TRUMBULL — Phil Pasmeg said he knew he would play. An injury made him questionable for this opening weekend showdown with New Canaan, but no, the senior St. Joseph star said it was more of a misdirection.
“A little secret, just adding a little spice to the game,” Pasmeg said. And then he smiled.
Lou Marinelli was not smiling. The storied New Canaan coach did not know exactly how his Rams would play Saturday. How could he? It was the season opener and every coach enters such games with questions, fears, trepidations.
On this Saturday, in this 28-0 loss to St. Joseph, his questions were not answered well. Fears were realized. The state’s No. 1 team in the opening GameTimeCT media poll got smoked.
“I thought last year I was stunned,” said Marinelli, whose No. 1. team lost to St. Joseph, 38-35, in last season’s opener. “It’s more stunning this year. When you have all year to get ready and you play like that, there’s something definitely wrong.
“I don’t believe what I saw.”
Marinelli has four players going to Division I FBS schools. Quarterback Drew Pyne is headed to Notre Dame in 2020. Offensive linemen Jack Conley and Jack Stewart are headed to Boston College and Michigan in 2019. Linebacker Garrett Braden is headed to Rice in 2019. And when was the last time a state school had four FBS recruits on it?
Marinelli has won a dozen state championships in three dozen years at New Canaan. He has seen plenty. But on this day he was left dumbfounded. New Canaan just doesn’t get shut out, but it did, with only 163 yards of offense, including minus-1 on the ground.
“Take your hats off to them, they did a great job,” Marinelli said. “For the second year in a row, I guess ours kids were reading about how they’re No. 1 in the state. Maybe they were a little overconfident. But that has nothing to do with … we didn’t prepare the way we could have.
“I’m just baffled.”
Look, New Canaan, St. Joseph, Greenwich, Darien, Hand — a number of schools could make a claim they should be No. 1 heading into this season. Hey, watch out for East Hartford. That’s the beauty of the polls. That’s the beast of the polls. There’s so much supposition. There’s so much guesswork year to year with 15-, 16-, 17-year-old kids. It’s also hard for writers and coaches to know what’s going on one conference over, let alone across the state. And 15 of 31 writers who picked New Canaan No. 1 didn’t see this coming.
“It’s just really good to be the underdog sometimes,” said Pasmeg, a receiver and linebacker for the 2017 Class S champions who have been moved up to Class M. “We always have got a target on our back because we’re St. Joe’s. Coming in as the underdog you just play football. No pressure. No anything. Hopefully, we’re No. 1 now and we’ve got to play 10 times better than we played today.”
The poll’s the poll. No. 1, No. 2, No. 3, fine. What shocked Marinelli, what shocked anybody that watched the game was how New Canaan played. Not good.
Maybe it was early season jitters, or jitters regarding such a big game. Maybe it was nerves. Maybe it was the breadth of practices that have been curtailed across the state by the heat. Whatever it was, neither team played well in the early going.
This game was billed as the quarterback showdown between Pyne and St. Joseph’s David Summers, who is committed to Maryland. Both threw three interceptions. Pyne finished 18 of 29 for 164 yards, but a lot of it was short stuff and he was under duress at times. Summers was 11 for 29 for 184 yards. He did show a deft ability to drop in longer vertical passes nicely to receivers in stride. Evidence the 40-yard touchdown pass to Will Diamantis in the second quarter. Also a beautiful pass at the end of the first quarter to Jesse Bike in the end zone that Nate Sibbett ripped out of his hands for an interception.
But man, watching New Canaan on offense was painful in the first half. Conley, the 6-foot-7, 315-pound tackle, was moved to center for the game. And when that didn’t work, he moved back to tackle. It wasn’t just him by any means. There were at least a half-dozen bad snaps, some more costly than others.
“We had some trouble in the scrimmages, so it actually was Jack’s first game at center,” Marinelli said. “He hadn’t been under fire like that before.
“I thought we were pretty good in the scrimmages (overall), last year we were worse than this. As it turned out, maybe this was even worse than last year. I have no idea. I’m stunned. They did a tremendous job. Joe (Della Vecchia) and those guys took it right to us.”
As Pasmeg said, there were plenty of guys on defense who played lights-out. He couldn’t say enough about the defensive line. And he couldn’t say enough about running back Jaden Shirden, who had 108 yards and two touchdowns on 31 carries.
“A lot of heart on defense, we don’t have any D-I players right now, but hopefully there could be a few coming around,” said Pasmeg, who made four catches for 69 yards and has committed to Hofstra to play lacrosse. “Truthfully, I can’t wait to correct some mistakes and find out how good we can be.”
“He will outwork everybody in the state,” Pasmeg said.
Shirden’s dad, Duane, was an All-State running back at Stratford under an assistant named Della Vecchia and later coached the Red Devils.
“No. 1, he’s a better athlete than I was,” Duane said. “He has a combination of power, speed and quickness. I was a slasher, power and speed. But he has all three aspects and that’s rare for a running back.”
There obviously will be plenty of introspection in New Canaan over the next few days, but in Marinelli’s brief speech to his players afterward he reminded them that you’re never as good as you think you are when you win and never as bad as you fear after a loss. They seemed like wise words to impart to the kids.
“I think it’s the only message you can give,” Marinelli said. “We have a long season ahead of us. We had some guys who were in their first fight, but with the personnel we have we should not play like that.
“It seemed like we played confused a lot offensively. Defensively I thought we played well. We had some new guys on the line and they did a great job coming after us. Until I see the film I can’t say for sure on some things, but I do know I’m sick to my stomach right now.”