New Canaan rallies to beat St. Joseph football on the road
TRUMBULL -- The New Canaan High School football team has a message for its fans: the line to get back on the bandwagon forms to the right.
In a second-half performance more notable for its grit than aesthetics, the Rams' defense pitched a shutout and accounted for the winning score in a critical 27-21 win at St. Joseph on Saturday afternoon.
With a loss guaranteed to remove all margin of error for each team's state playoff hopes, the Rams rallied with a pair of second-half touchdowns. The clincher came on Cole Harris' 57-yard interception return with just under 10 minutes remaining against St. Joseph's Pat Boyle, who had just entered the game to replace injured starter Jordan Vazzano.
"We played unbelievable in the second half," New Canaan linebacker Michael Root said. "Going into halftime we told ourselves this had to be the best half of football we've ever played. I think we came out and we did that."
The Rams improved to 5-1 and now have a favorable schedule the rest of the way, giving them a realistic hope of trying to reach a state final for the seventh straight year.
New Canaan coach Lou Marinelli gave the game ball to his defensive coordinator, Bill Kurtz, who helped right his unit after missed tackles yielding big plays accounted for a 21-12 halftime deficit that seemed worse than it really was.
"We just told the kids that we were where we needed to be," Kurtz said. "We made a couple of adjustments on contain issues. We got physical in the second half and I think that was the difference."
The game turned late in the third quarter, after New Canaan quarterback Nick Cascione's 9-yard touchdown pass to Frank Cognetta cut the deficit to 21-19.
Two plays later, Vazzano was hit hard and fumbled. The Rams' Peter Baran recovered.
Though the Cadets held, Vazzano did not return. He was seen holding his side and left the field in the fourth quarter.
Boyle found Jake Pelletier on St. Joseph's next possession, but he was hit hard by Mike DiCosmo, forcing a fumble that Root recovered. Cascione fumbled the ball back on the next play, then Harris ended the quick sequence of turnovers with his winning play.
In the final minutes, the Rams stopped a fake punt and, after Cascione was intercepted by Lars Pedersen for the second time with 3:20 left, held the Cadets to just two yards on four plays.
There was also a little luck when Shane Miller got behind the New Canaan defense on a fourth down play but the pass was underthrown.
"It's been a difficult year in that we're so young and dumb at times," Marinelli said. "But to be able to play like that and still come up a winner like we did today against a good football team. It just does my heart so good to see this young team getting better every week."
Cascione, who for now appears to have assumed the starting quarterback job he once split, was a microcosm of the Rams' performance. He turned the ball over three times, but accounted for all three offensive touchdowns as he rushed for 148 yards on 26 carries and was 15 of 25 passing for 143 yards.
St. Joseph (4-2), which had not lost since opening night to Staples, scored on three 1-yard runs in the first half, two by fullback Mike Pulaski and another by Vazzano.
Trailing, 7-0, Cascione got the Rams within a point on an 11-yard touchdown run on third-and-8. He again answered a St. Joseph score when, on 4th and 19 from the Cadets' 30, he found Mike DiCosmo alone in the middle of the field.
Finally, with a minute to go and facing a 3rd and-19 situation, Cascione clinched the outcome with a terrific 26-yard scramble for a first down.
"I saw the hole and I was like, yeah maybe I'll try to get a couple of yards and then we will punt it," Cascione said. "I just broke it through. We really needed to win this game and we came out on top thanks to our defense pretty much."
It was a disheartening loss for St. Joseph, which likely needs to win its final four games -- perhaps without Vazzano for a period of time -- to earn a state playoff berth.
"I'm not quite sure what was going on out there, but we definitely gave one away," St. Joseph coach Joe Della Vecchia said.
Asked about the impact of losing Vazzano, who completed 7 of 18 passes for 160 yards, Della Vecchia said, "I think we stopped playing even before he got hurt. We were not executing and we talked about a couple of things at halftime. Credit to them. They did a lot of good things on defense. We just didn't go a good job of playing smart football today."
NOTES: Pelletier, one of the league's top receivers, finished with 6 catches for 136 yards.
NEW CANAAN 27, ST. JOSEPH 21
NEW CANAAN 6 6 7 8--27
ST. JOSEPH 7 14 0 0--21
SJ--Mike Pulaski, 1 run (Jake Pelletier kick)
NC--Nick Cascione, 10 run (kick failed)
SJ--Pulaski, 1 run (Pelletier kick)
NC--Mike DiCosmo, 30 pass from Cascione (run failed)
SJ--Jordan Vazzano, 1 run (Pelletier kick)
NC--Frank Cognetta, 9 pass from Cascione (Neal Koller kick)
NC--Cole Harris, 57 interception return (Cascione pass to Graham Wagner)
Records: New Canaan 5-1; St. Joseph 4-2