The New Canaan football team was caught a little by surprise after its 17-14 loss to Ridgefield two weekends ago. The Rams expected a difficult game, at a difficult stadium, but came away slightly dazed by the outcome.
“If you look at our team, we are starting some very young kids, so for a lot of them it’s their first experience with varsity football,” Rams coach Lou Marinelli said. “Against New London (in the opener) it was one thing, but when you get into our FCIAC schedule any team can beat anybody. I think we just got caught, and we had a few unfortunate penalties where we shot ourselves in the foot, which young teams do.”
With a 2-1 record, there is even greater urgency for Friday’s highly anticipated home game against St. Joseph. A loss would put the Rams at .500 the latest into a season in some time.
The good news is that the program is well-versed in rebounding from early setbacks. New Canaan started the previous two seasons with opening-week losses to the Cadets. Each time the Rams found themselves at 3-2 following midseason defeats to Greenwich, only to recover and win out to qualify for the state playoffs. Last year they advanced to the Class LL final before suffering a second loss to the Cardinals.
Asked if those experiences have made coming from behind appear less imposing, Marinelli said, “I don’t know. You have so many new kids. I think they consciously think we’ve done it before and we have a chance to do it again.”
Before two years ago, the Rams had not lost so early in the season since a second-week overtime game against Trinity Catholic in 2012.
The 2017 opener against St. Joseph was a wild shootout the Rams lost, 38-35. The Cadets went on to win the Class S title. Last season New Canaan could not get anything going in a 28-0 defeat. There were injuries to several top starters on the offensive line, and issues at center made snaps to quarterback Drew Pyne an adventure.
“We were totally out of synch,” Marinelli said.
Marinelli pointed out that there were big differences between this year’s loss to Ridgefield and last year’s to the Cadets.
“At least this game with Ridgefield we competed,” Marinelli said. “We just got beat by a good team, a hot team that night. It wasn’t like we were embarrassed. We embarrassed ourselves in that St. Joseph game. We just didn’t play well.”
The Rams have a given at quarterback in Drew Pyne, and several seniors have flourished in expanded roles, most notably receiver Zach LaPolice and linebacker Chris Carratu, who has six sacks. John Wise, a junior, is emerging as a reliable running back.
The team is also dealing with some key injuries and moving players around. David Siegel, a top lineman, and Chris Canet, a running back and defensive back, have been lost for the year. Drew Guida, another defensive back and running back, is still sidelined with a broken collarbone.
New Canaan rebounded last week with a 54-7 win over Stamford. Though the Rams were a heavy favorite, Marinelli saw a lot of positives coming off the Ridgefield game.
“The good thing is we responded well against Stamford, which is not as bad as the score indicates,” Marinelli said. “I can say this after the fact but I wasn’t sure after the Ridgefield game how we were going to react, but I thought during the week our senior captains did a good job and our seniors in general did a good job of saying we created our problems, now it’s time to put ourselves back together and show that is not indicative of the kind of team we are going to have. I thought the way we responded was really good.”
The Cadets are looking for their third straight state title in a different class. They are in L this year, the same as New Canaan. Their defense, especially the front seven, is one of the best in the state, and running back Jaden Shirden and receiver Will Diamantis rate with the best at their positions.
“We cannot afford to make stupid penalties,” Marinelli said. “We have to control the ball and figure a way to move the football on one of the best defenses I’ve seen around. We have the capability of doing that.”
Though the game has added importance, Marinelli said he will not beat home a must-win message to his players this week.
“I wouldn’t put that kind of pressure on any game,” Marinelli said. “It’s another game. If we lose it the season is not over. We are not going to collect the equipment. There is a lot of football left to play. I don’t think you can get too high or too low on any win or loss. We made some mistakes but we are going to get better every week. I think we are good enough to compete with St. Joe’s. Hopefully it will be a good football game.”
1. St. Joseph (3-0). The season won’t be half over, but a win over New Canaan may provide the cushion that secures a state playoff berth for the Cadets.
2. Darien (3-0). The Blue Wave are in a stretch of four road games in five weeks. We are counting down the days to the Greenwich game.
3. Greenwich (3-0). The Cardinals face Bridgeport Central and Westhill before the Blue Wave.
4. Ridgefield (3-0). The Tigers have the week off until a New Jersey road trip.
5. New Canaan (2-1). The Rams could qualify for the Class L Tournament with two losses, but it would be a tightrope walk.