For a few fleeting seconds, it looked like the stars were beginning to align for the New Canaan Rams.
Trailing Windsor 27-14, with less than a minute left in the Class L State semifinal, New Canaan called its last timeout. Gathered around Assistant Coach Chris Silvestri, the Rams were told to give it everything they had, because, as Silvestri put it, “you never know what can happen.” Sure enough, on the very next play, Michael DiCosmo recovered a botched exchange and raced 81 yards for a Ram touchdown.
The score brought New Canaan to within 6 points, and it might have been a moment of déjà vu for Windsor Head Coach Rob Fleeting, given last year’s semifinal in which New Canaan rallied to beat Windsor 27-24 on a last-second Field Goal.
“It just goes to show the game is never over,” said Fleeting. “But the difference from last year is that we didn’t panic.”
On the ensuing onside kick attempt, the ball traveled the requisite 10 yards, but instead of taking a New Canaan bounce, it landed safely in the arms of Windsor’s Senior RB Delonte Dillion. The Warriors had a 27-21 victory and a spot in the State Class L Finals.
“I can’t ask any more from the kids. I’m very proud of the seniors and how hard they worked,” said New Canaan head coach Lou Marinelli. “We lost to a better team. They deserve to go and play in a State Championship. We did not play well enough to be in the State Championship.”
From the start, a game that looked like it would be a battle of field position turned into a game of making the most out of the other team’s mistakes.
After taking the opening kickoff deep into New Canaan territory, Windsor QB Quinn Fleeting threw a pass across the middle that was picked off by New Canaan’s Grady Lynch at the 3-yard line. After exchanging a couple of three-and-outs, Windsor was able to capitalize on a muffed punt return, recovering the ball just inside the New Canaan 20. A couple of plays later, Fleeting dove across the goal line for a 1-yard TD, and Windsor led 7-0 with 2:13 left in the 1st Quarter.
On Windsor’s first possession of the 2nd Quarter, WR Ryheime Moore slipped past the New Canaan secondary and caught a Fleeting pass in stride for a 45-yard TD, extending the Warrior lead to 14-0.
New Canaan’s offense, featuring the alternating QB tandem of Teddy Bossidy and Nick Cascione struggled to get on track. The Rams did not record a first down until the 2nd Quarter. But with the help of two personal foul penalties, they finally started moving the ball, getting to the Windsor 15 yard-line. However, a missed 32-yard FG attempt left New Canaan coming away with nothing.
After stopping Windsor on the ensuing drive, New Canaan turned the ball over again as a shovel pass was picked out of the air by Windsor’s Terrell Huff. New Canaan went to halftime down 14-0, the second straight game in which they were shut out in the first half.
“It took a while to get our QB’s settled down,” said Marinalli. “Had we been able to do something offensively a little bit earlier, it might have been a little different. But give them credit. They shut us down.”
Windsor continued to dominate in the 2nd half. After exchanging a pair of punts, Windsor’s Brendan Gale picked off a deflected pass, setting the Warriors up at the New Canaan 7. Devonte Dillion then ran it in for a TD and a 20-0 Windsor lead with 7:44 left in the 3rd Quarter.
After going three-and-out on their next possession, New Canaan seemed to have found some momentum thanks to their defense, which played courageously the entire game. John Rhudy recovered a Windsor fumble to stop a drive at the New Canaan 13-yard line. The very next play Windsor intercepted a pass to regain possession, but on their second play from scrimmage Ram LB Louis Hagopian recovered a fumble to set New Canaan up at their own 21. A few plays later, Teddy Bossidy hit a wide-open Cole Turpin for a 45-yard TD, and New Canaan trailed 20-7 with 2:00 to go in the 3rd Quarter.
Windsor responded with the drive of their season; a time-devouring, backbreaking 13-play drive that took more than 6 minutes off the clock, capped off by an 8-yard Dillion TD run. Windsor led 27-7 with only 7:38 left in the game.
“We run the same offense,” said Fleeting. “They are very familiar with us, and we are very familiar with what they do. I think for us going away from that offense and going to a short-yardage offense, it caused a few problems for them.”
New Canaan countered with a quick-strike drive, as Hagopian’s 1-yard TD run brought the Rams to with 27-14 with 5:49 left. The Rams came within a fingertip of recovering the ensuing onside kick, but with Windsor able to maintain possession it seemed as though the Rams season was over as the Warriors began running out the clock. But then DiCosmo’s fumble recovery and return for the TD pulled New Canaan to within 6 points, and there was a glimmer of hope for the Rams.
“For our kids to keep playing, keep playing, keep playing,” said Marinelli. “We called the last timeout and said ‘we can do it, we can do it.’ And the next thing you know he’s (DiCosmo) in the end zone and I’m thinking, ‘hey we have a shot.’”
But for the 2012 Rams, it was not to be. After Windsor recovered the onside kick, they took one knee to secure the 27-21 win, and will face the defending Class L State Champion Daniel Hand Tigers in the finals. For Coach Fleeting, being able to erase the memory of last year’s loss was sweet.
“It’s always a good feeling,” said Fleeting. “I’m very proud of our kids and the support we get from our school, administration and our community.”
This is the first year since 2005 that New Canaan will not be playing in a State Championship game. The opportunity for the Rams to play Hand will have to wait until next year’s FCIAC-SCC crossover game.
“Hopefully we can go back and regroup and get ready for next year,” said Marinelli. “We don’t get to play Daniel Hand this year, but we’ll play them first game next year so we’ll see what happens. But I just can’t say enough about the effort and the never-say-die attitude that these kids had.”