NEW CANAAN — Special teams are often the ugly step-child of a football team.

Largely forgotten, it’s the third phase that can make the difference in tight games and can leave one team marching towards a state title, and end another’s season.

That was the case Tuesday night as two muffed Masuk snaps on punt attempts led to New Canaan points and a late Grant Morse field goal iced the game for the No. 2 Rams, who beat seventh-ranked Masuk 31-28 in the Class L quarterfinals in New Canaan.

“It saved us tonight for sure,” said New Canaan coach Lou Marinelli, whose Rams play No. 6 Notre Dame-West Haven on Monday night in the semis, with eyes towards their fourth straight L title. “This certainly wasn’t our best game, which was because we were playing a very good team.”

After a 9-yard touchdown run on fourth down from Masuk’s Jack Roberge (22 carries for 140 yards, 3 touchdowns) cut New Canaan’s lead to 28-21 early in the fourth, the two teams traded defensive stops.

The Rams got possession with just over four minutes to play and drove down to the Panthers 2, where Morse would drill a 19-yard field goal to put the Rams up by 10.

“I was just trying to relax,” Morse said of lining up for the field goal. “It’s just going through the motions again, pretend nothing matters.”

Masuk wasted little time in responding, driving 80 yards in just over a minute. Peter Fox scored on an 11-yard pass from Matthew Hersch, bringing the Panther deficit to just 31-28 with 2:02 to play.

With the game still in the balanace, it would again be Morse stepping up for the Rams.

With its only option left an onside kick, Masuk sent all 11 players running straight from the huddle towards the middle of the field, but Morse dove on the ball off the second hop, securing the win for the Rams.

“I didn’t even think, it was instinctive,” Morse said of the play. “I just dove on the ball; we do it in practice every week.”

In the first half the teams traded scores.

Ryan O’Connell got the scoring rolling for New Canaan on its first offensive possession with a 1-yard plunge after the Rams converted two fourth downs on the drive. Masuk, however, answered right back on Roberge’s 9-yard shovel-pass score from Hersch.

It was then New Canaan’s turn to answer, as Drew Pyne’s 15-yard scramble put the Rams up 14-10, but once again Roberge answered with a 21-yard TD run.

“He’s passionate about football and he’s a great athlete,” Masuk coach Joe Lato said of Roberge, who is just a sophomore. “He loves this game and he works his tail off and he’s got that ‘want-to’ that you just can’t coach.”

After O’Connell intercepted a pass at midfield with 28 seconds left in the half, Masuk’s Tyler Michalka returned the favor, picking off Pyne in the end zone to ensure the halftime score stayed knotted at 14.

In the third Masuk suffered bad snaps on consecutive punt attempts, giving New Canaan the ball at the Panthers’ 13 and 24.

The Rams made it count on a 1-yard sneak from Spencer Williams and a 6-yard scramble from Drew Pyne to open up a 28-14 lead.

Masuk never went away, and while Lato was in tears as his team’s season came to a close, he is anxiously awaiting 2017, when the Panthers and their young stars will look to win it all.

“I love these kids and I’m sad to see them go,” Lato said, “… you can never question their heart, they battled in every game and I’m proud of that.”

aparelli@bcnnew.com @reportedbytheAP

NEW CANAAN 31, MASUK 28

MASUK 7 7 0 14—28

NEW CANAAN 7 7 14 3—31

NC—Ryan O’Connell 1 yard run (Grant Morse kick)

M—Jack Roberge 9 pass from Matthew Hersch (Nolan McCarter kick)

NC—Drew Pyne 15 run (Morse kick)

M—Roberge 21 run (McCarter kick)

NC—Spencer Williams 1 run (Morse kick)

NC—Pyne 6 run (Morse kick)

M—Roberge 9 run (McCarter kick)

NC—Morse 19 FG

M—Peter Fox 11 pass Hersch (McCarter kick)