STAMFORD — Saturday’s game against Westhill was hyped as the last on the Trinity Catholic football team’s musty grass field. Not long after an easy 56-28 win, it became more apparent that the traditional aspect was much more for the benefit of the alumni than the current players.
Because truth be told, there was little in the way of nostalgia for the Crusaders. They can care less right now if the grass remains, a state of the art facility is erected or if home games are moved to a parking lot.
“Beating Westhill makes us one step closer to our first goal, which is a city championship,” said quarterback Anthony Lombardi, who returned from a shoulder injury and saw half of his six completed passes result in scores.
If the timing of the final game coincided with the Crusaders’ 5-1 start and brought out some extra graduates of the program, all the better because they have a team to be proud of.
After the Vikings (1-5) went three-and-out on their first possession, Trinity’s Nick Melia blocked a punt and returned it 23 yards for a score less than two minutes in. Trinity coach Donny Panapada said one of his assistants, Carl Cairo, noticed an opportunity while scouting Westhill, and the only deviation from the original plan is that the block came off the edge rather than up the middle.
Westhill trailed, 14-9, early in the second quarter after a nice play by quarterback Carl Gedeon, who scrambled before finding Dan Hogan behind two defenders for a 35-yard touchdown early in the second quarter. That seemed more like tease than challenge, and sure enough on the next play Lombardi threw a high fly that Izaiah Sanders brought down between two defenders for a 32-yard score. It was the first of three straight touchdowns before halftime that gave Trinity an insurmountable 36-9 lead and turned the second half into an endurance test for the former Crusaders who were waiting to take the final walk on the soon-to-be-teared-down combination of dirt and grass.
Melia finished with three touchdowns, Jonmichael Bivona ran for a pair and Sanders, who is one of the league’s best receivers, also scored twice. Trinity rushed for 290 yards, an average of just over 12 a carry, led by Bivona with 188.
Lombardi, who missed last week’s game with a shoulder injury, only threw the ball 11 times, but his presence seemed to give the Crusaders a lift in addition to an added dimension with the deep ball.
“Anthony did a heck of a job,” Panapada said. “He’s still banged up but it’s senior day and he wanted to play Westhill. He didn’t show any effects of it. He took some hits, which is good.”
Asked if he would have given himself a second week to heal under different circumstances, Lombardi said, “Sitting out last week was a terrible feeling, not being out there with your best friends.”
When it was suggested that Lombardi seems confident when a play breaks down just to throw the ball deep and let Sanders show off his athleticism, the quarterback seemed like he wanted the inquisitor to keep his voice down, lest an important secret slip away. But Lombardi-to-Sanders has been a highly efficient improvisation.
“Since I came here we’ve been hanging out a lot,” Lombardi said. “He’s one of my best friends. He knows what I’m thinking and I know what he’s thinking. It’s a great feeling.”
Panapada was on the verge of getting emotional when asked about the last game on the field where he once played and got his start as an assistant coach.
“I’m going to miss it a lot,” Panapada said. “Luckily we’ve got one more week to practice on it before Stamford High. I’m absolutely going to miss it. It’s tough. It’s tough.”
The players seemed to view the day as an easy-to-overcome distraction from the big picture. The Crusaders, barring a loss of focus, should be able to win out and advance to the CIAC Class S Tournament. A state title would be well within reach.
“Our first goal is the city championship,” Panapada said. “All of our goals are in front of us.”
No one made mention of the Crusaders possibly hosting a first-round state game and needing a place to play. One would think Boyle Stadium down the street would be made available.
But that is a problem for another day.