NEW CANAAN >> Lou Marinelli told his New Canaan team after the game that, even though he thinks his No. 3-ranked team is great, they didn’t quite play like it — especially in the first half.
He also praised seventh-seeded Masuk who hung with the second-seeded and No. 3 team in the latest GameTimeCT/Register top-10 poll in the quarterfinals of the Class L playoffs.
The Rams capitalized on two Panthers’ turnovers in the third quarter and held off Masuk to win 31-28 at a foggy Dunning Field and advance to the semifinals where they will host Notre Dame-West Haven on Dec. 5 at 6:30 p.m.
“Anytime you can win, we’ll take it,” Marinelli said. “But it wasn’t our best performance.”
“I don’t know if it’s rust from the Turkey Bowl, but it’s also because you’re playing a real good team that came in very well coached and they knew what they were doing.”
The teams traded touchdowns in the first half and went into the break tied at 14. But when they emerged from the mist for a second half shootout it was New Canaan who was able to stand strong.
“I said at halftime either we wake up or it’s over,” Marinelli said. “Luckily they came back and we were able to do some things, but we have some things to straighten out, for sure.”
— Derek Turner (@DCT_Sports) November 30, 2016
With 6:30 left in the third, Masuk attempted a punt, but the snap was fumbled. The New Canaan defense tackled the Masuk punter on his own 13-yard-line to set up a short field.
The Rams took the lead when Spencer Williams dove in from one yard out to make it a 21-14 lead.
New Canaan’s defense — aka “The Swamp” — stood strong on the ensuing possession and forced another punt and another bad snap.
This one went over the Masuk punter’s head and was recovered by New Canaan on the Panthers’ 24-yard line. A few plays later Pyne scored on a scramble to his left and was hit as he dove for the pylon to double up Masuk 28-14.
“It was a low snap and I fumbled it,” Pyne said. “Graham Braden made a great block and the other receivers were unbelievable blocking for me down there and they just got me in.”
The Panthers were able to answer with sophomore Jack Roberge’s second rushing touchdown of the game early in the fourth. He finished with 140 yards, mostly out of the Wildcat formation.
“We thought it was going to be a torrential downpour so we put that Wildcat in to catch them off guard in a sloppy game,” Masuk coach Joe Lato said. “But it didn’t work out, the rain never came.”
New Canaan did what it could to run the clock down and got into the red zone with just over three minutes to play, but settled for a Grant Morse 19-yard field goal.
It turned out to be the game-winner.
Masuk answered with a strong drive aided by a long pass and catch from Matt Hersch to Nicholas Dellapiano over the middle. Hersch gave P.J. Fox a shovel pass 12 yards from the end zone and he bounced it outside and in to pull within three at 31-28. but that was the final as New Canaan recovered the onside kick attempt.
“We shot ourselves in the foot a lot [this year],” Lato said. “But we never quit and you can always be proud of that.”
New Canaan 31, Masuk 28
Masuk: 7 7 0 14 — 28
New Canaan: 7 7 14 3 — 31
(at Dunning Field, New Canaan)
NC — Ryan O’Connell 1 run (Grant Morse kick) 5:59
M — Jack Roberge 9 pass from Matthew Hersch (Nolan McCarter kick) 0:08
NC — Drew Pyne 15 run (Morse kick) 9:15
M — Roberge 22 run (McCarter kick) 7:03
NC — Spencer Williams 1 run (Morse kick) 5:32
NC — Pyne 9 run (Morse kick) 1:34
M — Roberge 9 run (McCarter kick) 11:43
NC — Morse 19 field goal 3:08
M — Peter Fox 12 pass from Hersch (McCarter kick)
Team records: Masuk 7-4; New Canaan 10-1.