NEW CANAAN — The last time New Canaan played Wethersfield in the CIAC Class L playoffs, it was 2014 and the Rams escaped Dunning Field with a hard-fought 27-14 semifinal win on its way to the state championship.
Tonight’s Class L quarterfinal at Dunning would prove to be a much easier contest for New Canaan.
Playing behind a dominant offensive line and buoyed by a stellar defense that allowed just 215 total yards and forced three turnovers, including a pick-six, the Rams scored four times in the second quarter en route to a 42-7 win over the Eagles.
Senior quarterback Drew Pyne was flawless for the Rams, completing 16 of 19 passes for 300 yards and three touchdowns, while adding a score on the ground.
The New Canaan receiving tandem of seniors Zach LaPolice and Luke Morton combined for 10 catches and 250 yards, with three touchdowns. The Rams piled up 425 total yards of offense in the win, their seventh in a row.
“From where we came from to where we are, I’m really proud of them,” New Canaan coach Lou Marinelli said. “I think we are a different team now and it’s certainly where we want to be. We have the opportunity now.”
“Anytime you win a state game it’s awesome,” Morton said. “Some of us have been playing here at Dunning since third grade and now that it’s over it’s crazy to think about. It’s meant so much to me — it’s just been the best ride.”
New Canaan appeared to have its hands full against Wethersfield early on. After forcing the Rams to punt on their first offensive possession the Eagles marched right down the field, driving 68 yards in 10 plays to the New Canaan one-yard line.
The Rams, however, set the tone of the game right there.
New Canaan senior co-captain Drew Guida stopped Wethersfield quarterback Matt Silver in his tracks on a fourth-down keeper, ending whatever momentum the Eagles had built.
The game remained scoreless until the second quarter, when Pyne capped off a 10-play, 80-yard drive with a one-yard plunge giving New Canaan a 7-0 lead with 9:11 left in the half.
The Rams defense came up big again on the ensuing Wethersfield possession. Senior defensive back Walker Swindell intercepted a Silver pass and returned it untouched into the end zone for a 14-0 advantage with 8:04 left in the second.
After the defense forced a Wethersfield three-and-out, Pyne connected with Morton on a 71-yard catch-and-run for another score and a 21-0 lead.
Yet another three-and-out gave the Rams possession at their own 42. New Canaan needed just one play to hit pay dirt again, this time with Pyne’s shovel pass to LaPolice, who took the ball around the left end for a 58-yard touchdown to extend the Rams’ lead to 28-0 with 3:28 left in the half.
Wethersfield, the No. 5 seed, responded with an impressive drive, moving 60-yards in seven plays. Silver hit junior receiver Rory Stickley on a perfect back-shoulder pass to cut the New Canaan lead to 28-7 just 40 seconds before the half.
It was as close as the Eagles would get.
New Canaan tacked on a touchdown in the third quarter — a 24-yard Pyne-to-Morton connection — and one more in the fourth on a 3-yard run by junior Haydon Shin to cap off the scoring.
With the win the fourth-seeded Rams advance to the Class L semifinal where they will play Monday at No.-1 St. Joseph, a 49-7 winner in its quarterfinal matchup against Wilton. The Cadets were the last team to defeat New Canaan in a shocking 58-14 game back in early October.
“We’re definitely a different team from the last time we played them,” Pyne said. “They’re a different team too, one of the best teams I’ve ever played against. We have our hands full but I know Coach Marinelli is going to do his best to get us ready.”
Marinelli, who has now led the Rams to the CIAC semifinals for the 15th consecutive year, knows that his best will be needed to compete with the defending Class M champion Cadets, currently ranked No. 1 in the state.
“It’s a tall order,” Marinelli said. “They beat us pretty badly before, but we’ll have to wait and see. We’ll go back, look at some film and we’ll see where we are. I’m really excited about the fact that it’s December and we’re still playing. That’s what it’s all about.”