Each year Greenwich High School football coach John Marinelli goes up against New Canaan, the team his father Lou Marinelli leads, he finds it easier to face his former squad.
“This is year three of playing New Canaan, so I don’t really know their players,” John Marinelli said. “I worked with them very little. I know their faces, but not like I knew Michael Collins (former Rams quarterback). I’m more removed from New Canaan in year three.”
Year three of New Canaan versus Greenwich with father and son coaching against each other takes place Saturday at Cardinal Stadium in a key FCIAC matchup scheduled for 4 p.m.
Lou Marinelli, Connecticut’s winningest football coach, who has guided New Canaan to 12 state championships, doesn’t exactly look forward to playing his son’s Cardinals team each season.
“I hate it, I can’t wait until it’s over,” Lou Marinelli said of Saturday’s game. “It has not gotten any easier for me each year. I want my son to do well, but I certainly don’t want to get beat by him. This is an important game when it comes to making the playoffs.”
Indeed, after beginning the season with a 38-35 loss to St. Joseph, the 3-1 Rams have rolled past Danbury, Trumbull and Westhill. The Cardinals, meanwhile are 3-0 following their bye week — their latest win coming against Norwalk (48-0).
Through three games Greenwich has outscored the opposition, 167-23 and has 55 points per contest. Yet the Cards know their defense must play at its highest level against the Rams’ vaunted offense navigated by sophomore Drew Pyne.
Over the first four games, Pyne has passed for 920 yards and 12 touchdowns. He’s also rushed for three scores.
“He is the best offensive player in the state,” John Marinelli said. “It’s like watching someone play Madden on video games. He throws the ball very well from the pocket and is extremely patient. He gets the ball to his receivers in positions they can handle it. It’s like watching a video game — he’s one of the best players we have ever seen.”
Pyne has also taken a significant step forward in the leadership department.
“He has taken more of a leadership role with the offense,” Lou Marinelli said. “That has been part of his maturity process from last year. Besides getting bigger, stronger and faster, when he doesn’t like something he will stop reading progressions and pull it down and make us look good.”
Senior Owen Shin (303 yards on the season) has sparked the Rams’ running game, while junior Quintin O’Connell (20 receptions, 296 yards, seven touchdowns) leads a deep receiving corps.
Yes, there is plenty Greenwich’s defense, led by linebackers Jack Feda and Robert Lanni, lineman Nick Mcintosh and defensive back Charlie Ducret, must focus their attention on.
“Our senior captains need to step up and be emotional leaders on the sideline and on the field,” John Marinelli said. “We have to limit their big play capability and our guys have to play the best game they’ve ever played on defense at Greenwich High School. With the firepower New Canaan has and the options they throw at you, you can’t give them extra yards by committing penalties on defense. We have to play smart football.”
Led by juniors Jack Conley (6-7, 315) and Jack Stewart (6-5, 280), the Rams have the size advantage up front.
“We’re planning on taking advantage of our size,” Lou Marinelli said. “We’re a little bit bigger than them, so hopefully, we can control the ball and keep it out of their hands.”
On offense, Greenwich counters with junior quarterback Gavin Muir, who is off to an impressive start (662 yards passing, nine touchdowns).
“I’ve watched Greenwich since they started 7 on 7 last winter and I’ve seen them get increasingly better,” Lou Marinelli said. “Their quarterback has gotten really good, he’s one of the best quarterbacks in the league.”
Junior Tysen Comizio has emerged as Greenwich’s leading rusher, gaining 284 yards on just 31 carries (9.2 yards per attempt) through three games.
“He is one of the best backs we have faced, so we have to have enough guys in the box to slow him down,” Lou Marinelli said. “We have to play really well against them in order to win. You have to get up on them, no one has gotten a big lead on them yet.”
Garrett Braden, a junior linebacker, is one of the Rams’ leading tacklers, along with senior linebacker Grant Morse.
“Can we protect our quarterback is one of the keys,” John Marinelli said. “We have a young offensive line and they have one of the best defensive players out there in Braden. We have to also run the ball effectively. The nice part about our offense is that we haven’t really stretched the field yet, we’ve had long drives. Our offense adapts well to the type of game we are in.”
Last season saw New Canaan upend Greenwich, 40-16, after holding a 16-8 halftime lead. The first time the Marinellis played against each other, the Rams posted a 24-14 victory.
“This game isn’t about me or Johnny, it’s about the kids,” Lou Marinelli said. “This game is always a little weird for me, but we will see a really good high school football game.”