For at least one Marinelli, today’s Class LL championship game was the culmination of a dream season.
John Marinelli’s Greenwich Cardinals capped off a perfect campaign with an exclamation point, defeating his father Lou Marinelli’s New Canaan Rams, 34-0, in front of a packed house at Stamford’s Boyle Stadium. The win gave the Cardinals their first state title since 2007.
“I’m so happy for these guys,” Marinelli said. “They put a stamp on it. The closest game we had all year was against New Canaan by 28 points and we beat them by 34 this time. This is historic. I’ve never been a part of something this special before.”
Greenwich (13-0) completely dominated the Rams (10-3), outgaining them 443 to 131 in total offense while jumping out to a 27-0 first-half lead.
Senior captain Gavin Muir picked apart the New Canaan defense, completing 24 of 33 passes for 252 yards and three touchdowns. Sophomore receiver AJ Barber had a breakout game, catching 10 passes for 157 yards and three touchdowns. He also threw a touchdown on a double pass to Hunter Clark.
“He’s incredible … you should see what he does in practice,” Marinelli said. “AJ is going to be a great player and the best part about him is, he’s a better person. The way he carries himself, the way he conducts himself — he’s wise beyond his years and I’m really proud of him.”
Senior co-captain Tysen Comizio also had a strong showing in his final game as a Cardinal, gaining 149 yards on 22 carries.
Meanwhile the Cardinals’ defense — a defense that allowed just 54 points the entire season — shut down the New Canaan attack.
The front line of Emilio Camou, Ed Iuteri, Joe Kraninger and senior co-captains Mozi Bici and Jack Feda from the linebacker spot held the Rams to just 28 rushing yards and consistently put pressure on New Canaan’s star quarterback, Drew Pyne. Senior defensive backs Ryan Raybuck and Hunter Cusimano took away New Canaan’s deep receiving threats, Quintin O’Connell and Wyatt Wilson.
“Our emphasis on defense was to be as physical as possible,” Bici said. “We just came out and crushed them. We did what we had to do. Defensively we are going to take pride in this until the day we die.”
Pyne finished the game completing 16 of 32 passes for 106 yards. O’Connell caught seven passes for 42 yards and Wilson had five receptions for 46 yards.
“It’s really bittersweet,” Lou Marinelli said. “On one hand I’m proud of the job Johnny did. On the other hand I’m sorry we couldn’t give him a better game, but that’s the way it is. Our senior class did a great job; they faced some adversity and overcame it and got us to the state championship, so I’m really proud of that.”
After trading punts with New Canaan on their first possessions, the Cardinals started clicking on their second drive. Greenwich moved the ball 62 yards on five plays, highlighted by a backwards pass from Muir to Garrett Murphy, who found senior Lance Large wide open for a 33-yard gain, setting up the Cardinals with a first-and-goal at the New Canaan 10.
Two plays later Muir hit Barber for a two-yard touchdown and a 7-0 lead with 2:27 left in the first.
Greenwich added to its lead on the first drive of the second quarter. A pass interference call on third down against the Rams proved costly as two plays later Muir hit Barber in stride for a 60-yard touchdown to make it 13-0 Greenwich with 10:43 to play in the half.
After another New Canaan three-and-out, the Cards quickly struck again. Barber made a spectacular one-handed grab of a Muir screen and threw a strike to Clark in the end zone for a 27-yard touchdown, extending the Greenwich lead to 19-0 with 7:35 to go in the second quarter.
New Canaan’s ensuing drive ended at the Greenwich 26 as Cusimano picked off a Pyne pass, the first of two Cardinal interceptions in the game. Eleven plays later Muir ran it in from the 8. After making the two-point conversion, Greenwich had a 27-0 lead going into the half.
Following a scoreless third quarter, the Cardinals tacked on one final score. A 10-yard Muir-to-Barber hookup capped off a 14-play, 75-yard drive to put the Cardinals up, 34-0, with 5:11 left.
For John Marinelli, the emotions surrounding the win against his father’s team were understandably mixed.
“I learned everything I know from my dad, “ Marinelli said. “He’s the best man I know. It’s emotional because I don’t want him to lose but if he’s going to lose it might as well be to me.”
For the rest of the Cardinals, whose last loss came on this same field, in this same game a year ago, the taste of victory could not be sweeter.
“Last year on this field Darien rushed the field and it was the worst feeling in my life,” Bici said. “And now this is the best feeling in my life. It’s crazy how things work like this.”