By Jon Chik

Staff Writer

After a season full of pulse-pounding, last-second victories, the clock finally struck midnight on New Canaan’s football team Saturday, as the Rams were defeated 34-10 by unbeaten Daniel Hand in the Class L State Championship game.

There were some tears shed and a few heads hung, but there were no excuses and no animosity towards Hand during postgame handshakes. And, as they had done in victory all season, the Rams answered all the questions after its season-ending loss.

“I’m never going to look back at Coach Marinelli’s program and have any regrets,” said New Canaan captain Thomas Rochlin, a two-way captain. “It’s going to hurt for a while that we lost, but I love my team. They’re my brothers and I wouldn’t trade a single of my teammates for anyone on their team for a State Championship.”

In the end, the Rams believed the defeat was more of a case of Daniel Hand’s dominance rather than their own shortcomings.

“I wouldn’t say it was what went wrong as much as what didn’t go right,” Rochlin said. “They’re a really good team. Everybody tried, but sometimes it just doesn’t go your way.”

The Rams found themselves in a 14-0 hole before they had even registered a first down. All season long, the Rams had made a habit of dramatic come-from-behind wins, and according to senior offensive and defensive lineman Kalin Killinger, the Rams never lost faith that they could pull off one more shocker to become Class L State Champions.

“We never lost hope until the clock hit zero,” Killinger said. “(Daniel Hand) worked together as a team, and I think they were our greatest challenge this season. I take my helmet off to them; they did one hell of a job. I would have rather lost and been with this team than won and been with another team. I love this team with all my heart.”

“We’ve had so many comeback wins this season that it wasn’t until the final minute that we thought we were going to lose that game,” Rochlin said.

The teams took decidedly different paths to the State finale.

Daniel Hand, the No. 2 seed, ran over its playoff competition — 35-12 win over Coventry/Windham Tech in the opening round and a 35-14 shellacking of defending champion Masuk in the semifinals.

New Canaan, the No. 5 seed, pulled off a pair of nail-biting playoff wins before punching its ticket to the title game. The Rams first denied New London on a two-point conversion attempt to seal a 27-26 win in the opening round. In the semifinals, two clutch Colin Shapiro field goals from over 30 yards out sealed a 27-24 victory over Windsor.

And while New Canaan may have fallen a single win shy of its ultimate goal, the Rams took some solace in knowing how hard they played to make it to Rentschler Field on Saturday.

“Just to get here says a lot about our senior class. They’ve been fighting all year and they did the same thing today,” New Canaan coach Lou Marinelli said. “You can’t fault the effort. We ran into a team that I thought was the top team in the state.”

New Canaan’s determination to reach its sixth State Championship game in as many years under increasingly high expectations was not lost on its coach.

“We’ve had four come-from-behind wins, so I thought there was a chance (to come back), but they’re very good. I am very proud of them; they’re a scrappy group of kids,” Marinelli said. “The hardest part, even if we had won, is that it’s over now, which is unfortunate. For me, it’s like a family breaking up after we’ve spent so much time with these kids.”

The loss marked the second straight season that the Rams have fallen in the State Championship after a 50-20 loss at the hands of Masuk in 2010.

For New Canaan’s underclassmen, the sting of two straight State Championship defeats will only serve as motivation for next season.

“I have to say that Daniel Hand is a very good football game. Hopefully, if we work hard and do what we did this year, we can get back here,” junior defensive lineman Graham Thalacker said. “We’ll have the opportunity to get back to this place. It’s more motivation because we’ve been here two years in a row, and it makes you want to play even harder, prepare and hit the weights more.”