (and reigning New Haven Register Athlete of the Year) Nico Ragaini, after he caught just three passes for 18 years in ND’s opening loss in Rhode Island and didn’t factor at all last week when the Green Knights blew out Guilford.
Friday afternoon, Fairfield Prep seemed to have Ragaini under wraps as he had just one catch in the game’s first 23 minutes and the one time he did get free, Ragaini dropped a touchdown pass.
But, as ND and Prep headed to the half at 7-7, it turned out that Ragaini’s day was just getting started.
By the time he was done, he (with some help from quarterback Christopher Elias) had torched the Jesuits to the tune of 220 yards receiving on eight catches, a few of them directly over Prep defenders.
In the process, the Green Knights trampled Prep 34-7 in a chippy game that saw a few personal fouls toward the end. With two losses already and a brutal Division I slate awaiting them, it’s a longshot for ND to return to the playoffs, but they’ve certainly proven they can play with anyone in the SCC (and the state).
Meanwhile, it was Fairfield Prep that had some very real injuries of its own to deal with. Patrick Conte, who missed half of last season with a shoulder injury, did not play and is questionable for this week’s game against Hamden. After that, the Jesuits play five Division I teams (including Shelton and West Haven) to close the season and will likely have to win four to make the Class LL playoffs.
Shelton and Xavier was pushed back a day because of the death of Shelton student Jonathan Sabo, who was a member of the marching band. The game was an SCC classic, with Xavier dominating the first quarter completely, only to see the Gaels run off 31 unanswered points and hold on for a 38-35 victory.
Like Notre Dame, Xavier is a very, very good 2-loss team, but you don’t get any points for that in the current system.
… West Haven made its statement of intent for the Class LL playoffs by pummeling previously unbeaten Cheshire 41-14 at Ken Strong Stadium. The Westies scored on plays of 70, 58, 49, and 76 yards as their speed is just impossible to even slow down, let alone stop at the moment and they have more than a couple of players that can score from anywhere.
… Speaking of players that can score from anywhere, Zach Davis had five touchdowns and more than 400 yards rushing as the Titans picked up their first win by routing Guilford 40-13. Just how many over 400 seems to be in dispute. The game was originally reported as 426 yards for Davis, with it later revised to 454, then ended up on MaxPreps as 486 (In a Meriden Record-Journal article, all three numbers appeared).
MaxPreps, entered by the team, is now generally regarded as official mostly because there’s no better way to do it. As you probably know, stats at this level can be somewhat arbitrary, it’s not like every game is on television, but 60 yards is a pretty big discrepancy.
What we do know is that Davis has rushed for a ridiculous 1,200+ yards and 14 touchdowns already this season, with another score on a reception and punt return. Davis should be tested this week against a Branford defense that blanked East Lyme 14-0 Saturday night as the Hornets still wait for their field to be finished.
… Jonathan Law got an impressive 22-6 win over Creed to move to 2-2 on the season.
… Hand may be in big trouble in Division I after getting beaten up 33-6 by North Haven at the Surf Club Friday night, the Indians’ first win in Madison since 2001 when the Surf Club featured grass. The Tigers are 1-3 and face Shelton, Xavier, Notre Dame, and West Haven (yes, the top four in the Power Rankings below) in their next four games. Tough times and a tough schedule in Madison.
Player of the Week
Nico Ragaini, Notre Dame
You can make a strong, strong case for Davis or Anthony Godfrey, who rushed for 288 yards and 3 TDs against Cheshire, but Ragaini seemed to single-handedly turn the game around against Fairfield Prep.
With his team staring at a possible third loss already, Ragaini caught eight passes for 220 yards as the Green Knights pulled away for a 34-7 victory as they head to North Haven next week.
Inside the Numbers
26 Number of consecutive regular season victories for Shelton, and the Gaels have done it the last three years while playing a Division I schedule, and now a Super Division I schedule as it were. The Gaels have already cleared what appear to be a couple of the toughest hurdles to another undefeated regular season and don’t play West Haven until Nov. 11.
Game of the Week
Notre Dame at North Haven, Friday, 7 p.m.
There’s a bit of a rivalry between these two teams anyway, and now they’re finally in the same division for the first time. One of these two will have its playoff hopes severely hampered with a loss here, while the winner can continue hoping at least until the next SCC Division I battle in a couple of weeks.
1) West Haven (4-0; Last Week 1) – Hard to see what the weaknesses are if the Westies are playing solid defense.
2) Shelton (4-0; LW 2) – Were getting absolutely crushed by Xavier after one quarter, scored 31 straight points.
3) Notre Dame (2-2; LW 3) – Some tough games still remaining on schedule, but ND won’t be easy win for anyone.
4) Xavier (2-2; LW 6) – Good news is Falcons have West Haven and Shelton out of way, but no room for error left.
5) Cheshire (3-1; LW 4) – Slightly humbling experience for Rams, but there’s Xavier to worry about this week.
6) North Haven (3-1; LW 7) – Could make a statement by beating ND Friday and put selves in playoff contention.
7) Fairfield Prep (3-1; LW 5) – Should be able to survive this week without Conte, but some real tough ones coming.
8) Hillhouse (3-1; LW 8) – Had a little trouble putting away Amity, should not take Foran lightly this week.
9) Wilbur Cross (2-1; LW 10) – Governors could end up with a lot of wins this season with schedule being played.
10) Foran (2-2; LW 11) – Schedule gets pretty favorable after Friday if they can find a way to knock off Hillhouse.
11) Hand (1-3; LW 9) – Looks like 1-7 heading into last two games is a real possibility for Tigers with slate ahead.
12) Branford (3-1; LW 12) – Not exactly racking up the points, but winning is good. Can they stop Zach Davis?
13) Amity (1-3; LW 13) – Had some moments where it looked like they could upset Hillhouse, but not enough of them.
14) Hamden (1-3; LW 19) – Dragons are better this season, but remains to be seen if final record will show it.
15) Jonathan Law (2-2; LW 15) – Already about where some people thought win total might end up in 2016.
16) East Haven (1-2; LW 16) – Two byes in three weeks with Lyman Hall in between. Plenty of time to scout.
17) Sheehan (1-3; LW 18) – No matter how many yards Davis ended up with, still another remarkable performance.
18) Creed (1-3; LW 14) – Has been tough for Howling Wolves to move the ball, which could be issue going forward.
19) Guilford (1-3; LW 17) – Seemed to be doing well until Zach Davis started running by them repeatedly.
20) Lyman Hall (0-4; LW 20) – Once again the last team in the SCC to search for its first victory of the season.