New Canaan reaches sixth straight state final
In his pregame speech Saturday afternoon, New Canaan's Lou Marinelli asked his team for just one thing.
One more game.
The legendary coach got his wish. Barely.
Playing their third game in nine days, the Rams overcame five turnovers and a 17-point second-quarter deficit to pull out a dramatic 27-24 victory over top-seeded Windsor in the CIAC Class L semifinals at East Haven High School.
The difference turned out to be a 33-yard field goal by senior Collin Shapiro with four seconds remaining. When the ball sailed through the uprights, fifth-seeded New Canaan was just a squib kickoff away from making its sixth straight trip to the state finals.
The Rams will play second-seeded Hand -- a 35-14 winner over Masuk -- next weekend at Rentschler Field.
"This is awesome," said Shapiro, who tied the game on a 34-yard field with 3:51 remaining before delivering the game-winner despite the Warriors using a time-out to freeze him. "Just to tie the game on a field goal was crazy. I actually like it when they try to freeze you because it gives you a chance to get in the right frame on mind."
New Canaan (11-1) finished with 350 yards of offense, but it was the defense that fueled this victory.
The Rams sacked quarterback Robert Fleeting five times, twice kept the Warriors (11-1) off the board inside the 20 and most importantly, did not allow a point in the second half.
"There's no better feeling that reaching the state finals," senior Bobby Distler said. "It was a tough game, we came out flat but it feels incredible to leave here with a win."
Two of Windsor's touchdowns came on defensive plays -- including a 39-yard interception return by Brendan Gale with 8:16 left in the second quarter to make it 24-7.
New Canaan, however, wouldn't be denied.
Matt Milano capped an 11-play drive with a 1-yard sneak on fourth down midway through the second quarter to start the comeback.
Trailing 24-13 at the intermission, the Rams came out strong in the second half, turning an interception by All-State linebacker Kevin McDonough into a seven-play, 32-yard scoring drive. Distler barreled into the end zone from 2 yards out before Milano connected with Connor Kilbane for the two-point conversion, trimming the Warriors' lead to 24-21 less than four minutes into the third quarter.
The Rams caught a break midway through the fourth quarter when a punt at midfield bounced past Aaron Berandino, who appeared to touch the ball as it rolled all the way to the Warriors' 25-yard line and was finally recovered by Mike Root. That set up the first of two field goals by Shapiro, New Canaan's all-time leading scorer for kickers who was first spotted by Marinelli and his staff in the hallways as a freshman.
In typical Rams' fashion, the rally was completed. But not until a three-and-out stop by the defense, and an efficient drive -- aided by a 15-yard pass interference penalty against Windsor -- by the offense to setup Shapiro's late-second heroics.
"Nothing this team does surprises me," Marinelli said. "We've been doing this all year. I'm just very fortunate to have a group like this."