In the two decades that our beloved SCC has been in existence, six (Xavier, Hand, Cheshire, Shelton, Notre Dame, West Haven) of the 10 teams currently playing Division I football have captured state championships. Hamden has been to the title game, but didn’t win (losing to fellow SCC member Cheshire).
The number would have been eight if it weren’t for a field goal on a frozen field in Woodbridge back on a Tuesday night in December of 2002 that allowed Ridgefield to upset Amity in the Class L semifinals.
One of the remaining two teams never to go to a state title game is Wilbur Cross, which has seemed to be mismatched (except for size, of course) in the Division I ranks since its inception a decade ago, although the Governors have had their moments, including a blowout win over Hamden just Friday afternoon.
The other is Fairfield Prep.
Now you’d have to look long and hard in SCC circles to find folk that have much sympathy for Fairfield Prep athletics, or probably Prep in general.
It is not only a private school, but has the highest tuition of any of the private schools in the league. It sits on one of the most beautiful college campuses in the Northeast, and is able to take advantage of plenty of their athletic facilities, including the stadium for football (even though Fairfield University no longer fields a football team).
Finally, the geographic location of Fairfield Prep really makes little sense as it pertains to the SCC. From points east of New Haven, getting to Fairfield at rush hour (or home) is often seen as an unnecessary adventure in and of itself.
Rumors of Fairfield Prep jumping ship to the FCIAC or a Prep school league began a few years ago, but have cooled as of late (with pseudo-sister school Lauralton Hall announcing it was leaving the SWC last week to join the SCC as well).
And so very few tears will be shed outside their campus for their football state championship drought, which dates back to 1988, when the Jesuits beat Greenwich 7-0.
If you’re a longtime reader of this column, you know that it’s not like Fairfield Prep hasn’t had contending teams. Heck, in 1999, the Jesuits ran through the regular season undefeated, but — with two other Class LL teams doing the same — was rewarded with a state semifinal game against fellow unbeaten Greenwich, which not only beat them but won the title convincingly.
In 2002, Prep was again unbeaten going into a winner-take-all Thanksgiving battle on a frigid morning at Ken Strong Stadium. West Haven took it all that day on its way to its last state title. While Prep went into Turkey Day with a loss the following season, it again could have qualified for the postseason, but the Blue Devils ended that hope once again.
Sparked by an ugly but effective win over Shelton, Prep made its last postseason appearance in 2006 (despite losing to West Haven), but was no match for Greenwich in the semifinals. Finally in 2007, in a much-hyped game at Shelton, the Jesuits lost a close game late. Prep would finish 8-2 and out of the playoffs, while the Gaels went to the state title game.
When Prep hit rock bottom of sorts with an 0-10 campaign in 2009, again the snickers outnumbered the sympathetic hugs by a fairly wide margin. How could a large private school on a major college campus not be able to win football games?
And so, even with a dominant offensive and defensive line, judgment will be reserved a little longer for Fairfield Prep this season. But there is no question they are for real, proving so against St. Joseph in a heartbreaking defeat, and doing so again last Friday in Shelton.
Colton Smith ran for 208 yards on 17 carries and four touchdowns behind that offensive line, as the Gaels had little answer for the size of the Jesuits. In fact, the Gaels pretty much abandoned their running game early on and went almost exclusively to the air, which is where St. Joseph (83 rushing yards, more than half on one carry) found success late in the contest against Prep.
When it looked like Prep had the game put away, a 34-yard pass from Mark Piccirillo to Kyle Drost (an SCC Play of the Year candidate) on fourth-and-forever gave Shelton yet another chance. But finally (finally!) Smith put the final stake through the heart of the battling Gaels with a long touchdown run on the next play after a failed Shelton onside kick.
Piccirillo became the second opposing quarterback to throw for nearly 400 yards on the Jesuits this season, and with one loss, the Jesuits’ remaining schedule might be more frightening than any local Trail of Terror this Halloween starting with a long trip to the Surf Club Friday night. After that: Cheshire, Amity, Hamden, Xavier, and West Haven. The last two are clearly the most difficult, but the others have shown signs of giving opponents fits, particularly Amity and red-hot quarterback David Ryan, who used to play for the Jesuits.
But 1988 was a long time ago. And it might be time for the Jesuits to join the other six Division I SCC teams with state championship banners as a member of the conference.
Shelton’s loss to Fairfield Prep means that through five weeks there are no SCC teams that are undefeated, one of only two leagues in the state (ECC) that can say that (the CCC has five, count ‘em five unbeatens). With plenty of Division I clashes between heavyweights still remaining on the slate, it stands to reason that there are more losses to come.
We’ve been over this ground before, of course. I still maintain that playing the tough schedule Division I demands is more fun for both spectators and for the kids (the latter obviously being the more important of the two), but it’s now halfway through the 2013 season, early enough to start at least having a glimpse at some of the playoff repercussions of what has happened and will happen.
Having eight teams in each class will help, but when you look at the Class LL race, you see Shelton, West Haven, Fairfield Prep, and Xavier all sitting with one loss. Shelton-Prep last week was the first game involving the four, West Haven and Xavier still have all over the other three remaining and, shockingly, both teams cannot come out victorious. It’s possible (you might be able to even argue probable) that two losses will be good enough to make the postseason, but three will likely mean elimination, and at least one of those four teams, and likely two, will have at least three defeats after Thanksgiving play is completed.
Class L may be even more complicated for Hand and North Haven, especially the Indians, who do not appear to be getting many points from their victory, and therefore may be in some trouble if they finish the campaign 9-2. They still have Amity on Thanksgiving, a non-conference game with Darien, and Guilford, Hillhouse, and Foran as well.
And all Hand has to do is play Fairfield Prep, Shelton, Xavier, and West Haven in the next four weeks. But that’s why we love SCC football, isn’t it?
Wilbur Cross has won just two of its last 20 Division I contests, but both have come against Hamden, and last week’s was a 33-7 beatdown in New Haven, pushing the Governors to 3-2 on the campaign. Last week’s SCC Player of the Week Stevie Swinson ran for 187 more yards as the Governors dominated the line of scrimmage and forced Hamden to throw, not exactly their strong suit right now. Ironically, prior to this 2-18 stretch, Cross had won three straight Division I games to start the 2010 season, one of which was at Finn Stadium. Shelton comes to New Haven Friday afternoon in a tricky letdown spot if you believe in such things… Cameran Tucker returned for Notre Dame and scored the opening touchdown, but West Haven prevailed in the Soderman Bowl, 37-28. The game between the rivals has been renamed for World War II veteran William Soderman, West Haven’s only Medal of Honor recipient in the war for his heroics at the Battle of the Bulge… Xavier beat Amity 42-28, and the Spartans had all kinds of trouble stopping the Falcons on the ground, but David Ryan threw for 282 more yards for Amity to make the game a lot closer than Sean Marinan would have liked. Four Amity turnovers in the first half helped put Xavier up 35-7 early in the third quarter… Jonathan Law had an impressive 34-0 win over East Haven, the second consecutive week that the Yellowjackets have been blanked and third time in four weeks … North Haven had three rushers (Michael Halloran, Michael Montano, Ethan Suraci) go over 100 yards in its 47-28 win over Sheehan, but stealing the statistical show was Sheehan’s Brandon Gauthier, who caught 12 passes for 252 yards and kicked all four extra points to boot (pardon the pun)… Sophomore Nick van Dell threw for 288 yards and three touchdowns, running for another in Hand’s 35-24 win in Cheshire. He will surely be a busy young man Friday when Fairfield Prep comes to the Surf Club… Hillhouse and Lyman Hall got their game out of the way on Thursday with Harold Cooper running 10 times for 216 yards and five touchdowns in a 54-20 rout. The Acs ran for 487 yards in total … Foran led Trinity Catholic (a playoff team last season) 42-0 at halftime in a 42-14 coasting in Stamford. Zach White returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown and the rest was a foregone conclusion… If you haven’t yet, follow me on Twitter at currenscc.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Colton Smith, Fairfield Prep — Smith ran for 207 yards and four touchdowns and threw for 167 yards and another score as the Jesuits held off Shelton 38-28 for a big win at Finn Stadium Friday night. Smith needed to carry a little more of the rushing load with starter Joseph Ganim out due to illness.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS
Number of points allowed by Hamden this season, which through five weeks is still the fewest by any team in the SCC, despite giving up 33 last week to Wilbur Cross. Wouldn’t have thought that, would you? Fairfield Prep is second with 84, but may have its hands full with Hand this week.
GAME OF THE WEEK
Xavier at West Haven, Friday, 7 p.m. — Both teams have a loss they would desperately like to have back, particularly with how the Class LL playoff race is shaping up. But, other than in Hollywood, that’s not possible with modern science, so they have to look forward. One of them will have a second loss after Friday and be in desperation mode trying to scramble into the postseason. The other will have a little breathing room. Until next week.
- 1. Fairfield Prep (4-1; Last Week 3)—Rankings are more fluid than ever, but Jesuits have done slightly more than rest.
- 2. Xavier (4-1; LW 2)—Should not face passing threat it did last week against Amity. Will face Mr. Philips, though.
- 3. Shelton (4-1; LW 1)—Couldn’t overcome line of scrimmage mismatches. Tricky game at Cross on Friday.
- 4. Hand (4-1; LW 4)—Have to figure out a way to at least slow Prep down in the trenches despite being outsized.
- 5. West Haven (4-1; LW 6)—Biggest game in some time against Xavier Friday at Ken Strong Stadium.
- 6. North Haven (4-1; LW 5)—Had some kicking problems as well against Sheehan. Dangerous teams await.
- 7. Hillhouse (2-3; LW 7)—How many yards could Cooper have run for if they wanted last week? 1,000? 1,500?
- 8. Amity (3-2; LW 9)—Spartans’ offense proving to be difficult to contain. Can they turn that into victories?
- 9. Foran (3-2; LW 11)—Lions quietly improving with every week, may have something for teams rest of way.
- 10. Cheshire (2-3; LW 13)—Wasn’t a bad performance against Hand, but fall below .500 with tough games left.
- 11. Wilbur Cross (3-2; LW 14)—Saw potential in them last season. Could make a pretty big statement Friday.
- 12. Notre Dame (1-4; LW 10)—Would say better than their record, but in Division I, you probably knew that already.
- 13. Guilford (2-3; LW 12)—Still hard to know what to make of Indians, will know more after next couple of games.
- 14. Hamden (3-2; LW 8)—Offense has gone missing, and that might be bad news with schedule they’re playing.
- 15. Jonathan Law (1-4; LW 16)—Nice to get into the win column, especially in the impressive fashion they did.
- 16. Sheehan (1-4; LW 15)—Just giving up way too many points, and now have to deal with Harold Cooper Thursday.
- 17. East Haven (1-4; LW 17)—Injuries hurting offense, but have scored only eight points in first half this season.
- 18. Branford (0-5; LW 18)—One more week of very tough competition, then might be able to make mark.
- 19. Lyman Hall (0-5; LW 19)—Like Branford, one more week, and then things might get a bit easier for Trojans.