“The best revenge is massive success.” – Frank Sinatra
STAMFORD –The stage was set for a classic showdown more reminiscent of an old John Facenda-narrated NFL Films piece than a high school football game. Bitter rivals staring each other down. The championship on the line. One team looking for respect, the other looking for redemption. The snow-covered, frozen tundra of Lambeau…er, Boyle Stadium.
When all was said and done, it was the same old script for the New Canaan Rams.
Led by a signature defensive performance, explosive special teams play and a determined offensive attack, the Rams captured the 2013 Class L state title with a 44-12 shellacking of the Darien Blue Wave.
“You couldn’t have scripted it any better,” said senior captain Cole Harris. “Playing in the snow, first time doing that. Beating Darien, blowing them out…it doesn’t get any better than that.”
The win not only gave the Rams a measure of payback against the only team to have defeated them this season, it re-affirmed the 2013 squad’s status as the most-dominant team in the state, and perhaps in school history. The Rams completed the season having outscored their opponents 654-207 en route to a 14-1 record, becoming the first ever New Canaan team to win that many games.
“I think the kids played great today, they played with a lot of heart,” said New Canaan head coach Lou Marinelli, who captured a state-record 9th CIAC title. “I think for this senior class to get out of here as state champions and FCIAC champions, that doesn’t happen very often. I can’t tell you how proud I am of their effort and all the hard work they put in. They were awesome.”
From the opening kickoff to the final play New Canaan overwhelmed Darien, who barely resembled the team that shocked the Rams on Thanksgiving. New Canaan’s defense completely shut down Blue Wave quarterback Silas Wyper, allowing only 10 completions in 34 attempts for just 107 yards, 0 touchdowns and 2 interceptions, including a spectacular pick-six from junior defensive end/linebacker Zach Allen which capped the scoring late in the 4th quarter.
Meanwhile the Rams put up almost 400 yards of total offense, as quarterback Nick Cascione had little trouble with the adverse conditions - a bitter, cold wind and a blanket of fresh snow covering the field. The senior signal-caller completed 14 of 24 passes for 226 yards and 2 touchdowns, spreading the ball out to six different receivers. Cascione also picked up 76 yards and 1 touchdown on the ground, and moved past former New Canaan quarterback Matt Milano as the school’s single-season record holder for total yards gained with 3,442.
“I can’t even put words together how I feel right now, it’s just so unreal,” said Cascione. “These guys really deserved it. Winning a State and FCIAC championship is big and we’re really happy about it.”
The Rams set the tone from the start, as junior wide receiver Alex LaPolice electrified the New Canaan crowd with an 80-yard return of the game's opening kickoff, bringing the ball inside the Blue Wave 10. Though a penalty moved the ball back to the Darien 30, the Rams were in business. After converting a fourth-and-4 via a Cascione pass to sophomore wideout Kyle Smith, New Canaan got on the board first courtesy of a 1-yard run from junior running back Frank Cognetta.
New Canaan added to the lead on their first drive of the second quarter, needing only two plays to move 54 yards. After a Cascione-to-Cognetta catch-and-run went for 31 yards, senior wide receiver Cole Turpin made a terrific catch in the corner of the end zone for a 23-yard touchdown, giving New Canaan a 14-0 lead.
The Rams defense controlled the line of scrimmage throughout the rest of the 2nd quarter, something they were unable to do in their previous meeting with Darien. For New Canaan, it wasn’t so much a case of making adjustments as it was making improvements in their execution.
“They played the exact same game they did on Thanksgiving,” said senior captain and defensive lineman Connor Buck. “We made a bunch of mistakes on Thanksgiving…simple missed tackles, missed assignments and we just cleaned that up today. We just tightened it up.”
Even so, Darien - who had come-from-behind playoff wins over Hand and Middletown to reach the finals - mounted a solid drive midway through the 2nd quarter, moving 79 yards in 7 plays to the New Canaan 7-yard line. On fourth-and-1, a costly delay of game penalty pushed the Blue Wave back to the 12-yard line. On the next play, New Canaan’s Beau Santero broke through the line to sack Wyper, forcing a turnover on downs.
“We’ve been in that situation before,” said Buck. “And we’re not going to feel sorry for ourselves and say ‘oh, they’re going to score.’ Instead we’re telling ourselves that we were going to keep them out, like an iron curtain. And that’s exactly what we did.”
On the ensuing possession, New Canaan was able to mount another scoring drive and extend to a 3-possession lead. A 10-play, 67-yard drive stalled at the Darien 13, but sophomore kicker Peter Swindell booted a 30-yard field goal to give the Rams a 17-0 lead that they took into halftime.
Darien was able to gain back some momentum in the 3rd quarter. After a punt on their first possession, Will Hamernick picked off a Cascione pass to set the Blue Wave up at the New Canaan 35-yard line. On the next play, Wyper slipped through the Rams defense for a 35-yard touchdown, and suddenly Darien was back in the game, trailing 17-6.
Enter Alex LaPolice.
The junior playmaker has come up big for the Rams all season, entering the championship game tied with Turpin for a team-high 9 touchdown receptions on the year. On third-and-9, Cascione rolled out to his left and with the Darien defense bearing down, lofted a pass to LaPolice along the sideline.
“Nick rolled out and it was kind of a broken play,” said LaPolice. “I beat number 2 (Hamernick) after he rolled out and Nick found me. Kyle Smith came back and got a huge block on the guy behind me, and I had one guy to make miss.”
And miss he did, as LaPolice reached the end zone for a huge 49-yard touchdown and a 24-6 New Canaan lead.
Both defenses tightened up from that point as the game moved to the 4th quarter, with the Rams controlling the line of scrimmage. On the first Blue Wave possession of the final stanza, the Rams defense narrowly missed a safety when Buck forced Wyper into an intentional grounding penalty at the Darien 1, eventually forcing Darien to punt.
That’s when LaPolice struck again.
Picking up the punt on one bounce at the New Canaan 43, LaPolice made a move and cut to the right sideline. Picking up two key blocks from Seth Neeleman and Alex Dobbin, LaPolice ran untouched for another Rams touchdown and a 31-6 lead.
Darien was able to answer on their next possession with a long scoring drive of their own. After converting twice on fourth down, Wyper ran it in from the 6 to pull Darien to within 31-12.
New Canaan would counter immediately as Cascione took a third-and-1 41 yards for a touchdown, giving the Rams a 37-12 lead. And after Allen deflected a Wyper pass to himself and outran the Darien offense 47 yards for a touchdown and a 44-12 lead, it served as an appropriate coda to a historic championship season.
“It’s some kind of vindication there as far as the loss we had,” said Marinelli. “I’m so happy for them, but I’m so sad to see them go. To watch them play like that, it was just unbelievable.”
“I love this team,” said Harris. “I love this town and everybody associated with this. It’s been a hell of a ride.”
1 2 3 4 TOT
NEW CANAAN 7 10 7 20 44
DARIEN 0 0 6 6 12
NC – Cognetta 1-yd. run (Swindell kick)
NC – Turpin 23-yd. pass from Cascione (Swindell kick)
NC – Swindell 30-yd. FG
D – Wyper 35-yd. run (conversion failed)
NC – LaPolice 49-yd. pass from Cascione (Swindell kick)
NC – LaPolice 43-yd. punt return (Swindell kick)
D – Wyper 6-yd. run (conversion failed)
NC – Cascione 41-yd. run (kick failed)
NC – Allen 47-yd. INT return (Swindell kick)
New Canaan 14-1 ; Darien 12-2