STAMFORD — All of the early-morning wakeup calls, all of the extra work in the weight room and at camps, the sacrificing of sleep during summer vacation, it all was directed for the celebration that took place at Trinity Catholic’s Alumni Field late Saturday afternoon.
“This was our goal all summer, why we were waking up at 6 a.m.,” said Justin Pryzpek, moments after scoring the final two touchdowns in the Crusaders’ rousing 33-3 season-opening win over Sheehan.
It ended a 12-game losing streak, dating back to Thanksgiving of 2012 — a win over Wilton that earned Trinity a berth in the state playoffs.
It was the first head coaching victory for Donny Panapada after last year’s 0-11 finish. Heck, it even clinched the FCIAC a narrow 9-8 win in the opening week challenge with the SCC, a series that was a true boon for area football fans.
“I’m happy,” said Panapada. “They played their hearts out. It was a tough game. Sheehan’s a tough team. We knew it was going to be a battle. We talked about it. We wanted to start fast and stay on them constantly the whole game. We did a lot of good things, we did some bad things, but I’m happy with our performance.”
The game was called with 1:28 remaining following a brawl after an extra point that fortunately was quickly contained. It was a bad day all around for Sheehan, which had two players and a fan ejected.
“It was a little bit of a chippy environment but to come out and perform, I’m happy with that,” Panapada said.
The storyline coming into the game was the debut of Anthony Lombardi, the highly touted transfer quarterback from Mahopac, N.Y., and he didn’t disappoint.
Lombardi completed 14 of 22 passes for 256 yards and three scores, two to Thomas Costigan.
Lombardi threw a beautiful 72-yard pass to Sam Ruzzi, hitting him in stride, and another rainbow that went for 38 yards to Randy Polonia, who caught eight passes for 118 yards and sent a reminder that he will be one of the FCIAC’s premier playmakers this fall.
Lombardi threw a pair of interceptions, but overall he is going to indeed give the Crusaders a dynamic they have often lacked.
“He looked good,” Panapada said. “He looked more comfortable. He still has some learning to do.”
Trinity flourished without its best running back, Courtlyn Victrum, who should return next week from a foot injury.
The Crusaders did leave points on the field in the first half, failing to take advantage of turnovers and good field position, but that turned out to be just another blip.
“We obviously have to clean some things up, but if our defense plays like that I’ll be very happy,” Panapada said.
Nary a word was mentioned about the Crusaders’ defense during the preseason, and it was the big story of the day. Sheehan quarterback Nolan Cloutier led his team on a methodical 12-play drive to open the game, but it only resulted in a 38-yard field goal by Tristen Bianco.
The Crusaders bent some the rest of the day but never broke, coming up with big stops whenever needed. And that was with three starters sidelined with injuries.
“Our defense gives 100 percent every day,” Pryzpek said. “It is a family.”
It remains to be seen where the Crusaders’ season is headed — a game with Westhill next week will provide some additional insight — but they needed a strong opener, both after all the early optimism and to wash away the residue of last year.
“It feels great,” Panapada said of his first win. “I knew it would come. I feel more for my seniors because they had to go through what I went through last year. It was a nice day to get it.”