FAIRFIELD — Bring on Darien.
That was not the talk from the New Canaan football players following tonight’s 41-7 win over Fairfield Ludlowe that positioned them for a chance at a return to the state playoffs. But that has been in the back of their minds for weeks and now the focus can begin.
“Obviously this is one of the biggest games of the season and we all look forward to it,” said Rams quarterback Drew Pyne. “We’ve got our backs against the wall and we’re ready to play. It’s do or die for us. We’re ready for them.”
New Canaan (7-2) has so far followed the same route as a year ago, rebounding from losses to St. Joseph and Greenwich with four straight wins to make the Turkey Bowl more than just a rivalry game.
“We have everything in front of us. We control our own destiny,” New Canaan coach Lou Marinelli said.
New Canaan took care of business against the Falcons after a few early bumps. In a driving windy rain, Quintin O’Connell did the heavy lifting for the Rams, rushing for 163 yards, catching five passes for 76 more and scoring three times.
After Ludlowe (6-3) got within 13-7 late in the second quarter, O’Connell on the next play burst through a huge hole up the middle for a 70-yard touchdown run.
Pyne hit Zach LaPolice for a 17-yard score to give the Rams a comfortable halftime lead. Christian Sweeney finished with two touchdown runs.
“Our kids settled down and it’s nice having a kid like Q, who can catch the ball and run the ball and does some other things,” Marinelli said. “I think our kids, under adverse conditions, settled down and took care of business.”
Pyne overcame the conditions to go 10 of 19 for 171 yards and a couple of scores.
“It’s part of football, the rain,” Pyne said. “It was kind of fun to play a game in it.”
While Ludlowe is not yet ready to play with the state’s top teams, it has come a long way under second-year coach Mitch Ross. The Falcons’ offense gave the New Canaan defense a test, and they had some initial success moving the ball.
“Mitch and his staff and those kids, no longer is it a joke to play Fairfield Ludlowe,” Marinelli said. “You look at the score tomorrow morning and you say New Canaan blew them out, but we were on the edge of our seats the entire time.”
Since a 28-0 point loss to Greenwich that left them reeling at 3-2, the Rams have won four straight by a combined margin of 166-21. Granted, it has come against outmanned competition, but the task was taking care of the mistakes that took away all of the margin for error.
“After Greenwich — and they’re an unbelievable team — we had to regroup,” Pyne said. “I think we really focused week by week and practice by practice on getting better. I think we took every game with good intensity and hopefully it will all come together in the last one.”
Though it might be difficult to determine from the scores, Marinelli said he has noticed a change in his players since midseason.
“I told them in the pregame we’re not the same team that played against St. Joe’s and we’re not the same team that played against Greenwich,” Marinelli said. “We’ve come a long way since then and I think we’ve matured. We’re starting to jell so we’ll see what happens.”
Now Darien goes from the back to the front of the Rams’ minds.
“It will be a dog fight and we’re ready,” Pyne said. “It’s a great game no matter what the record. All the variables go away. Just two really good teams going against each other.”
The Rams get a chance to rest up for a bit and then begin the preparation for their biggest game of the season, one for the second straight year that will be for more than just bragging rights.
“I’m glad it’s over,” Marinelli said of the past month. “We get a little bit of a reprieve and then we can start to get ready for Darien.”