Ludlowe winning as it rebuilds, faces New Canaan in key clash in state playoff race
To say Ludlowe football was at a low point in 2016 is kind of underselling it.
The team went 0-10 , playing in front of mostly empty bleachers with a roster that resembled that of a Class S school rather than the LL school Ludlowe is.
In fact, when Mitchell Ross took over as coach in 2017, he inherited a roster of 22 players.
He was able to add a few players through in-school recruitment and the team won a game in his first season though they still finished as the last-place team in Class LL at 1-9.
This preseason, the roster is topping out at close to 100 players.
Of course, with increased numbers comes players lacking in experience on the football field.
NEW CANAAN (6-2) AT LUDLOWE (6-2)
When/Where: Friday, 6 p.m., Taft Field
Players to watch: New Canaan: Drew Pyne Jr. QB, (6-0, 175); Quintin O’Connell Sr. WR, (6-0, 195); Garrett Braden Sr. LB, (6-2, 225); Jack Conley Sr. OL/DL, (6-7, 315); Jack Stewart Sr. OL/DL (6-5, 275)
Players to watch: Ludlowe: Colin Wilson, Sr., QB (6-1, 160); Kevin Quinn, Sr., TB/CB 5-7, 165); Aidan Wykoff, Sr., WR (6-0, 160); Jake Northrup, Sr., WR/LB (6-4, 210)
Storylines: You would expect New Canaan junior quarterback to be among the best in the state. You may not expect the same about Ludlowe’s Colin Wilson, yet it is Wilson sitting atop the state it yards passing among reported leaders on MaxPreps. Wilson leads the state with 2,264 yards while Pyne is currently sixth in the state at 1,742. His 24 touchdown passes are good for third in the state. The senior Wilson is in his second season at quarterback for Ludlowe and has grown into his role as the team leader according to coach Mitchell Ross.
“He reads defenses really well, he is effective with his feet and his arm and he is a tremendous leader,” Ross said. “He is under duress at times back there but he really understands the system and has come a long way from the start of last season and that is because of how hard he has worked.”
This year, the Falcons are starting eight players who have never played high school football before with around 25 total players on the roster with no experience.
The increase in participation was the first step, the second step was more of a leap as the Falcons turned what was considered a long-term reclamation project into wins in 2018.
Ludlowe is sitting at 6-2 after winning three games the previous three seasons.
The team is currently No. 11 in the Class LL playoff ratings and will be playing its first meaningful game in November in a long time when it hosts the No. 10 team in Class LL, New Canaan, Friday night at 6 p.m. at Taft Field.
Nobody is saying the Falcons are on par with the Rams at this point but the fact there is even a conversation about it, has Ross optimistic about the future.
“It is always exciting to play one of the top teams, like New Canaan. We face extremely long odds in the game, we know that,” Ross said. “The playoffs have been such a remote possibility for this team — forever. To be having a conversation about the playoffs shows we are improving. New Canaan is one of the best in the state. We are just trying to take care what is in front of us and go out there and compete and hopefully showcase our improvement.”
New Canaan may be known perennially as one of the top programs in the state but it was not always that way.
New Canaan coach Lou Marinelli said he recalls the struggles of rebuilding a program like Ross is now, albeit 30 some years ago.
“I went through that myself and it is a very difficult process trying to change the culture of a community,” Marinelli said. “You have to get the kids to buy in and it looks like they are buying in up there. Winning helps that — a lot. Mitch (Ross) has those kids believing that there is no team in the league they can’t compete with.”
Ross said he is seeing a culture change not just among the team but throughout the school and the town.
“The players have bought into the concept that football is not just a 12-week season and you need to prepare all year long to compete in this league,” Ross said. “We are seeing a shift. People want to play, now; fans want to come to the games, school spirit is high and there is a buzz about Ludlowe football that was not here before. It is very rewarding to watch the transformation.”
Confidence can be a coaches’ greatest tool and Marinelli said a team like Ludlowe that has won difficult games this season and has a chance to do something extra special — should it beat New Canaan — is a difficult team to get ready for.
“This is an important game for us, we know they are one of the teams fighting for a playoff spot with us,” Marinelli said. “We are going to have our hands full with them. Anytime you have a team that believes it can win, that is a tough team to prepare for. We also know if we get up on them, they are very capable of coming back as they have done many times this season.”
Ludlowe may not beat New Canaan Friday, but the fact this game is being talked about with state playoff ramifications should be a boost for the Falcons for years to come.
If they can somehow pull the upset, the ripples will be felt throughout the state.