TRUMBULL — Sitting in the press box at McDougall Stadium at halftime on Friday night, it struck me why I was watching New Canaan’s 44-14 win over Trumbull.
I was afraid of missing that Buster Douglas moment.
Each year, one or two times before Thanksgiving, we see an opponent that has attributes like, say, the Eagles’ strong passing game, and think someone has a puncher’s chance against the Rams.
It never happens.
This is a team that could lose perhaps the best player in the conference early in the game to an injury and have his younger brother step up and score three touchdowns, as Quintin O’Connell did Friday.
In New Canaan, only the names and faces change.
“We’ve been saying the whole year it could be something special,” New Canaan coach Lou Marinelli said after the win that bumped his team to 8-0 and set up an FCIAC championship game on Thanksgiving if Darien can get by Staples next week. “How do you replace a guy like Michael Collins? Well, maybe we have. How do you replace guys like Lucas Niang and some of those guys that we had last year? You never know but these guys have stepped up and done a good job this year.”
Drew Pyne, the freshman quarterback who is making everyone forget the hype that followed his arrival at New Canaan and instead appreciate his steadiness, completed 16 of 21 passes for 261 yards and three scores. He ran for another.
“Drew Pyne had a really good night,” Marinelli said. “He’s getting better. He’s getting more comfortable behind there.”
When Ryan O’Connell left the game early on Friday with a sprained ankle — he departed the field on crutches, though Marinelli said he did not believe the injury was serious — his sibling stepped up and caught four passes for 109 yards and two scores and returned the punt following a safety 65 yards for another touchdown.
This is a team where Grant Morse can shank a punt for just 2 yards and then return a fumble 30 yards for a score on the next play.
“Football’s the ultimate team sport,” said James Freyre, the linebacker who is having an All-State season. “Like Ryan in my opinion is probably the best player in the state, the MVP of the FCIAC, but he went down and we’re a team of 22.”
It now seems like a bygone era instead of two months ago when we knew the names of about three New Canaan starters, saw there were teams like Staples, Ridgefield and Trumbull with a strong returning nucleus and thought this was the year there might be a changing of the guard.
“I’ve been with this group of guys since 4th grade and I always thought we had a chance to be as good as we are and go undefeated,” Freyre said. “Obviously other people didn’t with the losses we had. People thought we were going to take a step back but I’m not shocked because I’ve played with these guys all four years of my high school career.”
Trumbull’s Johnny McElvoy is in the conversation when discussing the league’s best quarterbacks, and the Eagles (5-3), who saw their postseason hopes disappear, have a potent passing attack, but they were unable to solve the New Canaan defense until midway through the third quarter, when the outcome had long been decided.
“We run to the ball,” Freyre said. “That’s a big difference from other teams we’ve watched in past seasons. Every play try to get 11 guys to the ball and wrap up. We come prepared, we wrap up and we have high energy. “We try to get a pass rush. (Trumbull is) a great team and they run great routes when they have time, so we tried to get some pressure on them and the secondary played great today.”
Marinelli, who in late August said he had little idea about his team’s talent ceiling, now has a much better read.
“We still have a ways to go. I like where we are,” Marinelli said.
We keep waiting for Buster Douglas.
But we always end up with Muhammad Ali.