TRUMBULL, Conn --
A reporter mentioned to New Canaan (Conn.)
football coach Lou Marinelli
that he was more animated than usual during last Saturday's FCIAC game at St. Joseph (Trumbull, Conn).
"No," Marinelli deadpanned. "This is a Catholic school, and I'm Catholic. I have these kids, and I watch them work every day, and they work their rear ends off. And it's so hard to see them do something so out of character."
It's been an atypical year for New Canaan. A perennial state power, the Rams began the season with a young and inexperienced group. They've made mistakes. They took an early-season overtime loss. They also dealt with the one-game suspension of 10 players.
Worse than that, Marinelli has had to cope with his daughter, Anna, being in a serious automobile accident in July. She spent time in the intensive care unit at Yale-New Haven Hospital, but has since improved.
Through it all, the Rams have persevered. They rallied to beat St. Joseph, 27-21
, and kept themselves afloat in the CIAC Class L playoff race.
"It's been a difficult year in that we're so young and dumb at times," Marinelli said. "You saw it (Saturday). But to be able to play like that and still come up a winner the way we did against a good football team, it just does my heart good to see this young team getting better every week. Hopefully, we can take it from here."
The Rams are 5-1 and seventh in the Class L rankings.
New Canaan has played in six consecutive CIAC championship games, winning four straight from 2006-09.
The program was going to look a lot different this season anyway. The majority of last year's team graduated, and, by New Canaan's standards, it has a small senior class.
Then early on the morning of July 8, Anna Marinelli's Mini Cooper went off the Merritt Parkway and hit a tree. She sustained a major leg injury, and there were early concerns about her recovery.
The Marinellis spent most of the summer at the hospital. Anna's health has improved significantly since the accident.
Lou Marinelli got choked up when talking about keeping his focus during an extraordinarily difficult time.
"My son (offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach John Marinelli), my staff," Marinelli said, "they've taken a lot of pressure off of me. It's really hard. It's more about the guys that are working with me. It's like family.
"I mean, when I'm walking around in a daze on the sidelines, going off because God knows where my head is, I have these guys who are focused in, and really doing a great job. I really have to credit them...I don't wish this on anybody, but if you have to go through it, I want these people around."
Two weeks into the season, New Canaan lost in overtime to Trinity Catholic (Stamford, Conn.), 31-28. It was the first time Trinity had beaten the Rams in 28 years.
Things got more hectic for the program when Marinelli suspended 10 players for the Week 4 game against Norwalk. Six of those players were starters.
"The suspensions really focused us," said junior quarterback Teddy Bossidy
, who was among the suspended players.
"The beginning of the year, we weren't as focused as we are now. Now, twice a week, we're getting up at 6:30 and working out in the morning. There's a lot more dedication and a lot more focus. I think it's definitely helped us."
Marinelli said, "The kids that were suspended, they did something stupid, but they were right there with us the whole time. They practiced hard. They were so embarrassed, but they were right there (with us). Then they bounced back."
The Rams dealt with adversity in the first half of Saturday's game against St. Joseph, one of their biggest rivals. The offense couldn't sustain drives, and the defense struggled to contain the Cadets.
New Canaan trailed 21-12 at halftime, but it felt worse.
"The message at halftime was that we should've been up 28-21," Marinelli said, "and just keep fighting because we can do this. We can do this."
Junior linebacker Cole Harris
said, "It was probably our worst half of football. We really wanted to show that we can win these tight games. We dropped one against Trinity, and that was hard for us. We had to show that we can pull one of these out late."
The Rams' defense got on track in the second half, allowing just four first downs and 88 yards.
Late in the third quarter, junior Nick Cascione
, who has been part of the quarterback platoon with Bossidy, threw a 9-yard touchdown to sophomore Zach Allen
. It cut the Rams' deficit to 21-19 with over two minutes left in the third quarter.
On the final play of the third quarter, St. Joseph quarterback Jordan Vazzano
was injured running the ball and left the game.
St. Joseph had the ball with almost nine minutes left when New Canaan's Harris intercepted a Pat Boyle
pass. He returned the interception 56 yards for touchdown.
"I should've been looking at one of the receivers," Harris said. "I just read the (quarterback's) eyes the whole time, and (the ball) fell right in my lap."
Cascione threw a two-point conversion to junior Graham Wagner
to give the Rams a 27-21 lead, their first of the game.
Cascione completed 16 of 24 passes for 144 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. He also ran 25 times for 139 yards and a touchdown.
"I think we really grew up," Marinelli said. "I think they better believe in themselves now. I think it's just a tremendous growing game for us.
"We want to see how far we can take this, the coach added. "We'll see."Ned
Griffen has covered high school, college and professional sports in the
Northeast since 1992. A 2003 New England Associated
Press News Executives award winner, he may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.