Ericson: Halftime speech sparks New Canaan to state championship
New Canaan's Alex LaPolice was nearly inconsolable after the Rams lost to Darien on Thanksgiving and pretty sentimental at the team's burning of the shoes ceremony the night before the Class L Large championship game.
But when he and the Rams went to the locker room down 20-7 at halftime it was a voice from the recent past asking him where that emotion was in the biggest game of his life?
"This is crazy but Cole Harris (Class of 14), who is coaching for us right now, he said `Where is the emotion when we were crying on Thanksgiving?' " LaPolice said. "He pointed at me and said `You were bawling your eyes out last night when we burned the shoe and where was that emotion today?' It came out in the second half."
New Canaan rallied for the 21-20 win with LaPolice catching the winning touchdown pass from Michael Collins with 6:59 remaining, giving the Rams back-to-back state championships.
LaPolice has won two state titles in football as well as one in baseball but said this one was the sweetest.
"I'm going to miss it a lot," LaPolice said, again with eyes welling. "I'm never going to put on a New Canaan helmet again and I can't wait to get a ring on my finger and celebrate with these guys because they are my brothers and I'm going to miss them for a long time."
Lineman Jim Keneally said Harris' halftime speech hit home for him and the rest of the team.
"At halftime, it was about us," Keneally said. "It was not us vs. them, it's not about Darien, not about the rivalry, it is about us. About us seniors, us as a team and that all really came from the burning of the shoe last night and Cole Harris gave us a hell of a speech."
"He said, we went in there acting like a regular halftime and this was not a regular halftime," Keneally said. "We are down two scores, state championship and we have 24 minutes left of football in our lives and we went out there like nothing else mattered. All that emotion that culminated in tears on Thanksgiving is joy and screaming and yelling today."
The win serves as validation for a senior class which was largely written off after graduating so many players from last year's title team, but that only strengthened the resolve of the seniors who carried that chip on their shoulders all season.
"They said we were going to be a .500 team," lineman Malaki Holman said. "I guess we proved them all wrong. We had a chance to come back today and I guess we did that, too."
New Canaan coach Lou Marinelli was looking for divine intervention at halftime, but instead got an angelic performance from his most valuable players.
"I was praying," Marinelli said. "Ultimately it was those kids on the field who did it and I am so proud of them. When there was a big play to be made (LaPolice, Zach Allen) made it. Everybody knew we were going to Alex on the last play but he's a hell of a player. Those two with Frankie Cognetta and Jim Keneally as the captains, led the way. Jim was more like a cheerleader today, he wouldn't let anyone rest, he was talking to the line. I'm giving them instructions and he's screaming at the kids. It was unbelievable."
Keneally said winning as a senior was even sweeter than winning as a junior.
"After last year seeing what those guys did, seeing the joy on their faces," Keneally said. "Sharing that with them was awesome as a junior but it's even better as a senior. There was just so much passion going all the way back to the Monday after the state championship last year when we were back in the weight room and from there it has been a drive to here."
Whether it was emotion or speeches or burning shoes, the end result is New Canaan is state champion for the 10th time under Marinelli and the eighth time this century.