New Canaan tops Greenwich in “Marinelli Bowl”

The week leading up to Saturday’s showdown between the New Canaan and Greenwich football teams wasn’t an easy one for the Marinelli family.

Greenwich quarterback Frank Alfano throws a pass. — Dave Stewart photo

Greenwich quarterback Frank Alfano throws a pass. — Dave Stewart photo

Lou Marinelli, the head coach of the New Canaan Rams for more than three decades, no longer had at his side his son John, who is now leading his own program with the Cardinals.

So in the moments before the opening kickoff, with father and son about to square off for the first time, Lou took a stroll across the field for a good luck handshake to perhaps ease some of the tension.

“I promised my wife that I’d go across the field and shake his hand before the game,” Lou Marinelli said. “So I asked the officials and they said yeah. So he was hiding back there. Maybe it’s my age or his age, but it hasn’t been a great week for us. I don’t enjoy playing against him.”

New Canaan received its first true challenge of the season, building a quick 14-0 lead and then holding off a tremendous performance by Greenwich for a 24-14 win on homecoming at Cardinals Stadium.

The Rams scored two touchdowns in the first 2:37 and appeared poised for another blowout before the Cards turned the tables to make it a game.

Here’s Friday’s complete game broadcast in high definition. (If you don’t see the player window, click here to watch):

Play-by-play: Rob Adams; Analyst: Chris Kaelin; Director: Eric Gendron; Assistant director: AJ Szymanowski

“There was a lot of hoopla about the Marinelli Bowl and everything, but I went to work every day and made sure that I got our kids ready,” John Marinelli said. “I kept the emotion out of it. I’m sure their practices were all about me, but for my kids, they don’t know that about me and my New Canaan tie. They know I’m in Greenwich and I’m so happy to be here. I’m so happy the way the kids played and I’m fully a Greenwich kid now.”

While Greenwich fell to 2-3, New Canaan improved to a perfect 5-0, finally receiving a test and responding with some grit.

New Canaan's Ryan O'Connell (7) picks up a few yards after an interception. — Dave Stewart photo

New Canaan’s Ryan O’Connell (7) picks up a few yards after an interception. — Dave Stewart photo

“It’s great because they gave us all they had,” Lou Marinelli said. “We were back on our heels there. If we’re going to be where we want to be at the end and get to the league and state championships, we have to get a lot better than we were today. They exposed us a little bit, especially offensively. They gave us all we could handle. We have to figure out how to get better.”

Though not as crisp as he had been in the first four games, Ram quarterback Michael Collins put up impressive numbers, completing 19-of-37 passes for 369 yards and three touchdowns, giving his 26 TD strikes for the year.

Seven of those passes went to Andrew DeFranco, who had 106 receiving yards and scored once. Peter Swindell had five catches for 135 yards; Matt Cognetta had three catches for 60 yards and a TD; and Kyle Smith had two catches for 56 yards and a TD.

Swindell also tied a state kicking record with the 18th field goal of his career — a 32-yard boot which gave the Rams a 24-7 lead with 7:56 remaining in the third quarter.

Greenwich edged closer with an 81-yard drive late in the third, scoring on a one-yard run by Luke Bienstock to make it 24-14.

Bienstock was the biggest weapon for the Cardinals, as the senior running back amassed 127 rushing yards on 25 carries — a 5.1 average — and turned one catch into a 41-yard gain.

Down by three touchdowns at halftime, Bienstock was the catalyst for Greenwich’s second-half comeback bid.

“Luke Bienstock is incredible,” John Marinelli said. “At halftime he said ‘coach, give me the ball.’ I said ‘Luke, we’re down 21-0, I don’t know if we can run it’ and he said ‘trust me, give me the ball.’ The first two drives, we came out and made it a game 21-14. We did a great job.”

Tyler Farris picks up some yards on offense. — Dave Stewart photo

Tyler Farris picks up some yards on offense. — Dave Stewart photo

After Bienstock’s touchdown, New Canaan’s defense clamped down in the fourth quarter and the Cards were unable to move the ball as well.

“The defense won it for us today,” Lou Marinelli said. “Especially with the goal-line stand and in the second half. (Greenwich) kept possession of the ball, they got up to the line of scrimmage quickly and went to the muddle-huddle, which we hadn’t seen a lot of. Our defense was certainly a key to the victory today.”

Cardinal quarterback Frank Alfano completed 14-of-21 passes for 183 yards and a touchdown. His top targets were Joseph Lanni, who caught four passes for 84 yards, and Tyler Farris, who caught five passes for 47 yards and a TD.

New Canaan struck shortly after the opening kickoff, scoring on the second play from scrimmage when Collins threw a screen to Matt Cognetta and Cognetta threaded his way through the defense for a 50-yard score. Swindell’s first PAT made it 7-0 just 26 seconds into the game.

A three-and-out series led to a Greenwich punt and, three plays later, Collins fired a pass over the middle to Smith for a 35-yard score and a 14-0 lead.

Greenwich’s defense stepped up after that stopping the Rams on downs on one possession and then ending the next with a pick by Joseph Lanni. The Cards almost capitalized on that turnover as they drove inside the New Canaan 10-yard line, but a strong stand by the Rams shut it down at the one.

The two teams then traded turnovers, as New Canaan’s Andrew Jahns recovered a fumble at the Rams’ 11-yard line and Greenwich’s Connor Langan picked off a pass at the New Canaan 40. Just two plays after that, Ryan O’Connell came down with an interception and returned the ball to the Cardinals’ 47.

New Canaan turned O’Connell’s play into points as Collins and DeFranco eventually teamed up on an 8-yard touchdown with 9.4 seconds on the clock.

Greenwich responded on the opening drive of the second half, with quarterback Frank Alfano firing a 29-yard touchdown pass to Tyler Farris to cut the deficit to 21-7.

New Canaan came back with three points on Swindell’s field goal before Bienstock’s rushing TD made it 24-14. Neither team found the end zone in the fourth quarter, however, as the Rams picked up the 10-point win.

Greenwich RB Luke Bienstock picks up 41 yards on a pass during the second half of Saturday's game. Bienstock had 127 rushing yards on 25 carries. — Dave Stewart photo

Greenwich RB Luke Bienstock picks up 41 yards on a pass during the second half of Saturday’s game. Bienstock had 127 rushing yards on 25 carries. — Dave Stewart photo

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