MILFORD – One of the many goals for the New Canaan Rams at the beginning of the season was to play 15 games, as it would mean they were getting another shot at a State championship game.
New Canaan defeated the North Haven Indians 17-0 in the Class L State semifinals Saturday afternoon, lifting the Rams into the championship for the 7th time in the last 8 years.
“That’s a good football team, very well-coached,” said New Canaan head coach Lou Marinelli, who saw his team improve to 13-1. “They’re a class program and we were fortunate to get out of here with a win they way we did.”
“It feels great,” said senior captain Cole Harris. “It’s always great when you beat a team like this, especially when you can shut them out.”
The shutout was New Canaan's second in as many games, and it came despite 274 rushing yards racked up by the Indians, who feature a run-oriented Wing-T offense seldom seen by New Canaan during conference play. Even so, it seemed the closer North Haven got to the end zone, the harder it was to continue moving the ball. The Indians were able to get inside the New Canaan 25-yard line three times in the game. And three times they came away with nothing.
“Once they have the ball, we can take a vacation over here because they keep it for long periods of time,” said Marinelli. “But as you get down here, the closer they get everything gets a little bit tighter, and I think our kids just really hung in there today.”
After both teams committed turnovers on their first offensive series’, the Rams broke the ice by utilizing their own potent running game. Led by solid gains from junior RB Frank Cognetta and senior QB Nick Cascione, New Canaan drove 85 yards on 12 plays capped off by a 16-yard TD catch by junior WR Alex LaPolice that gave the Rams a 7-0 lead with 4:31 left in the 1st quarter.
North Haven looked to counter immediately, as their shifting offensive line and misdirection handoffs caused some confusion for the Rams defense. That said, an apparent 45-yard TD run by Indians QB Cole Pecora was negated by a holding penalty. The Rams defense was able to subsequently force a turnover on downs at their own 24.
After trading punts, the Rams got on the board again on their first series of the 2nd quarter. Starting from their 9-yard line, Cascione hit sophomore WR Kyle Smith on a 70-yard catch-and-run play on second down, giving New Canaan a first-and-10 at the North Haven 19.
“He’s going to be really good,” said Marinelli of Smith, who had 4 receptions for 148 yards on the day. “He’s a kid that we are really looking forward to. He’s making big plays.”
The Rams were unable to punch it in from there, settling instead for a 30-yard FG from sophomore Peter Swindell. New Canaan had a 10-0 lead with 6:18 left in the half.
On the ensuing North Haven possession, the Rams defense forced another turnover on downs setting the offense up at the Indians’ 42-yard line. After driving to the North Haven 17, the Rams sent in a goal line package on fourth-and-2. Instead of running the ball, backup QB Teddy Bossidy lofted a pass to Zach Allen, who had lined up as a Tight End.
Allen, who plays almost exclusively on defense, appeared to have hauled in the catch and crossed the goal line with possession for a TD, before being stripped of the ball by Pecora. The pass was, however, ruled incomplete. Instead of a 17-0 lead the Rams had turned the ball over on downs.
North Haven seemed to gain momentum after taking over possession. QB Michael Halloran reeled off a 50-yard run and a facemask penalty on New Canaan put the ball at the Rams 13-yard-line. The Indians got as close as the 5, but on fourth-and-2, a Pecora pass fell incomplete, and the teams went into the half with New Canaan up 10-0.
The Indians continued to move the ball well - but slowly - against the Rams defense on their second possession of the 2nd half. Starting at their own 20-yard line, North Haven converted 2 third downs and 1 fourth down, driving to the New Canaan 13. On third-and-7 Harris blitzed Halloran, causing an intentional grounding penalty, backing the Indians up to the New Canaan 26. On fourth-and-22 Halloran was unable to complete a pass intended for Zach Kastenhuber, and the Rams took over on offense. It was a huge stop for New Canaan and an equally huge letdown for North Haven.
“We were saying that they were going to need a whole quarter if they were going to get a touchdown drive,” said Harris. “They thought they had it but we took it right away from them.”
And as the 4th quarter began, the Rams offense responded by doing what North Haven couldn’t do - getting the ball in the end zone.
A 9-play, 65-yard drive highlighted by a 24-yard pass from Cascione to Smith and capped off by a 4-yard TD run from Morgan Carson, put New Canaan up 17-0 with 7:43 left in the game. And when Mike DiCosmo picked off a Pecora pass on the first play of the Indians’ ensuing drive, it served as the exclamation point to an almost-flawless defensive performance.
“The defensive staff, they spend hours and hours and hours just trying to call everybody we know that have ever seen the Wing-T,” said Marinelli, who ran the Wing-T himself at NCHS before switching to the spread offense the Rams currently run. “So for us to put in that game plan and for our kids to implement it the way they did…I can’t say enough about those coaches and those kids. They did a great job.”
New Canaan outgained North Haven 462 – 274. Frank Cognetta was the Rams’ main workhorse on the ground with 142 yards on 26 carries. Nick Cascione completed 8 of 18 passes for 205 yards and a TD, while picking up an additional 76 yards rushing. The Indians did not complete a pass in 11 attempts.
New Canaan will face a familiar foe in the finals.
Darien held on to beat Middletown 13-9 to advance to their first state championship appearance since 2008. That year, New Canaan defeated Darien 26-7 in the now-defunct Class MM final. When the news of Darien’s win reached the Rams players, they all cheered at the prospect of exacting revenge for the one blemish on an otherwise-perfect season.
It was possibly the first and only time New Canaan has ever cheered for Darien.
“The goal was to play 15, now we have to get there and win that last one,” said Marinelli. “For all they’ve been through, it’s just a hell of an accomplishment for them. And you what? Win or lose next week, the saddest thing is that it’s going to be over for this group and it’s tough to see them go.”
1 2 3 4 TOT
NORTH HAVEN 0 0 0 0 0
NEW CANAAN 7 3 0 7 17
NC – LaPolice 16-yd. pass from Cascione (Swindell kick)
NC – Swindell 30-yd. FG
NC – Carson 4-yd. run (Swindell kick)
NH – 10-3 ; NC – 13-1
The Rams will face Darien on Saturday, 12/13 at 2:05pm at Central Connecticut State University in New Britain.