Nine months must have seemed like nine years to Cole Harris.
Last December, the Rams came so close to a miraculous comeback over Windsor in the Class L State Semis, ultimately falling 27-21. The loss ended the Rams string of six consecutive appearances in the state championship game, and perhaps no one took it harder than Harris, who sat dejected, alone on the bench when the game was over.
“I’ve got that picture with me and my head down from last year," said Harris. "I’ve got that in my room as a reminder that I’ve still got unfinished business to do.”
Consider business taken care of.
Behind a brilliant performance by the Harris-led defense, which included a safety and a pick-six from the senior captain, the Rams rolled to a stunning 50-21 drubbing of two-time Class L champion Hand in front of a huge home crowd at Dunning Field on Wednesday night.
Prognosticators have hailed the Ram defense as one of the best squads in years. Their performance in the season opener proved that the hype was well-justified.
“We’re living up to it,” said Harris. “We’ve got hopefully 14 more games to go to keep on proving ourselves and to show everyone what we are one of the best defensive units in the state.”
The state has taken notice.
The game was part of the inaugural FCIAC-SCC showdown, and it could not have gone any better for head coach Lou Marinelli’s squad, particularly the defense which did not allow a Tiger first down until midway through the 2nd quarter.
“Nobody holds Hand down,” said Marinelli. “I think it’s a tremendous job by our defensive staff. They’ve been studying Hand going way back to the first time we started playing them. I think everything kind of fell into place.”
The Rams defense set the tone from the opening drive, when they forced Hand to a 3-and-out. From there, senior Ram QB Nick Cascione led New Canaan to the Hand 2, where the drive stalled and the Tigers took over on downs.
However, on the first play, Harris broke through the line and dropped Hand RB Conor Dowd in the end zone for a safety and a 2-0 New Canaan lead.
On the ensuing drive, the Rams moved with ease again behind the arm and legs of Cascione. A series of short, quick passes and nifty running put the Rams in the red zone, culminating with a 14-yard Cascione TD pass to Alex LaPolice, putting the Rams up 8-0.
The Rams struck again early in the 2nd quarter when Harris pulled down an interception and ran 37 yards to the house giving New Canaan a 15-0 lead, and bouncing starting QB Hayden Atwater from the game. His replacement, sophomore Nick Van Dell did not fare much better, as Hand would go 3-and-out again, setting up New Canaan for another scoring drive.
Cascione hit LaPolice again, this time for 19 yards on a quick slant to give them a 22-0 lead with just over 8 minutes left in the half.
“It might be a baseball thing, because they both played on that state championship team,” said Marinelli. “I think they do have a little chemistry there.”
New Canaan would score again 6 minutes later, as Morgan Carson broke through with a 7 yard TD run, giving the Rams a 29-0 lead with 2 minutes to go in the half.
The defense immediately came through again, recovering a Hand fumble at the 30-yard line. A few plays later, Cascione lofted a perfect fade pass to Jack Gilio, good for a 15-yard touchdown and a 36-0 lead.
The Rams went into the half having completely dominated Hand. New Canaan netted 325 yards of offense compared to the Tigers’ 34 yards.
New Canaan picked up in the 2nd half right where they left off. Hand was forced to punt after 3 plays, and New Canaan answered with a scoring drive. Carson found the end zone for a second time with a 12-yard run, and the Rams extended the lead to 43-0.
Hand would finally get on the scoreboard midway though the 3rd quarter with a TD run by Van Dell, but by then it was too little too late. New Canaan would add a TD by senior RB Chris Andrews to put the Rams up 50-7.
Hand scored 2 unanswered TD’s in the 4th quarter, but they did little other than make the game look closer than it really was. New Canaan thoroughly manhandled the two-time defending Class L champs, out-gaining them 491-162, with the defense coming through with 3 turnovers and 8 points.
“We all looked really good tonight, and our defense came out firing,” said Cascione, who finished the night 18-29 for 173 yards and 3 TD’s. The senior QB also gained 84 yards on 11 carries. “I felt in control, and my team really helped me out there. They just fed me confidence all week and I felt really good coming into this.”
“When you win, you’re really not as good as you think, and when you lose you’re not as bad,” said Marinelli. “I don’t think they’re that bad, and I hope that we’re going to be pretty good. We just have to keep on working at it.”
Next up for the Rams is Bassick High School. The game will be played on Thursday, 9/18 at Kennedy Stadium in Bridgeport. Kickoff is at 6pm.