For two weeks, New Canaan football coach Lou Marinelli had fans and friends telling him they were curious to see what kind of team he had this season.
And Marinelli, half kiddingly, had the same response: “I’m curious too.”
Last Friday night, Marinelli and friends got their first glimpse of the “defending” FCIAC and Class L champion. With a starting lineup comprised of some very familiar names, and many more unfamiliar outside of the town, New Canaan went on the road and came away with a 21-14 win over Daniel Hand, a team that was No. 2 in the state writers’ preseason poll.
“You never know what to expect with so many new kids and young kids who haven’t been tested,” Marinelli said. “You have a few stalwarts, guys who have been in the fight, who led us through.”
Those players included linebacker Zach Allen, who finished with seven tackles and one sack; Alex LaPolice, who had eight catches for 62 yards and a pair of touchdowns, rushed for 37 yards AND had seven tackles and a key forced fumble. Jim Keneally anchored the offensive line.
But it was the players who were either in supporting roles a year ago or getting their first serious varsity time that moved the optimism needle deeper into the black.
Quarterback Mike Collins, who played last year when Nick Cascione was injured, completed 23 of 42 passes for 267 yards and three scores.
“He had a very good game,” Marinelli said.
With Frank Cognetta sidelined with a broken foot, his younger brother Matt rushed for 99 yards and recovered LaPolice’s forced fumble to secure the outcome.
Kyle Smith and Michael Kraus finished with 77 and 75 receiving yards, respectively.
But the Rams were most impressive on the defensive end. With just Allen and Sterling O’Hara back, there were huge performances by linebacker Cass Knox, who had 16 tackles, Teddy Dumbauld, David Strupp, Chris Keeffe, Parker Lynch, LaPolice, Mike Cognetta and Kraus.
“The guys up front did a great job, the whole unit did,” Marinelli said. “I was pleasantly surprised to see how well we reacted, especially up there. That’s sacred ground up there.”
It is just one game. The Rams have Bassick this week, then face Greenwich and an improved Fairfield Warde team.
But the early return is what Marinelli had hoped for.
“Because we are inexperienced we made a lot of stupid mistakes,” Marinelli said. “If we can take it and learn from it, I think we can be OK. I like these kids. I’m not sure if they understand yet what they could be if they work at it.”
Farewell, FCIAC-SCC Challenge?
The second FCIAC-SCC Challenge ended — or technically was stopped 1:28 short of completion — with the FCIAC coming away for the second straight year with a 9-8 victory.
The tie was broken Saturday when Trinity Catholic defeated Sheehan, 33-3, in a game that was suspended after a fight broke out following an extra point.
The additional week of play the last two years served up area football fans with a real season-opening treat, like a round of playoffs in September.
While there appear to be too many obstacles to making the series an annual tradition — starting next year there will be a maximum of 10 regular-season games; the FCIAC championship game would count toward that total — SCC commissioner Al Carbone tweeted on Sunday: “Having league #cthsfb challenges in future years is NOT out of the question. If leagues are willing (and creative), it can still work. #SCC”
Here’s hoping for creativity.
Game Of The Week
Darien at Greenwich, Friday, 7 p.m. The Blue Wave take to the road for the second straight week in a game that likely will have a huge impact on the FCIAC playoff race, as well as the Cardinals’ postseason hopes coming off a loss to West Haven. Darien was everyone’s preseason favorite; Greenwich has very little margin for error the rest of the way.
The Fab 5
1. Darien (1-0). Do you put the preseason favorite or the defending league and state champion with the more impressive win in the top spot? A tough call. I voted Darien higher in the first state writers’ poll, and it did nothing to deserve a demotion. The Blue Wave got off to a sluggish first half against Hillhouse, but that will soon long be forgotten. If it hasn’t been already.
2. New Canaan (1-0). A New Canaan team with a lot of question marks opened with an impressive road win. We may soon be looking at exclamation points.
3. St. Joseph (1-0). Mufasha Abdul-Basir’s 207-yard rushing performance in a 17-6 win over Notre Dame-West Haven is an indication the Cadets will have a strong running game again this season.
4. Greenwich (0-1). A 35-22 loss to West Haven puts the Cardinals in an early and potentially large hole, with Darien and New Canaan up next.
5. Staples (0-1). I was very tempted to put either Fairfield Warde or Danbury here after impressive wins, but I don’t know which one to rank higher. The Wreckers’ offense really struggled in the 3-0 loss to Xavier, but the defense was very impressive.
The Weekend Schedule
Darien at Greenwich, 7
Staples at Wilton, 7
Bassick at New Canaan, 7
Danbury at Norwalk, 7
Central at McMahon, 7
Warde at Trumbull, 7
Ridgefield at Ludlowe, 7
Westhill at Trinity Catholic, 1
Fairfield Prep at St. Joseph, 1
Stamford at Harding, 1:30