GREENWICH — The kids are alright.
That was the message sent out of Cardinal Stadium this afternoon. Trailing Danbury, 3-0, early in the second quarter, the Greenwich football team’s offense quickly caught up to the defense. The end result was a 49-3 win against an opponent that will find success when not facing the power opponents in the conference.
“Hopefully that proves to everybody that we’re back and nothing is slowing us down right now,” said defensive lineman Eddy Iuteri, who spent most of the day in the Hatters’ backfield.
Up until 4 p.m. this afternoon it was difficult to assess the Cardinals. They finished 13-0 last season, rolling quite literally over every opponent en route to the Class LL championship and No. 1 ranking in the state.
It was a busy offseason. Quarterback Gavin Muir and defensive end Mozi Bici, who each won a state Player of the Year award, graduated, along with a number of other starters. Then coach John Marinelli departed to become an assistant coach at the University of Arizona.
We didn’t know the names of many of the players that would be moving into key spots, but we did know that the program had well over 150 players. Odds were a few of them would be difference-makers.
While the Cardinals acknowledged they weren’t being disrespected, they also noted they weren’t exactly being respected either.
“I think it definitely fueled us,” Iuteri said. “We love to be the underdog and show them what we can do.”
That show took a while, but when the curtains finally opened it came with a fury.
Danbury took a 3-0 lead on Diogo Rosa’s 40-yard field goal two minutes into the second quarter. The Cardinals, who had moved the ball but missed a long field goal and turned the ball over on a long interception, answered with Spencer Hartley’s 88-yard touchdown return on the ensuing kickoff.
They scored on three straight possessions to wrest a 28-3 halftime lead. AJ Barber, the breakout star in the state final, first scored on a leaping 7-yard touchdown catch in the right corner of the end zone and then didn’t break pace hauling in quarterback James Rinello’s 51-yard pass for a score with three seconds left in the half.
“It was a beautiful pass by Mr. Rinello over there,” said Barber, stretching the word beautiful out for about three seconds. “It was sort of like a modified Hail, Mary. He saw the defense was going to be covering the whole field and that’s when he hit me.”
A couple of players with familiar names got into the end zone in the second half as Kobe Comizio and Mason Muir had touchdown catches. Hunter Clark also scored.
It was a banner opening day for Anthony Morello, the Cardinals’ new coach, who was under the microscope as much as his players.
“We started a little slow and it was to be expected,” Morello said. “I knew there was going to be some growing pains. To be honest I was a little surprised with how the final score ended because we made a lot of mistakes on offense. And defense and special teams. It was a sloppy game. It was a traditional week one game. Ultimately the kids found a way to be successful and we started getting into a groove offensively.”
Rinello passed his first test as quarterback, throwing for three scores and running for another, while the ground game was as good as expected. And the defense was as stifling as a year ago.
“I was impressed with everybody’s overall effort,” Iuteri said. “Everyone came hard and everyone knew what they were doing. I was really proud about that.”
Danbury was the team that probably roused the most preseason curiosity. The feeling was the Hatters would be improved, but how much? They are not yet ready to compete for a playoff spot, but, despite the score, they are trending in the right direction.
“I think if there was any doubt that they would be the defending champions and play the way they did last year … I think they will be every bit as good as last year,” Danbury coach Augie Tieri said of Greenwich. “I think you saw that today. I was a little disappointed with the effort and the lack of focus once things started to unravel for us. I didn’t think that was going to be a characteristic of our team and unfortunately that was something that revealed itself today. But I think that’s a short-term thing.”
The Cardinals don’t look like there is anything short-term about them as they prepare to chase a second straight title. And Morello got his first win secured.
Asked if he had pregame jitters, Morello smiled.
“Big-time. It’s a totally different feeling walking on the field today,” Morello said. “It’s a great feeling but it’s a lot of responsibility. I just have to do my job like everybody else. Football doesn’t come down to one person. Today was about the players. They played Greenwich football.”