NEW CANAAN >> An already awkward confrontation between one of the state’s all-time best coaches and his prodigal son became excruciatingly more so just before the kickoff of Saturday’s anticipated showdown between No. 2 New Canaan and Greenwich.
On his wife Fran’s orders, Lou Marinelli, the 11-time championship coach at New Canaan, came out to midfield looking for a pregame hug from his son, Greenwich coach John Marinelli. But John was nowhere to be found.
“Where is he? He’s hiding,” Lou Marinelli said, his arms outstretched in mock disgust. Turning to the referees, Lou Marinelli demanded they throw a flag. “He should be penalized 15 yards for disrespect to his father.”
John sheepishly emerged from the Greenwich sideline and gave his dad a quick hug before retreating back to his sideline.
In the first few moments of this FCIAC clash, it looked as if dad’s team was going to make Johnny’s pay for his apparent insolence.
But Greenwich readjusted and outplayed New Canaan in the second half of a 24-14 loss. And, as the two met again for the postgame hug, it was Lou Marinelli offering high praise. “You’ve got to be happy with that,” Lou said before the two embraced again.
While the sad faces across the Greenwich sidelines said otherwise, the short answer was yes. Yes, John and the Cardinals were proud of their performance.
“We said all week, this is a man’s game out there and that’s what we were trying to prove,” Greenwich senior Luke Bienstock said. “We’re starting a new program here and what coach Marinelli’s done here has been incredible. We were aware of what was going on and we wanted to prove to him that we’ve been really appreciative of him coming here.”
Greenwich absorbed two, big early haymakers: Mike Collins’ 50-yard scoring jaunt on a screen pass and, just two minutes later, a 37-yard touchdown bomb from Mike Collins to a wide-open Kyle Smith that put the Cardinals behind 14-0 just 3 minutes into the game.
But, from there Greenwich held New Canaan’s high-scoring offense in check and actually outscored the Rams 14-10 over the next three quarters. New Canaan, which led 21-0 at halftime on a last-minute TD pass from Collins to Andrew DeFranco, scored just 3 points in the second half as Greenwich tried to make a spirited comeback.
“It stinks we gave up the two touchdowns. Once our kids settled down, we just basically shut out the No. 1 offense in the state in the second half,” said John Marinelli, his eyes hidden by sunglasses on this cloudy afternoon. “We held them to 3 points. I know they were going in at the end there, but our kids did such a good job and I’m really proud of them.”
— Sean Patrick Bowley (@SPBowley) October 25, 2015
Collins finished with 369 passing and three touchdowns on 19 of 37 attempts. But Greenwich also picked him off twice and recovered a fumble at the goal line, keeping the New Canaan offense John Marinelli once coached from reproducing the magic of the game’s first three minutes.
“This has been a very tough week for all of us. I don’t like playing against friends, especially my son,” said Lou Marinelli, who said he hadn’t spoken with Johnny for about two weeks leading up to the game. “All of my life I’ve been trying to help him, now I’m trying to beat him. That’s my job. That’s my responsibility and I have a great group of kids.
“(Greenwich) gave us all we could handle. We were really back on our heels there. If we’re going to be where we want to be at the end — if we want to get to the league and state championship again, we have to be better than we were. And I think they exposed us a little bit.”
Greenwich quarterback Frank Alfano completed 14 of 21 passes for 183 yards and a 29-yarder to Tyler Ferris for Greenwich’s first score of the game in the third quarter. Luke Bienstock ran 28 times for 127 yards and scored on a 1-yard run to pull Greenwich within 24-14 after three quarters.
— Sean Patrick Bowley (@SPBowley) October 24, 2015
After Greenwich’s defense twice prevented New Canaan from padding its lead in the fourth quarter, Alfano led the team inside the New Canaan 20 for the fourth time that afternoon.
But New Canaan’s defense — as it did in the second quarter when it twice stopped Greenwich at or near the goal line — stiffened one last time.
A penalty knocked the Cardinals out of field goal range and then New Canaan linebacker David Strupp sacked Alfano back at the 40 to end Greenwich’s final threat with under three minutes remaining.
“This thing could have turned around in a hurry, especially when they were going in down there,” Lou Marinelli said. “I thought (defensive coordinator) Chris Silvestri with the defense did a tremendous job. …But I can’t say enough about the job that Johnny and his coaches did over there. Their kids played their rear-ends off.”
New Canaan improved to 5-0, keeping pace with arch-rival Darien in the FCIAC playoff chase. Greenwich fell to 2-3.
— Sean Patrick Bowley (@SPBowley) October 24, 2015
“It was just another game. It was just another game,” John Marinelli said. “I get it. There was a lot of hoopla about the ‘Marinelli Bowl’ and everything else. But I went to work every day and I made sure I got our kids ready. I kept the emotion out of it. I’m sure their practices were all about me.
“And for my kids, they don’t know about my New Canaan side. They know that I’m in Greenwich and I’m so happy to be here and I’m so happy the way the kids played and I’m fully, fully a Greenwich kid now and I’m proud of my kids.”
Note: Peter Swindell, who caught five passes for 135 yards, tied Connecticut’s career field goal leader with a 32-yarder in the third quarter. He has made 18 in his career, tying him with Greenwich’s Roberto Inesta (1968-1971).
New Canaan 24, Greenwich 14
New Canaan 14 7 3 0 — 24
Greenwich 0 0 14 0 — 14
NC–Matt Cognetta 50 pass from Mike Collins (Peter Swindell kick)
NC–Kyle Smith 37 pass from Collins (Swindell kick)
NC–Andrew Defranco 8 pass from Collins (Swindell kick)
G–Tyler Farris 29 pass from Frank Alfano (Soh Nakayama kick)
NC–Swindell field goal
G–Luke Bienstock 1 run (Nakayama kick)
Records: New Canaan 5-0, Greenwich 2-3