WESTPORT – New Canaan linebacker Zach Allen has been content to avoid the spotlight this season. While defensive teammates Connor Buck, Michael Root and Cole Harris have deservedly dominated most of the headlines as the Rams have dominated their opposition, Allen has been quietly efficient – simply doing his job and flying under the radar.
That is, until tonight...
In a brilliant performance by the junior linebacker, which included 3 sacks, a forced fumble, 9 tackles, 3 tackles for losses and constant pressure on Staples QB Jack Massie, Allen stepped into the limelight, leading New Canaan to a 43-7 shellacking of the Wreckers in front of a stunned crowd at Staples High School.
“Wow. How fun was that,” said New Canaan head coach Lou Marinelli when asked about Allen’s performance. “I mean just watching him come off the edge like that. He’s a junior and he’s a big, strong kid. And it looked like he was having a lot of fun out there.”
And when the 2013 New Canaan Rams defense is having fun, it’s usually bad news for the opposing offense. Tonight was no exception.
Wearing new-look uniforms, it was the same old story for New Canaan as the Rams defense set the tone from the opening Staples possession, forcing the Wreckers to a three-and-out. As has been the case all season, New Canaan took advantage of tremendous field position, starting their first drive from the Staples 34. Rams QB Nick Cascione quickly capped off a six-play drive with a 14-yard strike to Alex LaPolice, putting New Canaan up 7-0 with 8:23 left in the 1st quarter.
The Rams wouldn’t have to wait long for their next opportunity, as Allen stripped the ball from Massie on the ensuing drive. Max Wilson fell on the fumble, setting New Canaan up with a first-and-10 on the Staples 18. Less than 2 minutes later Cascione scored on a 7-yard run, and the Rams were up 14-0 with 6:04 left in the 1st quarter.
Staples would answer on their next possession, as Jack Greenwald scampered 48 yards for a TD, cutting the New Canaan lead to 14-7. It was the first touchdown allowed by the Rams defense in the first half all year.
But any momentum the Wreckers might have gained was quickly halted when New Canaan’s Cole Turpin took the ensuing kickoff 58 yards to the Staples 27. Three plays later, junior RB Frank Cognetta ran 12 yards for the Rams’ third TD in as many possessions, and New Canaan had a 21-7 lead with 4:19 left in the 1st quarter.
In the 2nd quarter, New Canaan reached the red zone twice, but Staples was able to hold the Rams to a pair of Peter Swindell field goals.
The teams went into the half with New Canaan up 27-7. The Ram defense held Staples to only 49 yards of net offense in the first half, all but 1 of which came on the Greenwald TD run.
Coming into this game, Staples had built a reputation as a great second-half team, while New Canaan hasn't had a game close enough to be relevant in the latter stages.
With that said, tonight was New Canaan’s turn to show they were more than a first-round knockout artist.
“Three times this season Staples has been down at halftime, and they came back to win,” said Marinelli. “We warned them that this thing is not over by any means. They are a comeback team and have a lot of heart and they’re not used to getting beat.”
Neither is New Canaan.
After receiving the opening kickoff of the 2nd half at their own 37 yard-line, the Rams took a little more than 2 minutes to score. Moving the ball 63 yards in 6 plays and capped off by a 19-yard TD run by Cognetta, New Canaan started to pull away with a 34-7 lead.
“Fortunately we came out on that first drive," said Marinelli. “I think that made a statement which really helped.”
After holding Staples to another three-and-out, the Rams took only 2 plays to find paydirt again. Cascione ran for a 10-yard TD – his third TD of the night – putting New Canaan up 40-7 with a little more than 7 minutes left in the 3rd quarter.
Peter Swindell tacked on another FG early in the 4th quarter to put the Rams up 43-7 and cap the scoring for the night.
When the smoke finally cleared, New Canaan had out-gained Staples 400-168. They racked up 352 yards on the ground, with Cascione leading the way with 148 and Cognetta not far behind with 130.
“I don’t know the last time they were held to 7,” said Marinelli. “It was a tremendous team effort. Our coaching staff did a tremendous job. Very seldom do you get this opportunity to do this, especially down here.”
The loss was the first for Staples against an FCIAC opponent since 2010. The two-time defending FCIAC champs fell to 5-2 overall, and 5-1 in the FCIAC while New Canaan improved to 8-0 (7-0 in the FCIAC) for the first time since 2009… also the last year the Rams won the State title.
“I don’t think we’re that much better than Staples, I think we just got on them tonight,” said Marinelli. “We capitalized on the good field position. It’s the same thing that happened last week and the week before. Maybe that means we’re alright.”
The Rams are more than "alright". That being said, Marinelli's modesty and perfectionism seems to have trickled down to his players.
"We did let up a touchdown, we want to get that zero on the scoreboard," said Allen. "We just have to practice harder. We can do better. We will celebrate for one day, then focus on St. Joe’s."
1 2 3 4 TOT
NEW CANAAN 21 6 13 3 43
STAPLES 7 0 0 0 7
NC – LaPolice 14-yd. pass from Cascione (Swindell kick good)
NC – Cascione 7-yd. run (Swindell kick good)
S – Greenwald 48-yd. run (Gifford kick good)
NC – Cognetta 12-yd. run (Swindell kick good)
NC – Swindell 26-yd. FG
NC – Swindell 33-yd. FG
NC – Cognetta 19-yd. run (Swindell kick good)
NC – Cascione 10-yd. run (kick failed)
NC – Swindell 30-yd. FG
NC – 8-0 (7-0 FCIAC)
S – 5-2 (5-1 FCIAC)
New Canaan will next take on St. Joseph’s in a huge FCIAC showdown on Friday, November 1st at Dunning Field. Kickoff is at 7pm.