Crusader Tradition Carries Trinity To 40-12 Class S Quarterfinal Win Over Morgan

Trinity Catholic's Jonmichael Bivona celebrates after scoring a touchdown in the first quarter. (Photo: Mark Conrad)

Trinity Catholic’s Jonmichael Bivona celebrates after scoring a touchdown in the first quarter. (Photo: Mark Conrad)

STAMFORD — During a brief interview following Tuesday’s 40-12 Class S quarterfinal win over Morgan, Trinity Catholic tight end/linebacker Johnny Somers used the word “Crusader” five times.

“That’s Crusader football,” Somers said of the traditional habits that are at the very fabric of the program. “Crusader defense is definitely underrated,” he would later add as the starters pitched a shutout before the fifth-seeded Huskies scored a pair of late touchdowns.

A year that began with high hopes continues for the No. 4 Crusaders (9-1), whose ninth straight win earned them a semifinal trip to Ansonia for their most difficult test of the year.

“We were more than pumped up for this game,” Somers said as a mist descended on Boyle Stadium, the Crusaders’ home field du jour with their own being rebuilt. “We couldn’t wait to get out here in front of our home crowd.”

Any mystery was removed from the game early, as Jonmichael Bivona took a handoff 42 yards on Trinity’s first offensive play, setting up his 10-yard touchdown run.

Trinity Catholic quarterback Anthony Lombardi escapes the grasp of Morgan's John Lee. (Photo: Mark Conrad)

Trinity Catholic quarterback Anthony Lombardi escapes the grasp of Morgan’s John Lee. (Photo: Mark Conrad)

On the Crusaders’ next possession, quarterback Anthony Lombardi, who ran for one score, threw the first of his three touchdown passes, a 75-yarder to Somers, who did much of the heavy lifting with a terrific run after the catch.

“We didn’t put any new schemes in, we didn’t add anything to the offensive playbook,” Somers said. “We stuck to what we do. We treated it like any other game. We have a business-like approach to every game.”

Trinity coach Donny Panapada said except for a few minor modifications, his game plans have been virtually the same for every opponent.

“You have to prepare for what you are going to see, but the gimmicks and all of that other stuff,” Panapada said. “Doing something different, it’s not in our DNA and we don’t like doing that stuff.”

Heck, the Crusaders are using some of the same schemes from when Panapada was a player and then an assistant coach. The team changes with the times, but everything remains flavored green and gold.

Trinity Catholic's Timothy Val and Brian Bellamy bring down Morgan's Gabe Eriksen. (Photo: Mark Conrad)

Trinity Catholic’s Timothy Val and Brian Bellamy bring down Morgan’s Gabe Eriksen. (Photo: Mark Conrad)

“Offensively we tweak a little bit,” Panapada said. “We do what we do. We have some very good players and I’m blessed to have them, and we have a very good coaching staff. It’s a good group.”

It was a night that, despite the big plays, was the defense’s turn to shine. Everyone knows about Lombardi, Bivona and wide receiver Izaiah Sanders, but how many people can name two of the Crusaders’ defensive starters?

Somers was named to the All-FCIAC team, and most would guess at tight end. Why, even Somers figured that when he was informed of the honor, then learning it was at linebacker.

“Our defense is what wins us games,” said Somers. “We have playmakers in the secondary, our defensive line is monstrous and our linebackers go under the radar.”

Nick Granata made sure that the defense was represented on the scoreboard with a 66-yard interception return for a touchdown.

Trinity football is a series of rituals that are put together like building blocks. By its very size — the only Class S school — it is unlike any other program in the FCIAC. Panapada’s staff is comprised mostly of former players. He brought back his former coach, Rich Albonizio, who resigned under pressure from Greenwich last year.

“There’s not too many teams that do it this way any more,” Somers said as he walked off the field. “We’re old school. We take pride in playing like a Crusader.”

His point didn’t need any reinforcement, but Somers provided an addendum for good measure.

“It’s a good night to be a Crusader for sure.”