What a start for Greenwich High football team vs. West Haven

Greenwich High School’s Austin Longi cuts the corner for the GHS sideline during Thursday’s game against West Haven High School. — Avery Belicka photo

Greenwich High School’s Austin Longi cuts the corner for the GHS sideline during Thursday’s game against West Haven High School. — Avery Belicka photo

The outcome was well worth the wait for the Greenwich High School football team.

After severe weather forced the postponement of Big Red’s game against West Haven High School on Thursday, both squads were back at it Sunday to finish off what they started.

Although the Westies were leading 13-7 at the end of the day on Thursday, it was Greenwich that came up with the huge plays down the stretch and ended an absolutely thrilling game Sunday with a 22-21 victory.

“This is one of the best wins that I’ve ever experienced,” Greenwich High head coach Rich Albonizio said. “They were bigger, faster and stronger than us. But our kids just showed so much resiliency and belief in each other. We have talent, but you don’t always have to have the best talent to win a game. That was one amazing game.”

Trailing by six when the game resumed, it didn’t take long for the Cardinals to grab the momentum. West Haven started Sunday with the ball on the Greenwich 18 and had the ball on the Greenwich 7 looking for a field goal. Instead, the GHS defense came up with the massive block.

Greenwich’s Austin Longi realized that the ball was live, scooped it up on the Greenwich 12, danced away from several West Haven players and bolted 88 yards down the GHS sideline for the touchdown. It took only 1:59 for Greenwich to go from trailing by six to leading by one, 14-13.

“That was big,” Albonizio said. “Thank God Austin was smart enough to realize it was a live ball.”

“I originally didn’t know that the ball was behind the line and it was my fault that I was unaware,” Longi said. “I picked up, saw a lot of wide open grass and did what I had to do. Once I was at the 40, I knew I had it.”

Once again Longi struck again when it mattered most. West Haven found the end zone just as the third quarter ended and ran out of their own end zone for a safety, making the score 21-16 with 2:24 to play giving GHS the ball back with no timeouts.

Scoring on their final drive wasn’t easy for Greenwich. They faced a fourth down and one, but GHS quarterback Jose Melo was able to slip past the West Haven defense and fight for two yards to keep the drive alive.

Two plays later, Melo connected with Longi down the middle of the field on a second down and seven at the West Haven 22. Although it appeared Longi found the end zone, he ended up being inches short.

“Longi made an unbelievable one-handed catch there, but our linebacker had their quarterback sacked on fourth down and the game is over if he could have brought the quarterback down,” West Haven head coach Ed McCarthy said. “We just didn’t do it. We fumbled the ball on the one inch line and the other day the same guy fumbled on the five-yard line. We dominated the game, but to their credit Longi made an unbelievable play and he smelled the goal line on their last play.”

However, two plays later, Longi took the handoff up the middle for the one-yard touchdown with 31.5 seconds to play.

“I had a so-so first half, so we came back out today and I knew I had to make the big plays,” Longi said. “I was definitely due. I made the big catch and should have made it in the first time, but I made it in the second time.”

The Greenwich High School defense applies the heavy pressure to West Haven during Thursday's game. — Avery Belicka photo

The Greenwich High School defense applies the heavy pressure to West Haven during Thursday’s game. — Avery Belicka photo

Although Big Red made the dramatic comeback on Sunday, both teams made key mistakes. With less than 12 minutes to play, Greenwich was on its own 34-yard line and went back punt, but a bad snap gave West Haven possession of the ball on the Greenwich 26.

On the ensuing drive, West Haven junior fullback Marshont Little took the handoff and advanced the ball to the Greenwich 6. On the next play, though, Greenwich would get the ball back, as the West Haven quarterback fumbled the ball in the end zone and Big Red’s Sangjoon Chung picked up the loose ball.

“In the locker room today, we knew we had to come out with intensity and knew we were down by six,” Greenwich’s Kendrick Pozo said. “We had to come out, play hard and stop them. We stopped them, got the momentum and we will build off this win.”

Midway through the fourth, Greenwich had a golden opportunity to tack on a touchdown, but their 14-play drive got stopped on the one-yard line, as West Haven’s defend held firm and forced a turnover on downs.

Although Big Red got the victory on Sunday, the game actually kicked off Thursday night.

Throughout most of the first half, the game was battling Mother Nature, as lightning and rain were pushing towards Cardinal Stadium. Finally, with 8:32 to play in the third quarter, the heavy rains and lightning forced a delay, and eventually a postponement.

“It’s weird,” Albonizio said. “I never have had this happen, but West Haven is a classy program and the kids are great. We are both in the same situation, so we needed to do what was best for the kids. The defense was doing OK. It was pretty muggy and hot and I think both teams were starting to wear down a little bit, especially the kids going both ways. It’s a battle. We knew we were going to be in a battle and still have a quarter and a half to go.”

After a scoreless first quarter, Big Red got on the scoreboard first, courtesy of its defense. West Haven was on a five-play drive and had the ball on the West Haven 36.

Under severe pressure from the GHS defense, West Haven coughed up the ball well behind the line of scrimmage. Kendrick Pozo scooped up the loose ball at the 20-yard line and darted down the West Haven sideline the rest of the way for the touchdown with 6:03 to play.

However, it didn’t take long for the Westies to respond, scoring on its ensuing drive. After Little combined for 17 yards on the first two plays of the drive, senior captain Ervin Phillips got the handoff and eluded several GHS defenders down the West Haven sideline for the 40-yard touchdown.

After GHS went three-and-out on its next drive, West Haven struck again late in the half. With 1:21 to play in the half, Little capped off the six play drive with a 31-yard run up the middle of the field for the touchdown.

“We are playing against a good team that has two tremendous backs,” Albonizio said. “They aren’t good. They are excellent backs. They are tough to bottle up and we need more offense to play with them. I wish I had one of those kids.”

Greenwich’s best chance for an offensive touchdown happened on its first drive. After Austin Longi hit a run for eight yards, quarterback Jose Melo called his own number, sprinting up the middle of the field and cutting towards the GHS sideline for the 26-yard gain.

After a Tommy Rappa run of seven yards and another six-yard run by Melo, Greenwich was on the West Haven 22, but on a third down, the GHS offense coughed up the ball and West Haven’s Normal Doss recovered to end Big Red’s threat.

With the victory, Greenwich is now 1-0 on the season, while West Haven fell to 0-1. On Saturday, Big Red hits the road for its first FCIAC game of the regular season when they play Darien High School at 2.

“This game gives our team some confidence,” Albonizio said. “They need it because we are young and inexperienced, but the kids don’t know that they are young and inexperienced. They just feel like they are a good football team and want to prove it. I didn’t know what to expect from them, but it worked out great for us. I expect the same type of game from Darien. They are a spread team that likes to throw the ball. They beat a good team in Hillhouse and scored 40 points on them.”

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