NEW CANAAN >> A personal foul penalty following a touchdown was about the only thing New Canaan linebacker Cole Harris did wrong in the Rams’ romp over Hand in the season opener for both teams Wednesday, a contest part of the SCC/FCIAC Challenge.
Harris recorded a safety, and scored on a 32 yard interception return in No. 3 New Canaan’s 50-21 win over the No. 10 Tigers before 2,500 fans at Dunning Field.
The loss ended a 26-game winning streak for the Tigers, whose last loss came to the Rams in the 2010 Class L semifinals.
After Hand stopped the Rams on a fourth down from the New Canaan 2, Harris tackled Tigers running back Connor Dowd in the end zone for a safety and a 2-0 lead. The Rams never relented, and took a commanding 36-0 lead into halftime.
“That was a big game changer,” Harris said. “It just took the wind out of their sails, the confidence they had from maybe stopping us. It just opened up right away. It was just one of those plays that you kind of react to instantly without even thinking.”
New Canaan decided against kicking a field goal and instead was stuffed on a running play up the middle on the final play of a 13-play drive. Harris’ safety, though, changed the dynamic of the contest.
“He made me look better because I’m the idiot that (decided to go for it),” New Canaan coach Lou Marinelli joked. “I felt confident that we could get it, we didn’t, but when we didn’t, at least it set up good field position and Cole just had the instinct to go in and make the play.”
The New Canaan defense was certainly tough, but the offense was equally as effective. The Rams set a school-record by running 88 plays. Senior quarterback Nick Cascione completed 17 of 28 passes for 174 yards and three touchdowns, including two to junior Alex LaPolice.
“They say time flies when you’re having fun and that’s really what we were doing on the field tonight,” Cascione said. “We were really having fun, and just going out and executing. I never would have expected 88 plays. I would never have dreamed this (putting 50 points up on Hand).”
The victory was a convincing one for the Rams, with the final score not really indicative of how one-sided the affair was for much of the contest. New Canaan held Hand, the two-time defending Class L champion, to just two first downs in the first half.
“They’re an exceptional football team, there’s no two ways about it,” Hand coach Steve Filippone said. “But, you know what, that’s not an excuse for getting (two) first downs in the first half. It was a tremendous disappointment, not the score; this team (Hand) brings back five players from last year. We had 19 kids playing in their first varsity game. The score is irrelevant. The effort, the courage, the willingness to stick your nose in and take a hit and give a hit, we didn’t have it.”
Cascione hit LaPolice for a 14-yard touchdown pass to give New Canaan an 8-0 lead after one quarter.
Harris then returned the interception for a touchdown early in the second quarter, and the Rams added a 19-yard touchdown pass from Cascione to LaPolice, a 7-yard touchdown run from Morgan Carson and a 15-yard touchdown pass from Cascione to Jack Gilio to take a commanding 36-0 at the intermission.
Carson scored on a 12-yard run, and then with the offensive reserves in, Chris Andrews scored on a 9-yard run to complete New Canaan’s scoring.
Sophomore quarterback Nick Van Dell scored two rushing touchdowns and Connor Dowd added a 5-yard touchdown for Hand in the second half.
New Canaan 50, Hand 21
(at New Canaan)
Hand 0 0 7 14 — 21
New Canaan 8 28 14 0 — 50
N—Cole Harris safety
N—Alex LaPolice 14 pass from Nick Cascione (pass failed)Second quarter
N—Cole Harris 32 int ret (Peter Swindell kick)
N—Alex LaPolice 19 pass from Nick Cascione (Swindell kick)
N—Morgan Carson 7 run (Swindell kick)
N—Jack Gilio 15 pass from Nick Cascione (Swindell kick)Third quarter
N—Morgan Carson 12 run (Swindell kick)
H—Nick Van Dell 36 run (Tyler Phan kick)
N—Chris Andrews 9 run (Swindell kick)Fourth quarter
H—Nick Van Dell 2 run (Phan kick)
H—Connor Dowd 5 run (Phan kick)
Team records: New Canaan 1-0; Hand 0-1