Prep Deserved Better
Praise goes to the Fairfield Prep football team that couldn't quite accomplish all that it set out to do last Thursday in the three-times postponed CIAC Class LL football finals. The Jesuits lost to Southington by 52-34 at West Haven High School.
It was a great run -- after a 4-2 start -- that became unglued in the second half when the Central Connecticut Conference team rallied from a 28-14 deficit to outscore Prep by 38-6 in the final two quarters. Prep finished 11-3 and had won seven in a row, against stern competition, before the championship game.
The Jesuits had all the momentum they needed, or so it appeared.
Prep and the Blue Knights should have been declared co-champions. The game should not have been played. This is a minority opinion. No one from the Jesuits' camp contacted this office offering a compelling argument for this position.
Not only is this a minority opinion, it might be radical.
Here's the hypothesis. Would a title-deciding boxing match get postponed within a brief time frame? An injury late in training would force a postponement to weeks, or months, in the future. Would a high-profile marathon get pushed back by a day or two or even five days? When an elite athlete -- well these were two of the eight elite football teams, along with the other six finalists in classes L, M and S -- is ready to perform in a high-stakes competition, and he or she has had its preparations to compete narrowed to one specific day, the contest should go off.
The CIAC cannot be flat out criticized. Those administrators used prudent judgment, based on public-safety concerns, to move the Prep-Southington tilt to a time and date and location that would allow all who wanted to attend to arrive at the football game safely and comfortably. Word was if the game didn't go off on Thursday or Friday of last week, the CIAC would have declared both the Jesuits and Blue Knights as co-champions. Huhm!
These teams earned the right to play -- and to win it all or to sustain a painful loss -- and to have it decided by four quarters of football.
They should have been declared co-champs with the game not being played because there was too much of an interruption to the routines and preparations to ensure that each team would be at its best. Prep did not suffer any grossly more unfair disadvantage by scrambling to come up with practice and training after the game was moved from Dec. 14 at 6:05 p.m., then to 1:05 p.m., then to Dec. 15, then to Dec. 17 and finally to Dec 19. Neither did Southington face a more unfair disadvantage. It affected both teams equally, or at least it should have.
If we are asking teams to become champions, there are certain expectations. But they simply are different for a Pop Warner football team, a middle school basketball team, a high school baseball team, a college lacrosse team, a pro hockey team and a World Cup soccer team. The sports are different and the levels of competition are different.
What's universal? A team in a championship game -- Little League to the Olympics to the Super Bowl -- must overcome adversity, show resiliency, fire on all cylinders when it's crunch time as the outcome is about to be determined. That doesn't change whether the game goes on as scheduled or is postponed, is played in a vacuum or before a worldwide TV audience of a billion-plus.
What's unique about football? The easiest game to lose in team sports is in football. Why? One breakdown on one play by one player could cause disaster -- a touchdown by the foe. Most plays in football are designed to take it to the house, so one slip up -- blown assignment, missed read, a stumble -- can result in a touchdown by the opposition. Conversely, the hardest game to win in team sports is in football. Same reasoning. If one player misses a block, runs the wrong route, misreads the blocking and pursuit, throws to the wrong receiver, the result can be a fumble, interception, sack and a complete shattering of momentum for the drive. There are 22 starters in football (OK, in high school most teams have at least a few two-way starters.) So every one must be on the same page. Everyone must be on the same page ... at the same time.
There's nothing delicate about football, a collision sport that require the most toughness to play along with rugby and Irish hurling. But an American football team to be at its best requires a delicate balance. Postponement after postponement can shatter this balance among offensive units, defensive and the four special teams.
In basketball, having the best player on the court -- compared with his or her four teammates and the opponents' five players -- is a tremendous leg up. Hockey, how about having a standout goalie? Same with lacrosse and soccer to a lesser degree with more players on the field.
In the LL final, in which the Citizen was represented by reporter Doug Bonjour, Southington made adjustments on offense at halftime and Prep could not counter-react adequately. There was a reason the Blue Knights outscored the Jesuits in the second half by 32 points to erase a 28-14 halftime deficit.
This might or might not have been the case if the game went off as originally scheduled. Still might have happened if it was knocked back a day to Sunday, Dec. 15. But when it got moved to Tuesday, then to Thursday, it opened up the possibility that either team could have been distracted dramatically by the changing routine and plans.
These players are predominantly 15, 16 and 17 years old, with a few 14 year olds and 18 year olds. Some of these players will continue their careers in college. Some already have the bodies of NFL players. But these were not pros. Don't ask too much of them collectively.
Asking them to answer the bell on Dec. 14, then Dec. 15 after a false alarm, then be ready to play on a school night two days later, then ultimately to be ready once and for all on a school night two more days further off in time, that all was too much from this perspective. That was unfair to Fairfield Prep. And that was equally unfair to Southington.
No one knows what would have happened if it was played on the original date -- or pushed back by five hours -- or with just one day to harness the energy then get psyched up to play again. How many pre-game meals became scrambles? How many out-of-town travel plans were rearranged? Maybe the action on the field would have unfolded as it did. We'll never know.
Here's to suggesting that too much conspired to be overcome to have made this the best way to end the season.