TRUMBULL — New Canaan coach Lou Marinelli is self-effacing in victory and defeat to the point that often it is difficult to tell which side he is on after games.
Not today. Following one of the most decisive defeats Marinelli has had to deal with in some time, his tone was measured and there was never a moment of sarcasm.
“I don’t believe what I saw,” Marinelli said. “I’m baffled.”
The source for his mood was still lit on the scoreboard to his right: St. Joseph 28, New Canaan 0.
It wasn’t that close. This was the second year in a row the Cadets won the season-opener between the teams. But this wasn’t a three-point decision where a late rally could offer New Canaan, the preseason No. 1 pick, some semblance of consolation. This is cause for serious introspection.
“Take your hats off to them, they did a hell of a job,” Marinelli said. “For the second year in a row our kids were reading how they were No. 1 in the state and maybe they were a little overconfident. Maybe this was even worse than last year. I’m stunned myself. They did a tremendous job. Joe and those guys they took it right to us.”
Cadets coach Joe Della Vecchia certainly has his team ready. And as we learned, there is a lot more than a good quarterback, running back and stable of wide receivers.
Della Vecchia was asked if before the game he was 28-0 confident.
“No not 28-0 confident, but we felt good about our gameplan and about the way we’ve been playing, and about what we were trying to do and about what they were going to be trying to do,” Della Vecchia said. “Things we thought we could take away.”
Asked what those were, Della Vecchia said: “On defense I think we are pretty fast and our front three are pretty darn good. They had trouble handling those three guys and I thought they had a whale of a day.”
Della Vecchia was referring to Mike Morrissey, Jermaine Williams and Cayden Porter. They were part of a defense that held New Canaan to -1 yard rushing on 23 carries and had quarterback Drew Pyne in a constant state of scramble and often on his back.
“We had a lot of energy today and that’s what we feed on,” Cadets linebacker Jesse Lawson said. “We were disguising our fronts pretty well, flying around. We confused them a lot. We had more speed than them.”
Our obsession with the Cadets’ many offensive weapons caused us to forget they needed to replace just four defensive starters from last year’s state championship team.
“We had a lot of players coming back and we have a lot of young players stepping up,” Lawson said.”
Most of the first half was hardly the No. 1 vs. No. 3 showdown we were all looking forward to. The Cadets missed a field goal on their first drive but quickly got the ball back when Lawson recover a Pyne fumble.
But St. Joseph quarterback David Summers threw three interceptions and it seemed early control of field position was going to be wasted.
“You just have to bounce back,” Summers said. “It happens to everyone. If you let it get to your mind you’re not going to play well so shake it off, there’s nothing to worry about. Just go back and keep firing.”
Cole DaSilva intercepted Pyne to set up Jaden Shirden’s 2-yard touchdown run early in the second quarter and then Summers hooked up with Will Diamantis for a 40-yard score.
The Rams’ best chance came on their first possession of the second half, when Pyne’s 39-yard pass to Quintin O’Connell helped get them to the Cadets’ 13.
But on a day when just snapping the ball was a challenge — there were at last a half dozen errants ones — Pyne hit the ground to make a recovery on third down and threw an incompletion on the next play.
Summers then led a 12-play, 80-yard drive, with a 35-yard third-down pass to Jesse Bike leading to a 5-yard touchdown run by Shirden.
Summers closed out the scoring with a short run in the final quarter.
“We had a great week of practice,” Summers said. “We thought our scheme was going to outdo their scheme. Our defense stepped up huge. Our defense played out of their minds today and the offense stepped up. We played great today.”
The offensive numbers were not pretty. Shirden rushed for 108 yards (on 31 carries). Summers was just 11 of 30 but averaged 17 yards per completion. Phil Pasmeg, whose status was uncertain because of a knee injury, had four catches for 70 yards.
For New Canaan, Pyne was 18 of 29 but seldom had a comfort level. Quintin O’Connell finished with eight catches for 106 yards.
This was the Rams’ worst loss since a 42-7 rout against Bridgeport Central nine years ago.
New Canaan may now need to run the table to make the state playoffs since they are in Class LL, but after today they need to first think about short-term improvement. Having four Division I commits is motivating the Rams’ opponents.
“I thought last year I was stunned. It’s more stunning this year,” Marinelli said. “When you have all year to get ready and play like that there is something definitely wrong.”
The Cadets’ outlook is decidedly sunnier. You don’t overreact after one game, but they looked like they have the goods to be more than just the best in Class M.
“You don’t expect something like this,” Della Vecchia said. “They are such a great team, a great program. I told them before the game that everyone says they have four Division I guys and all that stuff, but they’re the same guys we played against last year. We beat them last year, we can do it again. We just have to play 60 guys together against them.”
Right now the Cadets are just living in the present, which right now is a pretty good place to be.
“It feels great,” Summers said. “Onto the next one.”