Oct. 26—The 2021 Connecticut high school football season has been one of the most bonkers in recent years with numerous Top 10 matchups, shocking results and top teams consistently knocking each other off.
It's perhaps fitting, then, that the one local team that presently has the best chance to qualify for the CIAC playoffs is one that's never been there before — the Thames River cooperative program.
The Crusaders are second in the Class L playoff rankings and just one of three unbeaten teams left in the division. They, Connecticut Technical Conference rival Quinebaug Valley and defending champion St. Joseph are all 6-0.
The top eight teams in each of the four playoff divisions qualify.
Thames River is a three-team co-op formed in 2015. St. Bernard and Norwich Tech, which had previously been a co-op, added Grasso Tech.
The Crusaders have four games left and only two opponents have winning records. They play at Cheney Tech (5-1) on Friday and at Quinebaug Valley Nov. 24.
Thames River is in good shape because every team outside of the top eight has two losses other than No. 13 Woodstock Academy (5-1), and all the contenders below it have challenging games left.
— No. 7 Naugatuck (4-1) hosts Holy Cross (5-1) on Friday and visits Ansonia (6-0) on Thanksgiving.
— No. 9 Masuk (4-2) host New Fairfield (6-0) on Friday and visits Newtown (4-2) on Nov. 24.
— No. 10 Wilton hosts Ridgefield (4-2), ranked fifth in The Day's state coaches' poll, on Saturday. It also hosts eighth-ranked Norwalk (5-1) on Nov. 12.
Get the picture?
Fitch (3-2) is 14th in the division and New London (3-2) is No. 23. Neither could likely absorb a third loss because the odds are against such a thing — since 2015 when the CIAC capped the maximum number of regular season games at 10, just 13 of the 160 teams that qualified for states were 7-3 (8.1 percent). Law became the first 6-4 team to qualify in 2017 (Class M).
Fitch has five games remaining — Stratford (3-3) on Friday, at NFA (3-3, Nov. 5), vs. East Lyme (2-4, Nov. 12), the Capital Prep/Achievement First co-op (3-2, Nov. 19) and at Ledyard (5-1) on Thanksgiving.
The Whalers play at Bacon Academy (0-5) on Saturday, at East Lyme (Nov. 5), vs. Windham (1-4, Nov. 12), at Wilbur Cross (2-3, Nov. 19) and home vs. NFA on Thanksgiving.
CLASS S: Ledyard (5-1) is ninth. The Colonels visit Windham on Friday, host Montville (0-5, Nov. 5), at Woodstock Academy (5-1, Nov. 13) and versus Fitch.
Stonington (4-2) is 14th. It plays at Waterford (1-5) on Friday, at Windham (Nov. 5), vs. Plainfield (3-2, Nov. 12) and at Westerly (5-2) on Thanksgiving.
The Bears and Colonels may need to win out because just nine 8-2 teams (28.1 percent) have qualified in this division since 2015 and none with three losses.
CLASS M: Killingly is the only unbeaten team left. Its plays Griswold/Wheeler (1-4) on Friday and closes out with three home games against Plainfield (Nov. 5), NFA (Nov. 12) and Woodstock Academy (5-1) on Thanksgiving.
CLASS LL: Norwich Free Academy (3-3) is 16th out of 32 teams and a longshot to qualify. It plays at Cheshire (3-3) on Friday, vs. Fitch (Nov. 5), at Killingly and at New London.