The last time Greenwich played Xavier in a state playoff game, Sean Marinan was a defensive coordinator with high hopes and his eyes fixed on the future. Now head coach of the two-time defending state champions, Marinan wanted to build a team that was fast, physical and played with the power to intimidate.
Just like Greenwich did that day back in 2000.
“I remember how they came up here and kicked our butts 24-0,” Marinan said. “At that time I was already harping about the weight room, because Greenwich was so strong. That’s one of the things we have brought to Xavier. You’ve got to get in the weight room, even now during the season, because it’s huge.”
Twelve years later, Xavier was the one throwing its massive weight around, dominating No. 6 Greenwich during a thorough 55-14 victory in the Class LL quarterfinals Wednesday night at Palmer Field in Middletown.
The third-seeded Falcons suffered what seemed to be a huge hit when standout senior halfback DeAngelo Berry was knocked out of the game with concussion-like symptoms after scoring his second touchdown late in the first quarter. But senior quarterback Tim Boyle more than picked up the slack, completing 16 of 22 passes for 273 yards and three touchdowns.
“He was awesome,” said Greenwich head coach Rich Albonizio, whose team was making its first appearance in the state playoffs since winning the LL title in 2007. “He has a great arm, and he had protection. You don’t want to let him have too much time. They did a lot of nice things.”
Most of Boyle’s yardage came after Berry left the game. Most of it went to dynamic senior receiver Kris Luster, who caught eight passes for 204 yards, including three touchdowns covering 17, 66 and 10 yards.
Xavier, which racked up 514 yards of total offense, led 27-14 at halftime before out-scoring the Cardinals 28-0 in the second half. That included two touchdowns over a span of 1:32 in the third quarter to take a 41-14.
Boyle threw for 246 yards and all three of his touchdowns after the injury to Berry.
“We know what we have in Timmy. He’s a big-time quarterback,” Marinan said. “We know he can deliver. We knew if we could prevent guys from hanging all over him and slow down the clock with our running game, we would be able to take our shots with Timmy.”
Xavier (10-1), which will face No. 7 Glastonbury in the semifinals Sunday, also received a big relief effort by supporting running back Andrew Meoli, who rushed for 98 yards and two touchdowns on 15 carries.
“It’s nice to have that 1-2 punch at running back,” Marinan said. “We know we can put Andrew in there and he can get the job done.”
Greenwich ended the season with two straight losses, dropping a 48-30 decision to Staples in the FCIAC championship game. Perhaps as damaging was the loss of senior quarterback Liam O’Neil, who suffered a sprained ACL in the third quarter against the Wreckers, an injury that left him unable to play against Xavier.
Forced to switch things up just six days before the state tournament didn’t work out well for the Cardinals, who had a tough time moving the ball using three different quarterbacks.
Junior Jose Melo, who started the first three games of the season while O’Neil nursed a broken thumb, was under constant pressure early, got sacked four times in the first half and finished 11-for-20 passing for 107 yards.
Senior Alex McMurray (68 yards, 14 carries) also took a few snaps in the wildcat, as did speedy sophomore Austin Longi, who gave the Cardinals a nice glimpse into the future, rushing for 89 yards and two touchdowns, including a 66-yard scamper in the first half.
“Austin is special,” Albonizio said. “He’s only a sophomore, and he’s got a bright future. He’s a peanut, but he has a hard shell.”
However, none of the three options delivered the desired effect Albonizio was hoping for.
“I didn’t think (the loss of O’Neil) would hurt us as much as it did because Jose is usually very, very good,” Albonizio said. “For some reason, we just couldn’t run the ball. We couldn’t sustain anything.”
Xavier jumped out to a 13-0 lead on touchdown runs of 16 and 1 yard by Berry, who got off to a fast start with 93 yards on 10 carries in the first quarter.
Longi got Greenwich right back in the game, taking a direct snap and racing 67 yards for a touchdown to pull the Cardinals to within 13-7.
That’s when Boyle got hot, responding with a big play every time Greenwich made a comeback attempt.
A personal foul on Greenwich on a punt return put Xavier on a short field and the Falcons went just 34 yards for their third touchdown, a 17-yard strike from Boyle to Luster to make it 20-7.
Longi got the Cardinals back in business with a 59-yard kickoff return and a 3-yard touchdown run on another direct snap, this one on fourth-and-goal to make it 20-14.
Boyle and Luster countered again with a 66-yard catch and run up the seam to make it 27-14 at halftime.
Greenwich senior Joe Kelly recovered an onside kick to open the third quarter and the Cardinals drove to the Xavier goal line, but McMurray got stood up and stripped of the ball on first-and-goal from the six and the Falcons recovered.
McMurray had to be helped off the field after taking a big hit on the play, but returned later in the quarter. His momentum appeared to be stopped, but no whistle sounded, allowing the Falcons to force the turnover.
That ended up being the turning point of the game as Xavier scored on a 2-yard run by Meoli to make it 34-14.
The Falcons then executed their own onside kick, recovering a ball that bounced off a Greenwich player and scoring four plays later on another 2-yard run by Meoli to make it 41-14.
Both touchdowns were set up by long pass plays to Luster.
Instead of getting to within six, the Cardinals suddenly found themselves staring at a 27-point deficit.
“That was a big turnover, and they came down and scored, so it was a 14-point swing,” Albonizio said. “I think that really took the wind out of our sails.”
Xavier just kept piling it on, adding a 10-yard touchdown pass from Boyle to Luster and a 2-yard touchdown run by backup running back Ted Duarte, a sophomore who gained 33 yards on 13 carries.
Things got chippy in the third quarter, leading to a near brawl after in the corner of the end zone on a touchdown run by Boyle that was called back on a facemask penalty.
Part of it was Greenwich’s frustration, and part of it was Xavier trying to show everyone in the state they’re now the toughest kid on the block. What better way than blowing out Greenwich, one of the most successful programs in Connecticut history.
“We want to be a great program like Greenwich,” Marinan said. “We’re trying to get to where they’ve already been. They’ve got a storied program. They’re a good football team. They’ve had great football teams in the past, and we’re hoping to be at their level.”