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Unbeaten Darien leads state football polls as playoffs begin

Perennial FCIAC football powers Darien and New Canaan, both of whom happen to be defending state champions in their respective classes, were ranked first and third, respectively, in the Postseason GameTimeCT/Register Top 10 Football Poll which was released Nov. 28.

Darien and New Canaan were ranked first and second, respectively, at the end of last season. The two bordering town rivals were also voted there in that same order in this year’s pre-season poll and that is where they remained leading up to the annual Thanksgiving Day game which was a showdown of unbeatens again this year.

Darien’s top-ranked Blue Wave won a 37-34 overtime thriller before the sellout crowd of 4,700 fans at New Canaan High School’s Dunning Field. That enabled previous No. 3 West Haven to leapfrog over New Canaan and up to No. 2 going into this year’s three-round state playoffs set to commence with the Nov. 29 quarterfinals.

Darien and West Haven are seeded first and second, respectively, in the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference Class LL Football Playoffs for the largest schools in the state (based on male enrollment). So a championship showdown between those two on Dec. 10 is possible.

Darien will take a 10-0 record and a two-year, 22-game winning streak into the Class LL playoffs. West Haven is also 10-0 while New Canaan takes a 9-1 record into the Class L playoffs.

Darien received 27 of the 28 first-place votes cast by the media polling members and a total of 838 points. West Haven received 750 points and New Canaan’s third-ranked Rams had 712 points.

There are seven undefeated teams in the Top 10.

Southington (10-0) is ranked fourth with 678 points and the Blue Knights are seeded fourth in the Class LL playoffs on the upper half of the bracket so a Dec. 5 semifinal matchup against Darien is a possibility.

Windsor (10-0) was ranked fifth and followed in the Top 10 by Newtown (10-0), Bloomfield (10-0), eighth-ranked Shelton (8-2), Ansonia (10-0) and Norwich Free Academy (8-2).

Darien and New Canaan are the only FCIAC teams in the Top 10.

Four more conference teams – Ridgefield (8-2), Greenwich (7-3), St. Joseph (8-2) and Trumbull (7-3) – received votes and were among the 18 teams in the “Others receiving votes” category. Ridgefield received the 12 most polling points, Greenwich was 16th, St. Joseph 18th, and Trumbull 24th.

Ridgefield, Greenwich and St. Joseph are also in the state playoffs.

Ridgefield earned its berth in the Class LL playoffs with a 42-13 victory over Danbury in its season finale on Nov. 23. The seventh-seeded Tigers were set to play their game in the first round at West Haven on Nov. 29 at 6:30 p.m.

Greenwich snatched the eighth and final seed in the Class LL playoffs with a 37-10 victory over Staples on Thanksgiving. The Cardinals were scheduled to challenge defending champion Darien at Stamford High School’s Boyle Stadium on Nov. 29 at 6:30 p.m.

St. Joseph lost on Thanksgiving to crosstown rival Trumbull, 39-7, but St. Joseph has a demanding schedule against a lot of the larger schools from the FCIAC. So St. Joseph’s Cadets still earned themselves the fifth seed in the Class M playoffs and they were set to play at fourth-seeded Wolcott (8-2) on Nov. 29 at 6:30 p.m.

Coach Joe DellaVecchia’s Cadets are continuing a solid run through the last three years. They have compiled a 26-7 record the last three years, highlighted by an 11-2 record in 2014 when they won the Class M-Small state championship.

No teams, of course, have had the run of success that the Darien and New Canaan programs have had the last four years. They have combined for an incredible 91-7 record since the beginning of the 2013 season.

No team except Darien has beaten New Canaan since 2012. Coach Lou Marinelli’s New Canaan Rams have a combined 45-4 in the last four years and have suffered just one loss a year in that span – all of them to coach Rob Trifone’s Darien Blue Wave. Darien is 46-3 in these last four years.

Darien’s most recent victory over New Canaan this Thanksgiving was one of the greatest games ever in this storied rivalry. New Canaan’s host Rams faced a 34-10 deficit very late in the third quarter but stormed back with 24 unanswered points in the last 13 minutes of regulation to force overtime. Riley Stewart kicked a 24-yard field goal to give Darien the 37-34 lead. New Canaan then took its turn on offense in OT but on the first play Finlay Collins secured Darien’s win with an interception.

It was the fifth straight Turkey Bowl victory for Darien. Last year it represented the 50th and final FCIAC championship game.

Two years ago the two rivals played each other twice and split. Darien won the Turkey Bowl, 28-21, in what was also the FCIAC championship game. New Canaan won the rematch, 21-20, in the 2014 Class L-Large championship game. New Canaan finished with an 11-1 record and ranked No. 2 in the final state poll behind Southington. Darien (12-1) was ranked fourth.

That still represents Darien’s last loss as Trifone’s Blue Wave embarked on that 22-game winning streak since then.

Last year Darien and New Canaan were in different state playoff classes, just as they are this year.

Darien capped off its 12-0 season with a convincing 39-7 victory over Shelton in the Class LL championship to secure the top spot in the final state poll. New Canaan finished No. 2 in the final poll with an 11-1 record after its 42-35 victory over North Haven in the Class L final.

Three years ago New Canaan finished 14-1 after its 44-12 victory over Darien in the 2013 Class L championship. Ansonia was ranked first, New Canaan second and Darien (12-2) was fifth in the final Top 10.

The last time New Canaan lost a state playoff game was to Windsor, 27-21, in the 2012 Class L semifinals.

Marinelli’s Rams have won eight straight state playoff games en route to their three straight state titles since then. The second-seeded Rams begin their quest for their fourth consecutive state crown Nov. 29 when they host seventh-seeded Masuk (7-3) at 6:30 p.m.

All of the state semifinal games will be played Dec. 5 at the sites of the higher-seeded teams with the kickoffs at all sites scheduled for 6:30 p.m.

Times and sites for the Dec. 10 championship games are still to be determined.

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