NEW CANAAN >> Dressed in pads and a sweatshirt, Nick Cascione shuffled across the turf as Dunning Field on Thursday afternoon.
His hands were in his shirt pockets. He stood by and just watched his teammates go through their preparations for their rematch with St. Joseph.
Maybe he’d pick up a ball and toss it, or offer some advice or encouragement. But that was it.
The biggest game of his senior season was a little over 24 hours away, and his chances of playing in it sounded grim.
Cascione, the point man on one of the state’s most explosive attacks, suffered a concussion two weeks ago and remained doubtful for the 48th annual FCIAC championship Friday at McDougall Field in Trumbull at 7 p.m. [Webcast live on MSGVarsity.com]
New Canaan, looking for its eighth title and first since 2008, plays St. Joseph in a rematch of the showdown Nov. 1, won by New Canaan 62-21. New Canaan has been ranked No. 1 in the state since then.
And Cascione was holding out hope he’d get an 11th-hour clearance to play.
“It’s really tough,” said Cascione, who has thrown for nearly 1,600 yards, 26 touchdowns and only two interceptions. “Me and the guys have been working really hard all off season all preseason and all season to get here and to might not be able to play it’s real hard just to go out and watch them. But I’m going to be supportive and do all I can to hopefully bring home a win.”
Cascione was scheduled for one last check with a doctor to see if he would be cleared. His coaches weren’t so optimistic. “It’s tough nowadays with concussions,” New Canaan coach Lou Marinelli said. “You’ve got to be so careful with them.”
Besides, Marinelli said, it’s challenges like these that define champions.
He pointed to shirts worn by assistant coach Chris Silvestri and his son, John Marinelli. It reads, “N.C. Football: Next man up.”
“That kind of been our mantra this year,” said Lou Marinelli. “If Nick’s there, that’s great. But if he’s not? Next man up.
“That’s happened a lot this year, but nobody knew because it was the next man up. This is the ultimate team game. Not one guy can do it all for you.”
In this case the next man up is sophomore Mike Collins. When Cascione went down vs. Wilton, Collins came in and helped the Rams to a 34-7 victory. He started in New Canaan’s win over Trinity Catholic.
Now he’ll be making his second career start in the FCIAC championship.
Next man up after Collins will be Ted Bossidy, a veteran who split time with Cascione last season.
No one’s worried.
“I have a lot of confidence,” Cascione said. “I’ve been working with Mike all week to make sure he stays back in the pocket, make sure he’s going through his reads. We’re pretty confidence in both guys.”
This is New Canaan’s first FCIAC championship game since it defeated Darien in front of 10,000 at Boyle Stadium in 2008. Almost every year since, one loss has kept the Rams from playing for another title.
“We’ve been the bridesmaid so many times,” Marinelli said. “We’ve been to states more times than the FCIAC. So this is very special it’s very special to be there. I know it’s changed over years because the focus is now more on states. But for an old timer like me the FCIAC is like — wow.”
St. Joseph, meanwhile, is making its first appearance in the FCIAC championship since joining the league in 1994. This is its first league title game of any kind since the MBIAC final in 1984.
“I am extremely excited,” St. Joseph coach Joe Della Vecchia said. “Our kids are extremely excited. It’s one of our goals at the beginning of the year. It’s the hardest goal to accomplish. To finally do it is something else.”
As much as the Hogs (9-1) are thrilled to be here, they’re thrilled to get another shot at correcting what went wrong in the first meeting.
That means no turnovers. St. Joseph has committed eight combined in its last two meetings with New Canaan.
“And they were both losses,” Della Vecchia said. “We can’t put the ball on the ground against them.
“We’re hoping it’s going to be different. We don’t think it’s going to be a 40-point game, but that’s what they do. They’re that good. But we’re pretty darn good, too. So we’’ll see what happens.”
The FCIAC Championship
No. 6 St. Joseph (9-1) vs. No. 1 New Canaan (10-0)
WHEN: Friday, 7
WHERE: McDougall Stadium, Trumbull
LAST MEETING: New Canaan 62-21, Nov. 1
ON THE AIR — MSGVarsity.com / New Canaan Advertiser radio
CHAMPIONSHIP HISTORY: New Canaan: 1968, 1969, 1972, 1993, 1999, 2000, 2008 (7-7- all-time). St. Joseph: First appearance.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: St. Joseph: Sr. QB Jordan Vazzano (2,176 yards, 28 TD passing), Jr. WR Lars Pedersen (42 catches, 791 yards, 12 TD rec); Sr. RB Mufasha Abdul-Basir (1,513 yards, 19 TDs rushing); Sr. T Steve Hashemi; Sr. G Pete Mestre; Sr. TE Mark Hirschbeck; Sr. NG Mike Schuchmann (43 tackles). New Canaan: Soph. QB Mike Collins (256 yards passing, 2 TDs, 2 int); Sr. QB Nick Cascione (1,599 yards, 26 TD, 2 INT passing), Sr. LB Cole Harris (10.5 tackles/gm, 5 def TDs); Sr. DL/FB Connor Buck , Jr. DL Zach Allen (8 sacks); Sr. RB Jack Gilio (460 yards, 6 TD receiving); Sr. WR Alex LaPolice (350 yards, 6 TD receiving); Jr. RB Frank Cognetta (750 yards, 11 TD rushing)
OUTLOOK: It’s the Game of the Century of the Year Redux for the FCIAC championship! Actually, the much-hyped regular season meeting didn’t quite live up to its billing as New Canaan scored on every possession in the first half and rolled to a 62-21 victory.
But with the knowledge of what they could and couldn’t do on that night in New Canaan, St. Joseph promises a different result in the FCIAC final — their first — in Trumbull just a hop, skip and a jump away from Dalling.
The game should be different, not just because of what St. Joseph does (or doesn’t do), but because of what New Canaan can (or can’t) do without senior quarterback Nick Cascione. He was diagnosed with a concussion during New Canaan’s victory over Wilton two weeks ago and likely won’t play. That would means New Canaan would likey ask sophomore Mike Collins to direct the Rams’ high-octane offense in the FCIAC final in just his second career start.
Another option is senior Ted Bossidy, who split time with Cascione last year and has experience running the offense. Bossidy has, however, had a bout with pneumonia and is just getting back to playing now.
So there’s equal pressure on New Canaan’s defense to make life easy for whoever starts at quarterback.
Good news for New Canaan: it’s been the best defense in the state. Good news for St. Joseph: It moved the ball well in the first meeting, it just couldn’t score.
If Vazzano, Pedersen and Abdul-Basir figure out way to score and score consistently against that imposing front led by Harris, Root, Allen and Buck, and the Hogs could very well take home their first FCIAC title. Good luck with that part.Sorry, there are no polls available at the moment.