Trinity Catholic's Matt Christensen celebrates after a sack Saturday against New Canaan.
The recent history of Stamford high school football has been well documented. There have been short-term pockets of success at Stamford High School and Trinity Catholic during the modern era and, save for a couple of years, almost universal disappointment at Westhill.
There have been seasons where the Black Knights and Crusaders have been near the top of the standings, but it has been a long time since they were serious contenders. It has been 19 years since the last postseason title, when Trinity Catholic was a state champion. Richard Nixon occupied the White House when the Black Knights won the city’s last FCIAC championship.
The most talked about Stamford football game — one of the biggest in state lore — took place when Bobby Valentine was a high school athlete.
Stamford loves its sports, but has always been first and foremost a baseball town.
The knee-jerk reaction at about 3:30 Saturday afternoon was of a seismic shift taking place, as the three schools all won on the same weekend for the first time in six years. The fifth week of the 2006 season to be exact. Stamford beat Norwalk, 24-18. Trinity Catholic defeated Bassick, 39-12. Westhill toppled Warren Harding, 34-14. (The Vikings finished 5-5 that season, their first non-losing record since 1986.)
Several people reached out to talk of a turning point, the beginning of a new era about to be ushered in. That was emotion, in the short term, blinding reality. Any lasting changes need a much longer body of work than 18 hours.
Stamford's Cameron Webb breaks a run Friday night against Norwalk.
Instead of focusing on what a future we cannot predict might hold, Stamford fans instead should be reveling over what took place, even as the coaches and players at the three schools have turned their attention to their upcoming games. Last weekend was a glorious one for the city on a number of fronts: pure sentiment, the end of long-standing streaks and the hope of brighter futures. For two days, Stamford came together as high school football fans, not just partisans of one of the three schools.
The least dramatic of the three outcomes was Stamford’s 48-7 win over Norwalk. This game was surprising not for the result, but the margin of victory. The Black Knights dominated from the outset, got a strong game from running back Cameron Webb (16 carries for 146 yards and two scores, plus a 28-yard touchdown reception — all in the first half). Tyler Kane was efficient at quarterback and the defense dominated.
Is Stamford that good? Is Norwalk that far down after being the surprise team of the FCIAC a year ago? It is hard to determine after two weeks. The Black Knights will get a good test Friday night against Ridgefield. The personnel is good, but this is the team’s most difficult stretch of the schedule, with St. Joseph and Trinity Catholic up next.
Speaking of the Crusaders, it has been a long time since their has been a more gripping win at Alumni Field. The Trinity campus was still abuzz on Monday. Forty-eight hours earlier, the Crusaders beat New Canaan for the first time — to the day — in 28 years, 31-28 in overtime. The last time that happened Pete Stokes was the quarterback for the school then known as Stamford Catholic.
Stokes is now the Crusaders’ coach.
Stokes released his inner Dick Vermeil on Saturday. It has been a while since a coach shed so many tears on the field. Stokes choked up as the final horn sounded, as he was greeted first by his kids and then his wife, and especially when he addressed his players afterward.
While the win will be remembered fondly at the team’s postseason banquet, the Crusaders are positioned to have a lot to celebrate. There are three games at this point in which the team would be considered an underdog: Stamford, Darien and St. Joseph. They will be decided favorites against Warren Harding, this week’s opponent, and Bassick. Fairfield Warde and Wilton right now could go either way.
A 7- or 8-win season is a reasonable goal for the team, which could be without quarterback Danny O’Leary, who injured his left shoulder, for a few weeks. There is not a lot of depth, but this is a typical gritty Crusader team, and Shaquan Howsie, who rushed for 139 yards and two scores, is arguably the FCIAC’s best running back.
“There are ghosts here. Maybe we stirred them a little bit,” Stokes said after the New Canaan game.
Something got stirred up in Trumbull on Friday night, when — also in overtime — the Vikings also produced a stunning victory, 37-30. It ended a 20-game losing streak and, surprisingly, was Westhill’s first-ever win in the series between the two teams.
Davell Cotterell put on a show for the Vikings with 339 all-purpose yards: 193 yards rushing on 27 carries and two touchdowns, 3 receptions for 34 yards and a score, plus a 62-yard kickoff return.
What do we know about the Vikings? First-year coach Frank Marcucio had Westhill working hard all offseason. The sessions usually started at 6 a.m. The numbers are good and so far the players are buying into the program.
Will Friday prove to be the beginning of a trend for the Vikings? They will learn a lot about themselves Saturday afternoon at home against Norwalk. Perhaps the biggest test will be how the players handle their success. Will the heads get swelled, or will the Vikings have clarity looking at their larger goals?
Last weekend was just an early chapter in a long book. But the hopes are high that this will end up being a very good read with a happy ending.
(Go to the bottom of this post to see a great highlight video from Trinity’s win over New Canaan by Hearst Connecticut Group interactive sports producer Sean Patrick Bowley)
Game of the Week
St. Joseph (1-1) at Darien (2-0), Saturday, 1:30. The Cadets, who played Staples tough for nearly three quarters and followed that up with a decisive win over Wilton last weekend, are for real. They also have one of the FCIAC’s toughest schedules. Here is the chance for them to really shake up the playoff race against a Blue Wave team with championship hopes.
The Fab 5
1. STAPLES (2-0). The Wreckers have scored 84 points in just over their last five quarters. And they are just getting warmed up.
2. GREENWICH (2-0). The Cardinals have a bye week. They will likely not be tested until Thanksgiving Day against Staples.
3. DARIEN (2-0). The Blue Wave put up 85 points in impressive back to back showings against the two Fairfield schools. Now they step up in weight class.
4. RIDGEFIELD (1-1). The Tigers rebounded nicely from the opening-week loss to Greenwich. If they can get past Stamford, the road to the postseason will grow incredibly smoother.
5. STAMFORD (2-0). Stamford or St. Joseph? St. Joseph or Stamford? We will give a slim nod to the team with the 2-0 mark.