Veterans Field, New Britain, Saturday, 2:30 p.m. [Buy Tickets]
- No. 2 NEW CANAAN 11-1
- No. 1 WINDSOR 12-0
- New Canaan: LOU MARINELLI (36th year, 330-100-7)
- Windsor: ROB FLEETING (8th year, 78-11; 156-40-2 career)
New Canaan (16th appearance, 11-4): 2015 def. North Haven 42-35; 2014 def. Darien 21-20; 2013 def. Darien 44-12; 2011 lost to Daniel Hand 34-10; 2010 lost to Masuk 50-20; 2009 def. East Lyme 28-0; 2008 def. Darien 26-7; 2007 def. Daniel Hand 34-30; 2006 def. Maloney 53-21; 2002 def. Ledyard 21-0; 2001 def. Seymour 29-6; 2000 lost to Bloomfield 55-6; 1996 lost to Killingly 27-13; 1993 def. Daniel Hand 35-14; 1982 def. Naugatuck 20-12.
Windsor (4th appearance, 1-2): 2014 def. Notre Dame-West Haven 38-16; 2012 lost to Daniel Hand 23-6; 2002 lost to Ridgefield 14-13.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
YOU SHOULD KNOW
New Canaan will attempt to win its fourth straight state title. The Rams have advanced to a final in 10 of the last 11 seasons. New Canaan hasn’t lost to a team other than Darien since the 2012 Class L semifinals vs. Windsor.
New Canaan coach Lou Marinelli can tie former West Haven coach Ed McCarthy for the state record for victories with a victory here.
“Every year that’s what you want to do,” Marinelli said. “Every year in the beginning of the year, we tell the seniors, ‘What are you going to do to write your legacy?’”
Drew Pyne, who moved to New Canaan as a freshman this year already with college offers, got his first start in the team’s second week vs. Ridgefield. He’s been the starter ever since. The freshman has completed 155 of 245 passes for 2.206 yards and 24 touchdowns.
“He handled it beautifully,” senior linebacker James Freyre said. “You can’t say enough good things about the kid. He’s a young kid new town doesn’t know too many people coming into the summer. The way he conducted himself is just… you couldn’t ask for anything more. He’s the nicest kid, the most humble kid everybody on the team likes him so it was really easy for us to rally around him.
“But we knew our team wasn’t just the quarterback.”
— Sean Patrick Bowley (@SPBowley) October 22, 2016
Pyne top targets are sophomore Quintin O’Connell (45 receptions, 695 yards, seven touchdowns), junior Justin Greco (24-292-1) and Ryan O’Connell (23-461-6).
Ryan O’Connell is one of the FCAIC’s best players on both sides of the ball. Though he’s been hampered somewhat by a nagging ankle injury, the senior still has been a major factor. He scored the tying touchdown in an eventual overtime loss to Darien on Thanksgiving. O’Connell leads the team with eight interceptions.
“The kid is such a grinder and so competitive,” Freyre said of O’Connell. “His ankle is still hurt, but he’s still playing hard, he’s still making plays.”
“He probably shouldn’t even be playing,” Marinelli said. “He’s one of those rare players. He’s the best I’ve seen at New Canaan since (former New Canaan All-Stater and current defensive coordinator) Chris Silvestri.”
Senior Graham Braden leads the team with 134 rushes for 1,053 yards. He’s scored eight touchdowns. Ryan O’Connell has scored 11 rushing touchdowns.
Freyre (90 tackles), junior Grant Morse (85 tackles), O’Connell (eight interceptions) and Root (five interceptions) lead a New Canaan defense that has allowed just 166 points.
“It never gets old, especially every year it’s a new team a new dynamic,” Freyre said of New Canaan’s run of titles. “And, especially when it’s your senior year, it’s like our time and our team. We’ve been talking about writing our own history. When you’re a senior you’re more able to take control of this team to make it your own and make it your own identity.
“It’s pretty crazy looking back at it. I was just up in the stands and I would look at guys like Michael Root, Cole Harris and I still remember all those kids and being kind of amazed what they could do on the field. And now, I’m thinking there are kids in the stands looking at me like that and that’s crazy to think about.”
— Sean Patrick Bowley (@SPBowley) November 24, 2016
Windsor is making its third championship game appearance since 2012. The Warriors won their only state title in 2014. Windsor defeated Harding and CCC rival Middletown in the quarterfinals and semifinals, respectively, this season.
“It’s weird. I feel there’s less pressure because I don’t think people expect us to be successful,” Windsor coach Rob Fleeting said. “But our staff and our kids believe in themselves and we expect to have a great game.”
Led by Gardner, who’s made 60 tackles and 6.5 sacks, Windsor has allowed just 76 points this season.
The Warriors have posted six shutouts. Gardner had a career-day running the ball against Middletown. He rushed 23 times for 203 yards and five touchdowns in a 40-14 victory.
Grant has completed 160 of 231 passes for 2,927 yards and 31 touchdowns against just five interceptions. He has targets in Pinnock, who committed to Boston College, Gardner and junior Marquis Wilson. Pinnock has caught 52 passes for 1,099 yards and 12 touchdowns.
“I’ve never seen a kid develop his body and pay more attention to his physical development than he has,” Fleeting said about the 6-foot-1, 190 pound Pinnock.
“His skills were always there but, physically, he’s big and he runs great routes. His work ethic is great. He’s a straight-A student and he’s just a pleasure to have.”
Despite the offensive accolades on both sides, defense is the defining characteristic of both teams. And defense is where this game is going to be won.
—Sean Patrick Bowley contributed
POOCH’S PICK — New Canaan.
SPB’S PICK — New Canaan 24-20
CALPREPS PROJECTION — New Canaan 24-20
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