NEW LONDON — After several huge losses to graduation compounded by some devastating preseason injuries, there were many questions floating around the New Canaan football team entering Saturday’s season opener at New London.
And although it took about a half for the Rams to get rolling, by the end of New Canaan’s 32-6 win over the Whalers, most of those questions were answered.
Senior co-captains Drew Pyne and Zach LaPolice connected for three touchdowns and a stout New Canaan defense held New London to just 77 yards of total offense as the No. 3 Rams reeled off 25 unanswered points to earn their first opening-day win since 2016.
“Whenever you win you’re always happy,” New Canaan head coach Lou Marinelli said. “We caught the ball in the second half which we didn’t do in the first half and we made some minor adjustments. Drew and Zach are captains and two mainstays and you expect that from them.”
Pyne completed 13-of-23 passes for 211 yards and three touchdowns. The Notre Dame-bound quarterback also picked up 27 yards rushing, including a touchdown.
LaPolice led the New Canaan receivers with seven catches for 157 yards and junior John Wise rushed for a team-high 54 yards for the Rams.
Things started off well for New Canaan after junior Christopher Canet took the game’s opening kickoff all the way to the New London 7-yard line. Two plays later, Pyne ran it in from the five for a 7-0 New Canaan lead just 45 seconds into the game.
The Whalers answered, driving 60 yards in seven plays for a touchdown. Quarterback Frankie Pratts hit Josiah Williams on a screen pass for a 16-yard score. New London missed the extra point and Rams were able to maintain a 7-6 lead with 6:25 left in the first.
The Rams added to their advantage later in the first, as two consecutive New London high snaps resulted in a safety and a 9-6 New Canaan lead with 2:12 remaining in the opening quarter.
After a stalemate for most of the second quarter, the Rams started clicking on its last possession of the half.
Starting at their own 45 with just over four minutes left in the half, the Rams converted a key fourth-and-1 at the New London 21. This set up Pyne’s first scoring hookup with LaPolice, a 20-yard strike across the middle with 28 seconds on the clock, giving New Canaan a 15-6 lead.
New Canaan extended to a 22-5 lead toward the end of the third as LaPolice took a shovel pass from Pyne on a jet sweep untouched down the left sideline for a 75-yard touchdown.
Junior Ethan Chalon recovered yet another bad New London snap on the ensuing drive, setting New Canaan up at the Whalers’ 25. Freshman kicker Ty Groff drilled a 26-yard field goal, putting the Rams up 25-6 with 11:51 left in the game.
The Whalers turned the ball over again on their next possession as New Canaan junior Bates Grigsby picked off a pass at the Rams 43. Nine plays later, Pyne found LaPolice again for an 11-yard touchdown, capping off the game’s scoring at 32-6.
“We made too many errors,” New London head coach Johnny Burns said. “We had some high snaps that led to a safety and we didn’t cover the opening kick so they only had to go three, four, five yards for a touchdown. These things start adding up, seven points, nine points. Yet we were still in it. We showed that we belonged on the field with them.”
New Canaan gained 309 yards of total offense and did not turn the ball over. One area of focus for the Rams moving forward will be cleaning up penalties as New Canaan was hit with nine flags for 107 yards. That being said, once their motor got going in the second half, the Rams looked every bit a top-three team in the state on both sides of the ball.
“We’re doubted this year and we love that,” LaPolice said. “We’re a grinding team and really close-knit and we answered a lot of questions today.”
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Zach LaPolice, New Canaan: The senior co-captain earned his stripes with a monster day, emerging as Pyne’s new go-to target, igniting the Rams’ offense and helping New Canaan pull away in the second half by capping off drives with touchdowns.
“Coming into this season we lost a lot of guys — David Siegel and Drew Guida — it’s hard to lose guys like that but we’ve worked hard as a team and a unit. Those guys are just as active in practice as they would be if they had pads on. We just have to keep working and I think all the questions will be answered at the end of the season.” — New Canaan senior co-captain Drew Pyne