DERBY >> In his first official game as a UConn recruit, quarterback, Logan Marchi didn’t disappoint.
He threw pinpoint passes to his array of St. Paul targets. He dashed through hashmarks, weaved through Derby defenders and rained terror on the DeFilippo Field scoreboard.
For three and a half quarters, St. Paul was an machine and its typically maligned defense was making critical stops. The Falcons led 45-27 with just over eight minutes remaining.
But those final eight minutes belonged to another.
Undaunted by depth of the pit Marchi and St. Paul had dug for the Red Raiders, Derby quarterback Mike Kreiger never came unfocused, nor did he come unglued. And Derby walked off their home field with a wild, 49-45 victory.
Even with two teammates down, first Jordan LaRue to an ugly ankle injury in the third quarter and back Tyrae Small to an ejection in the fourth, Kreiger calmly led Derby back.
An 18-point lead was cut to 11 on a run from Ricky Bartone with 8:11 left.
Derby stunned St. Paul and recovered an onside kick, but stalled at the 3.
Unable to stop Marchi all day, Derby made St. Paul punt for just the second time of the night. So Kreiger and Derby marched down field again and threw an 11-yard scoring pass to Tyler Dobek which cut the lead to three.
With just 2:05 remaining Derby recovered another perfectly-placed onside kick from Sal Frosceno and the game was back in Kreiger’s hands for — yes — a chance at the victory.
Like Marchi before him, Kreiger didn’t disappoint the Derby crowd. He marched the Raiders down the field, hitting Dobek with a high pass Dobek corralled in the face of two defenders down inside the 15. Two plays later, Kreiger scored on an 8-yard run, churning his legs, twisting his body around a defender and hooking the ball over the goal line with 40 seconds remaining.
Marchi couldn’t rally St. Paul. Derby’s Brian Eliason tipped away one deep pass then intercepted Marchi on the next.
Cue bedlam at DeFilippo Field.
“He was absolutely phenomenal,” Derby coach George French said of his junior quarterback, who just last year replaced his older brother Ray. “Michael asked for the football. When times were tough he asked for the ball in his hands. He went over to me and said, ‘I’m going to do this, coach. I got this,’ and we just followed his lead. …His leadership took over the game.”
Except when he scored his winning touchdown — raising his arms to the air and egging on his hometown crowd’s jubilation — Kreiger remained as cool a customer off the field as he was on it.
“All of the guys on the field, we thought we’d be in this one to the end. …We fought through the end, and luckily it went in our favor,” said the quarterback, shrugging his shoulders after throwing for 160 yards and two touchdowns and running for 117 more and another TD. “You know, we just take it game by game. Onto the next one.”
Then he paused. “Well, obviously I’m going to live this one up. It was a spectacular team effort.”
Derby should savor this one for as long as possible.
It surrendered big play after big play to Marchi and St. Paul stars Reid Morin, Eli Parks and Brandon Carroll. They surrendered 530 yards of total offense, including a 408-yard, three touchdown performance from the much-more heralded Marchi.
Their big plays, like LaRue’s 65-yard kickoff return touchdown to start the second half, were countered by twice as many St. Paul big plays, Reid Morin’s 89-yard kickoff return touchdown and, later, Marchi’s 84-yard scramble and touchdown toss to Dan Cinnante to make it 45-27 late in the third.
Yet, Derby survived. Spectacularly, it survived.
I’ve never been more proud of them,” French said. “…Everyone from seniors stepped up to underclassmen stepped up. 49-45 we got out of here with a W. It was ugly, but we got out of here with a W.”