STAMFORD >> Greenwich’s football team played the kind of game Friday afternoon that would turn any coach old in a hurry. Even one as young as John Marinelli.
But the 29-year old son of New Canaan’s 300-game-winning coach Lou Marinelli walked away happy, if exasperated, after his team somehow managed to survive Trinity Catholic, 42-38, in his first game as a head coach.
“I’ll take it,” Marinelli said, before launching into a list of mistakes his Cardinals made throughout. “It wasn’t pretty. We made a lot of stupid mistakes, took stupid penalties in situations where you just can’t take them.”
Marinelli had to be brought back to the moment. His team won and as many mistakes as the Cardinals made, they made plenty of big plays too.
Trinity Catholic, which surged back from a two-touchdown deficit in the third quarter, had the ball at its own 15 with over 4 minutes remaining and a chance to win the game. After getting to midfield with 50 seconds remaining, junior Connor Langan picked off a deep throw by Trinity quarterback Anthony Lombardi to finish this crazy game off.
Our kids, when they were focused in, they were good,” Marinelli said. “…We were our own worst enemy at times. But I’m proud of them. They fought their butts off to the end. They faced adversity and stared it back down and I give our guys a lot of credit for that.”
Langan had two interceptions to lead a defense that, at times, looked shellshocked by Lombardi’s pitch-and-catch exposition with receivers Johnny Somers and Izaiah Sanders. Lombardi, a senior, completed 10 of 23 passes for 301 yards and three long touchdown throws to both of his star receivers, who combined to make nine catches for 295 yards.
“Trinity’s a good team,” Marinelli said. “And those receivers are awesome.”
But on the final drive, after a Greenwich personal foul gave Trinity great position at midfield, Lombardi threw well over Sanders and into Langan’s arms for an easy pick. “We were double-teaming No. 9 — Izaiah, he’s a great player — so we came out, we were just reading the ball and I happened to make the catch.”
Trinity Catholic — a favorite to compete for an FCIAC and Class S state playoff spot — fell to 0-1, but earned high praise from coach Donny Panapada for rallying back to make this a nail biter.
After a quiet first quarter, which saw Greenwich take a 6-0 lead on a pair of field goals, the two teams exploded for 49 combined points in the second quarter. Every time Greenwich hit Trinity with jab, Trinity countered with a haymaker.
“We fought,” Panapada said. “For one of the smallest schools in the state of Connecticut going up against one of the biggest, I’m proud of my guys.”
Tyler Farris made it 13-0 on a 67-yard catch-and-run. Trinity’s Somers sped away with a 77-yard touchdown catch. Trinity’s Dillon Daine picked off his own tipped pass to set up Nick Melia’s 4-yard touchdown run to tie the game.
But of course, more craziness: Anthony Ferraro returned the ensuing kickoff 81 yards to put Greenwich ahead 20-14. Then Sanders made, perhaps, the play of the game when he wrested a deep ball from Joseph Lanni and raced 82 yards to bring Trinity to within 21-20.
Greenwich settled in, however, and scored on a pair of Luke Bienstock touchdown runs for a 35-20 halftime lead.
“The second quarter I though was two quarters,” Panapada said. “I gotta tell you, I looked at my guys at halftime and they were spent. I was proud and I said, ‘Don’t be satisfied with playing with these guys for a half because you can beat ’em. They believed me.”
After a disastrous couple of drives to start the second half, Trinity finally got going again and pulled to within 35-32 on a 56-yard touchdown strike from Lombardi to Somers and Lombardi’s 12-yard touchdown scamper just before the end of the third quarter.
Panapada tried a squib kick, but it wound up in Greenwich’s hands and the Cardinals retook control. Bienstock — an all-American rugby player — ran through several tackles to convert a clutch fourth down to set up Joey Longo’s 14-yard touchdown catch from Frank Alfano that made it 42-32.
“I was cramping up a little bit, coach said it’s fourth down they needed me,” said Bienstock, who ran for 96 yards on 15 carries. “I just read my blocks and lowered my shoulder — and that’s sort of the game I play. I can juke a little bit, not much, so I just lowered my shoulder and hit it.”
The Crusaders got back within four on Lombardi’s 4-yard run a few minutes later and then forced a punt with 4 minutes remaining for a shot to win the game. “We just fell a little short,” Pananpada said. “But, hey, I’m proud of my guys.”
Alfano, in his first start at quarterback for Greenwich was 21 of 31 for 173 yards.
“We practiced real hard in the preseason, all of us,” Langan said. “And we came together as a family. Getting the win today, in front of all the people who came to watch us, was special.”
Greenwich 42, Trinity Catholic 38
Greenwich 6 29 0 6 — 42
Trinity Catholic 0 20 12 6 — 38
G — Soh Nakayama 37 field goal
G — Nakayama 34 field goal
G — Tyler Farris 67 pass from Frank Alfano (Nakayama kick)
TC — Johnny Somers 77 pass from Anthony Lombardi (Gerardo Gonzalez pass from Lombardi)
TC — Nick Melia 4 run (pass failed)
G — Anthony Ferraro 81 kickoff return (Nakayama kick)
TC — Izaiah Sanders 82 pass from Lombardi (pass failed)
G — Luke Bienstock 19 run (Nakayama kick)
G — Bienstock 2 run (Nakayama kick)
TC — Somers 56 pass from Lombardi (pass failed)
TC — Lombardi 12 run (pass failed)
G — Joey Longo 15 pass from Alfano (Nakayama kick)
TC — Lombardi 4 run (pass failed)