Expect the unexpected.
That’s the mindset Greenwich High School football coach John Marinelli and the Cardinals believe they have to adopt during Sunday’s 12:30 p.m. Class LL Tournament semifinal game against South Windsor.
Coached by David Hodge, the Bobcats (10-1) are a run-oriented team that has presented opposing defenses with various looks throughout the season.
“They are as unconventional as any team we have ever played,” Marinelli said. “They run the ball very well, through so many different formations, running a Wing-T, single wing and three or four offenses and they do a good job at it.”
The No. 1-seeded Cardinals (11-0) have advanced to the state semifinals for the first time since it captured the Class LL title in 2007. South Windsor (10-1) meanwhile, finds itself in the state tournament for the first time in 29 years. One of the Bobcats’ biggest wins in program history came Tuesday when it posted a 35-13 triumph against fifth-seeded Naugatuck under the lights at East Hartford High School.
Greenwich earned a semifinal-round berth and another playoff home game by upending eighth-seeded Fairfield Prep, 27-6, in Tuesday night’s quarterfinals at Cardinal Stadium.
“This is what we were playing for during the regular season — home field advantage,” Marinelli said. “We have to protect it. On a Sunday at 12:30, I think the crowd will be pretty big and the atmosphere should be great, like it was at Cardinal Stadium the other night.”
Hodge has turned South Windsor’s program around during his four seasons at the helm. His first season in 2014, the Bobcats went 1-11, then improved to 4-6 and 6-4 the past two seasons, before excelling this fall.
“What he is doing with that program is really impressive,” Marinelli said of Hodge. “He coached a lot of their players in youth football as well, so he has been with their kids for about 10 years now. So they know everything about each other they know their movements and where each other is going to be. They could almost run their offense with their eyes closed.”
In South Windsor, Greenwich is facing a team that features a strong running game paced by senior Julian Ibes. After gaining 161 yards on 29 carries in the quarterfinal win against Naugatuck, Ibes has totaled more than 1,300 rushing yards for the season.
Junior Ronnie Pinkard, who like Ibes, had two rushing touchdowns against Naugatuck, has also sparked the Bobcats’ running attack, along with senior James Tamburro. Senior 6-foot-5 quarterback Connor Kapisak has passed for more than 1,400 yards for the Bobcats, whose lone loss came against Conard.
“They have a 6-5 quarterback, they’re very big up front, they have receivers who can run and they are a physical, very well-coached team,” GHS defensive coordinator Bryan Hocter said. “They stick to what they do and don’t do anything their uncomfortable doing. Our defense has to be very disciplined up front and our linebackers have to read their keys.”
Said Cardinals senior defensive lineman Nick Mcintosh: “They run a lot of different fronts, so it will be important for us to maintain our gap integrity and build a wall up front.”
The Bobcats’ defense, which limited Naugatuck to 140 yards in the quarterfinals, faces a multi-faceted Cardinals offense led by junior quarterback Gavin Muir and junior running back Tysen Comizio. Muir, who returned back to action after sitting out the second half of the team’s Thanksgiving Day game against Staples with an ankle injury, passed for 286 yards in the win over Fairfield Prep. Comizio has rushed for 1,099 yards for the season and the Cardinals possess four receivers with more than 30 receptions in Lance Large (38), Henry Saleeby (33) Jael Negron (32) and Tysen Comizio (31).
“South Windsor is big up front and they do a good job of stopping the run,” Marinelli said. “They force teams to do what they don’t want to do, so if that happens we have to find what works and hopefully, adjust on the fly.”
According to Marinelli, South Windsor likes to onsides kick a lot and often go for it on fourth down — both points of emphasis during a recent GHS practice.
“They alway onside kick, they’ve only kicked off about 20 times this year,” Marinelli said. “They also don’t punt a lot, they go for it a lot. They give us something we haven’t seen in all three phases in a short week, so we have to expect the unexpected. Our defense has to be prepared mentally to stay on the field for four downs.”
The Greenwich-South Windsor winner plays either third-seeded Darien or seventh-seeded West Haven in next week’s championship game.
“Playing at home in the semifinals is very important to us,” GHS senior linebacker Robert Lanni said. “Tuesday night, the atmosphere was great. It was amazing to have that type of support.”