Football team finds its comfort zone against Crusaders
STAMFORD -- For a hot minute, it looked like Trinity Catholic was going to give New Canaan a competitive game in football for four quarters.
The halftime score was 13-8, Rams, and in fact the Crusaders did hold a brief lead -- 8-7 -- over New Canaan at one point.
But the final? A casual 48-8 New Canaan victory, the type of margin the Rams have built their statewide reputation on in September games the past five years.
The Crusaders had a four-back deployment to throw at the Rams' defense, and it worked for a time. Trinity Catholic senior Mike Rivas broke a 30-yard run on the first play from scrimmage. Fellow Crusader senior Tre Crumbley peeled of a 22-yard scamper on the team's second drive of the game. Jeff Cortese, Mike Davis and Shaquan Howsie were peppered in to keep the Rams guessing.
In fact, the Crusaders rushed for nearly 140 yards against the Rams in the first half.
Maybe that's why New Canaan is New Canaan when it comes to these moments, though. Despite a disciplined, well-schemed attack, Trinity Catholic couldn't make its breaks, and only had one big-time play: Davis' 39-yard off-tackle touchdown run in the second quarter.
It's as if Trinity Catholic was little brother attacking big brother, and after one surprising hit to the stomach, New Canaan put its dominant hand on Catholic's head, while the Crusaders continued to harmlessly throw punches that could never connect.
But, initially, there was some doubt within New Canaan's locker room over how easy a W this would be.
"I was a nervous wreck coming into this," New Canaan head coach Lou Marinelli said. "The offense, they run it so well, and you could see they got us out of position for that touchdown."
Marinelli wasn't the only one with some butterflies.
"I was a little nervous going into the game," Rams junior quarterback Matt Milano said.
Kevin Macari, the team's best receiver, added: "We came out a little flat, they came out tough, like we know they were going to."
The Rams had the big plays when they needed them, though. Milano didn't let his team trail for long, as he marched it down the field with less than three minutes remaining in the first half to give the Rams back the lead for good when he found Macari on an 18-yard touchdown pass with 1:13 remaining.
"That touchdown right at the half ... that put everyone [into the mindset] `We're OK now,'" Marinelli said.
It settled the team's mindset so much, it lost track of time in the locker room. The Rams took a 15-yard penalty for taking too long during halftime. Trinity Catholic waited 10 minutes on its sideline before the Rams marched back down to Alumni Field.
Right or wrong, that angered the Rams and was a catalyst for the dominant opening statement to start the second half. Hunter Budd brought the opening kickoff of the second half 46 yards, all the way down to the Trinity Catholic 36-yard line. Then came the boom: Milano to running back Joe Costigan, over the middle, after Costigan beat safety help, and it was a 19-8 New Canaan lead just like that.
The return wasn't what ignited New Canaan -- it was the penalty that came before it.
"I don't understand where that came from, but I should thank the officials for doing us a favor," Marinelli said. "We never got called (a warning). I was told by the officials they don't have to come get us, so I guess it's my fault."
No matter, as the Rams quickly put to bed any doubt over who would win Saturday afternoon.
"We really knew what was coming in the first half, it was really a matter of executing," Milano said.
Milano threw for three touchdown and 158 yards. There were a couple of beautiful passes with just the right amount of touch. Already, confidence is evident in his throws. But were the development of the big plays something he got eager about?
"Not really," he said. "You see, that's what the play's designed for. You know it's coming."
His demeanor is entirely cool, as if he's run the offense for half his life and a 40-point victory is what should be expected against Trinity Catholic. This is the culture that New Canaan quarterbacks enter into. Milano hasn't shown a penchant for playing favorites either, perhaps helped by what Macari's been assigned to in practice.
"It's been a little tough this week, just because they've got a great receiver in (Shawn) Robinson, so I've been working a lot of defense and (Matt and I) haven't gotten to throw this week," Macari said.
Between Costigan (two touchdowns), Macari, Peter Kraus, Willie Gould, Kevin McDonough -- all the aforementioned found the end zone Saturday -- as well as Patrick Newton, Connor Kilbane and Conor Goodwin, Milano will never have a scarcity of options.
"I'm very pleased, and you can see how we don't go to just one guy -- a number of guys scored," Marinelli said. "I think he's starting to feel a little more comfortable."
The Rams would continue to mount up the points -- 41 unanswered when the damage was done, 28 of those coming in the abusive third quarter. In fact, the greatest damage to New Canaan was by way of injury.
It's a good thing Milano will have plenty to choose from on the field, because the team lost running back Goodwin Friday night in practice after his knee was lacerated by a teammate's cleat.
"I think he'll be ready next week," Marinelli said.
Kilbane went down after a 12-yard catch in the second quarter. Marinelli said team trainers suspected it was a dislocated right shoulder. His timetable to return is currently unknown.
Injury seems to be the team's greatest concern right now, because Milano is playing ahead of schedule, the spread offense continues to wear opponents down, the defense under new coordinator Bill Kurtz is as sturdy as it was last year and the year before, when Joe Ditolla ran it.
It's early, but New Canaan, despite two blowout wins, has gotten a chance to be tested and respond in a big way. Players at linebacker, safety, offensive line, defensive end, quarterback, running back and wide receiver have all made plays that led to New Canaan touchdowns. That's something you can't simulate in practice.
A coach can't ask for much more than that heading into October.