Moments after his team's loss to Windsor in the CIAC Class L semifinals Sunday afternoon, New Canaan's Lou Marinelli tried his best to get across just how much the effort of the last three months -- and particulary the last three hours -- meant to him.
It wasn't easy for the legendary head coach.
There was a short pause, a few tears and a voice that cracked as he spoke.
"I can't say enough about how hard these kids fought," Marinelli said. "I'm so proud of them, especially our senior class. But you know what? The better team won today, and I wish them well. They deserve the trip to Rentschler Field."
The state title game is a place the Rams know well, but there will be no seventh straight appearance in the CIAC finals for New Canaan as second-seeded Windsor built a 20-point second-half lead and then held on for a 27-21 victory over sixth-seeded New Canaan at Bunnell High School in Stratford.
The unbeaten Warriors are headed to the state final for the first time since 2002, and they'll place top-seeded Hand next weekend at Rentschler Field in East Hartford.
This contest was a rematch of last year's semifinal thriller when New Canaan rallied to a 27-24 victory. The Rams found themselves in another big hole as Windsor senior Devonte Dillon scored from 9 yards out to make it 27-7 with 7:38 remaining.
Once again, there would be no quit in New Canaan as Louis Hagopian scored on a 1-yard touchdown plunge at the 5:49 mark.
Needing a stop, the Rams (9-3) instead watched as the Warriors marched 11 plays -- all on the ground -- and chewed up over five minutes. But with New Canaan fresh out of timeouts, a stunning play transpired as junior Michael DiCosmo scooped up a fumble and raced 80 yards for a touchdown with 47 seconds left.
All the Rams needed at this point was to recover the onside kick, and somehow, they'd be in position to pull out another dramatic playoff victory.
But the kick down the sideline stayed in bounds all the way to the Windsor 19-yard-line before it was finally handled by Dillon. Two kneel downs later, the Warriors could finally exhale.
"I though we had a shot at it," Marinelli said. "It just wasn't meant to be."
It was a huge second half for Dillon, who had two touchdown runs and one of the Warriors' three interceptions.
"This is a great feeling, to make up for last year and be headed to the state finals," Dillon said. "We've worked really hard to get to this point."
Windsor took advantage of a muffed punt to take a 7-0 lead late in the first quarter on a 1-yard run by Robert Fleeting.
On the Warriors' next series, Fleeting connected with standout receiver Ryhieme Moore for a 45-yard touchdown pass.
With a 14-0 halftime lead and a rushing attack that started to heat up in the third quarter, the Warriors kept the ball on the ground almost exclusively in the second half.
"I thought that was the difference in the game," Windsor coach Robert Fleeting said, "Our ability to run the ball in the second half."
New Canaan, which had a missed 32-yard field goal in the second quarter before a stalled drive on the Windsor 30 moments before the intermission, finally got on the board with 2:00 left in the third quarter on a 45-yard pass from Teddy Bossidy to Cole Turpin.