50-point rule mars 2nd half of easy Rams win

Connor Allsteadt, Connor Schaney, Nick Campbell, Rami Hamdan, Nick Pelli and others, many others, got much more than the casual series of garbage-time play Friday night in New Canaan football's home opener. Head coach Lou Marinelli tried to make sure the entire roster saw the field, and after the game he speculated he did indeed send every teenager wearing a Rams helmet (aside from the kickers; they weren't needed once) to play in front of the home fans.

The Rams' sideline in the second half may as well have been a hallway inside the high school, full of smiles and chatter, even with the girls. That's right. Plenty of players took time to gab with the cheerleaders and friends in the stands. The mood was light, cheery and everything the Rams could've hoped for in their first home game of the season, as New Canaan rolled to a 3-0 record with a 35-0 win over Ludlowe. It could have very easily been double that, but Marinelli made sure his team didn't embarrass the opponent.

In doing that, he somewhat embarrassed his second- and third-stringers, but it was hardly by choice. That's because of the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference's now-famed 50-point rule, wherein a team cannot win by more than 50 points, lest it invite to have its coach ejected from the game and barred from coaching the one that immediately follows.

Marinelli, who is a terrific organizer and leader of football men, would be the first to joke that his absence from a game could do nothing but help the team's chances of winning. Still, he didn't come close to chancing a one-game suspension.

"We came out more apprehensive last weekend (against Trinity Catholic), and it showed," Marinelli said. "So we wanted to make a statement that we were ready to play in the beginning. For our kids, I think we grew up a little bit today."

Perhaps the starters were able to take a modicum of knowledge after racing out to a 28-0 lead by the end of the first quarter, but there can't be much said for personal growth on behalf of the New Canaan sophomores and juniors who orchestrated a bevy of sympathetically oriented plays throughout the second half.

Friday night, as the New Canaan coordinators came down from the roof off the press box after three quarters, the final 12 minutes of play were some of the ugliest you'll see New Canaan involved in all season. I couldn't help but feel bad for many players who will one day make this football team look good be forced to make this football team look bad.

Marinelli isn't opposed to the rule, despite the quagmire of intentional fumbles, follies, flags and fouls it can and does lead to on the field.

"So if we scored 62, would it be any different? Would you think we were any better now?" Marinelli said. "I don't think the 50-point rule is such a bad thing."

That's where we'll have to disagree. If part of football is about teaching young men pride and the lessons of taking your lumps by sometimes losing big -- but knowing you gave your all -- then how demoralizing must it have been for Fairfield Ludlowe to see convenient flags and fumbles on behalf of the Rams in the second half?

Basically, I ask: Who learned anything between 8 and 9:15 p.m. Friday night at New Canaan High? The only lesson doled out was how the 50-point rule turns games into a farce once the threat of such a lead looms over the winning team's sidelines.

"Even though it was a 48-8 win (over Trinity Catholic), we're not content with that," senior lineman Jack Atchue said. "We did two-minute drills all week in practice, and focused on how we have to score -- all the time."

The irony of that philosophy leaned up against what the Rams were forced to lower themselves to Friday night is bothersome.

It wasn't sport, that second half. It was an intentionally badly choreographed slow death for the Falcons. If they had the talent to score, they would have. Marinelli had no choice but to prevent his second- and third-stringers from learning something, from getting a chance to make a big play and have a memory, a talking point for the weekend with friends and family.

And make no mistake: The officials were in on the act, too. Not all referees are in agreement with the rule, and they don't want to be the ones forced to eject a coach if a game gets past the 50-point barrier.

So there's a bit of a nudge-nudge, wink-wink aspect once the games get to a five-touchdown margin and beyond. Essentially, winning coaches and officials are in cahoots to cheat the system (read: avoid breaking the rule at all costs) by cheating the players who see the field the least during the season, yet treasure their moment in the huddles the most.

New Canaan led 35-0 at the break, and the starters didn't see one snap in the final two quarters. In fact, backup quarterback, sophomore Andrew Read was getting snaps with the rest of the second-stringers with five minutes remaining in the second quarter.

When a coach sits the starters less than 20 minutes into a game, you know it's over.

Despite the sloppy play, Marinelli insisted there'll be some truffles to pull out of the dirt when he goes back and looks at the tape of his reserves on the field. Getting the less-experienced guys some playing time now can always have an unexpected (yet expected) benefit down the road.

"We hope we have another 12 weeks of the season, that we can be playing on December 11 (in the state title game), and we're trying to find out who can play, because kids go down every week," Marinelli said.

"It was good just to send a message," Atchue said. "We took care of business early and got a chance for the twos and threes to get in there."

There were two messages sent Friday night. The first being New Canaan is clearly still skiled, strong and among the best in the state; the second was a commentary on how a rule meant to prevent embarrassment for the losing team has instead done just that for all parties involved.