Warde vs. Ludlowe in football on Thanksgiving
With some high school football arch rivalries, whether they be border battles between neighboring towns or cross-town matchups, the result of the "Big Game" can cast the outcome of the season one way or the other -- if it's been a success or a failure.
Whether that applies this Thanksgiving at 10 a.m. at Ludlowe's Taft Field between visiting Fairfield Warde (3-7) and host Fairfield Ludlowe (6-4) is decided by each fan's perspective. All will agree that it's the game to win above all others.
To borrow some college analogies ... this ain't Army-Navy or Michigan-Ohio State, yet it's closer to USC-UCLA.
Warde coach Duncan DellaVolpe, in his sixth Warde-Ludlowe affair, does not subscribe to the notion that the entire season hangs in the balance on this game. But he doesn't completely dismiss that notion, either, and before arriving at Warde he was part of Ansonia-Naugatuck and Darien-New Canaan grudge matches. "I'd rather see both teams playing (in the Warde-Ludlowe game) to get into the state playoffs," DellaVolpe said. "I'm glad to face our rivals on Thanksgiving regardless of the records."
A lot is at stake in year No. 9 of the rivalry since Fairfield High School split into Warde and Ludlowe in 2005. The teams have split the first eight games. The loser will have to wait two years at a chance to go on top in the series that now stands at 4-4-0.
For the Falcons, a win would mean the most victories in a season in school history, and it would be their 11th win in their last 15 games. Talk about a huge first step in trying to turn their program around -- thank you very much first-year coach Vince Camera, who inherited a four-game winning streak from the end of 2012.
For the Mustangs, a win would give them two straight wins to end a season that had begun with seven losses in their first nine games. The sting of the seven losses would not disappear when the season is revisited in the future, but recalling the year would focus on the sweet win at the season's end.
And recognize, too, one year Warde and Ludlowe will play a tie. That most likely would leave both teams and their coaches on the field a little dazed and grumpy, dissatisfied by not escaping with victory, but thankful they're not walking off the field with a depression about to descend from a painful loss. When that happens, school adminstrators will have to decide who has temporary possession of the shared Gallagher-Banyas Memorial Award that goes to the victor.
Ludlowe won the initial showdown 20-14 on Nov. 14, 2005, and the Falcons own bragging rights from their 31-13 victory on Nov. 22, 2012 on the east side of town. In between, the Mustangs won four of the six games. The closest game, on the scoreboard, was Ludlowe's 10-8 win in 2008; the most lopsided was the Mustangs' 52-13 victory in 2011. The average margin of victory stands at 14.625 points.
That's the abbreviated history. For 2013, Warde's focus will be on stopping Ludlowe quarterack Matt White, an All-FCIAC player a year ago whose senior year has been every bit impressive and more. If he runs free and has time to find open receivers, the Mustangs could be up against it. If they succeed in limiting his effectiveness, the collective anxiety will land on the team in blue and white.
"The priority for this game is keying on Matt White," DellaVolpe said. "If we contain him, we'll be in the game. If we let him run wild, it will be difficult for us to win." Camera says his team has rushed for close to 2,000 yards with White responsible for half of that. Their passing yardage has approached 1,200 yards, and White has been a part of 80 percent of that, he said.
There are other keys to winning the game in DellaVolpe's view as well. "For us, time of possession is a big factor, and scoring in the red zone," he said. "We've been in the red zone too many times and not scored points."
The Mustangs' red-zone defense has not been as much of a concern. It's the prevalance of allowing too many long gainers into the red zone that have hampered their defense. "The big plays have put as a disadvantage," DellaVolpe said. Ludlowe has big stike capability.
A plus on the Warde side is the Mustangs' health, and injuries to significant contributors and to those reserves whose presence would have added to their depth had been a seasonlong theme. "We're going to be healthy for the first time all year as a unit," DellaVolpe said.
Ludlowe has been healthier overall. But the return to the lineup of senior running Warren Davis could be a lift. Before he injured his ankle in the first quarter of the Falcons' 10-9 loss at Westhill on Oct. 26, he had more rushes than White. If Davis is at 100 percent, that won't help Warde's chances; if he barely plays, that won't aid Ludlowe.
"We want to run and control the tempo," Camera said. "We want to be in control of the clock. We want to keep them guessing a bit." Converting on third down is one the Falcons' goals. "Turnovers, that's a magic stat with a direct correlation between wins and losses."
Both coaches do not discount the significance of winning the line of scrimmage battles by the linemen. Both say they want the turnover-takeaway swing to be in their favor. And they hope for the big plays to be turned in by them and not their rival.
As far as the rivalry, one has experience in blue/white vs. black/red, the other coach is new to the Fairfield turf war. "I speak to a lot of people around town from the Andrew Warde/Roger Ludlowe days. I know how important this game is to them," DellaVolpe said. "I know these kids grew up with each other," Camera said. "I don't know that (this rivalry) is at the highest levels in the state. I coach for the present -- one game at a time, one year at a time."