By Dave Ruden
The times that a Greenwich High School football team has been labeled an underdog have been infrequent during coach Rich Albonizio’s tenure.
About as rare as 21-point losses.
That is the position the Cardinals find themselves in on the eve of Saturday’s game with New Canaan, considered by most the team to beat in the FCIAC.
Greenwich’s 42-21 loss to Darien last Saturday served up a host of questions, starting with: Is Darien that good or Greenwich that bad?
“We were that bad,” Albonizio said. “That was pretty obvious in how we played. We have to play better on both sides of the ball. We had a bad week of practice and it showed.”
Most troubling was the way the Cardinals were beaten at the line of scrimmage, as quarterback Jose Melo was under constant pressure, and his pass on the game’s first play was intercepted and returned for a touchdown.
An offense that figured to be potent had a difficult time getting untracked.
“When you get a lot of little bad things they add up to big things,” Albonizio said. “The way things started, with the interception, and then things just got worse.”
The Cardinals suffered a blow when running back/linebacker Kendrick Pozo, who played well in the first two games, sustained a fractured ankle. Albonizio said he was expected to miss about six games.
On the bright side, Greenwich will get back Jack Harrington, a top defensive end and co-captain, who injured his shoulder last spring during lacrosse season.
“Losing Kendrick was a big blow to us,” Albonizio said. “He was a pleasant surprise for us. His leadership has been fantastic. He’s tough to replace. Getting Jack is going to help us a lot. He’s a good player.”
Greenwich’s lines will face a stiffer test against New Canaan, which maintains an explosive offense that has been boosted by one of the state’s top defenses.
Albonizio recognizes the difficulty of the task.
“When people throw the ball and run the ball like both Darien and New Canaan do, it’s a little bit more difficult to defend,” Albonizio said. “You have to be able to compete on offense with a team that has a good offense, and we don’t want our defense on the field too long.”
The teams’ first meeting in four years is something of a reunion. Albonizio and the Rams’ coach, Lou Marinelli, are longtime friends, going back to their early days in Westchester. The two were inducted together into the FCIAC Hall of Fame last spring.
Greenwich rallied in its opening game and came away with a 22-21 win over West Haven. The upcoming schedule shapes up well for the Cardinals; they will be favored in their following seven games prior to a Thanksgiving game with Staples.
Given the events of last week, Albonizio is striving for more modest goals that could lead to achieving a greater one.
“We are looking for them to play with passion,” Albonizio said. “Hustling on every single play and competing on every down.”