MONROE — It is the question that many have asked but few have been able to answer: How does one go about slowing down phenom quarterback Drew Pyne and New Canaan’s potent offense?
Apparently, you invite them to beat you.
Instead of throwing every blitz in the playbook at Pyne, a sophomore with high-profile offers from Notre Dame, Alabama and Michigan, among others, Masuk kept things simple Sunday afternoon. The Panthers routinely dropped eight or nine defenders into coverage and all but begged the Rams to make them pay.
The Rams couldn’t.
Fifth-seeded Masuk knocked off eighth-seeded New Canaan 28-14 in the Class L semifinals at Benedict Field, ending the Rams’ dreams of a five-peat.
“They run the same defense as us, so what are we going to do, just have another Red-White Game? Another spring game for them?” Masuk coach Joe Lato said he asked himself. “We just mixed it up a little bit. Our kids just played an amazing game.
“We had a kid who’s typically our nose guard, Nick Lebinski, playing linebacker. He makes an interception. … Our kids were just playing out of their minds today.”
The win vaulted the Panthers (11-1), the ninth-ranked team in the GameTimeCT/Register poll, into the state finals for the first time since 2010. They will play second-seeded Daniel Hand on Saturday at a time and site to be announced. New Canaan (9-2), on the other hand, will spend Championship Saturday at home for the first time in five years.
“We were outcoached, we were out-hit, we were out-hustled, we were out-everything,” Rams coach Lou Marinelli said. “I take my hat off to Joe and his staff. I think they did a tremendous job, and those kids played their hearts out. If they play like that, they’ll win a state championship.”
The Panthers (11-1) held Pyne to 234 yards passing and intercepted him three times, the last of which Michael Zuk returned 46 yards for a touchdown to increase their lead to 28-0 in the third quarter. Two late touchdown passes to Quintin O’Connell were nothing more than window dressing for Pyne and the Rams.
“We were out of sync offensively because they had a really good plan. They did a tremendous job,” Marinelli said. “Honestly, I didn’t see this coming.”
— Doug Bonjour (@DougBonjour) December 3, 2017
Quarterback Matt Hersch, who was noticeably hobbled by a foot injury, still managed to throw for 239 yards — 228 of which came in the first half — and two touchdowns on 23-of-30 attempts. With his favorite target, Ryan Shaw, sidelined for a second straight game, Hersch picked apart the Rams with a barrage of slants and screen passes. He connected with Nick Lorusso for touchdowns of 4 and 15 yards on the first two drives, respectively.
Masuk pushed its lead to 21-0 on a 1-yard run by Peter Cosmedy just 28 seconds before halftime.
“Obviously, the season ended with New Canaan last year,” Lorusso said, referring to the Panthers’ 31-28 loss to the Rams in the Class L quarterfinals last season. “We just wanted to get back at them. Obviously this is the greatest revenge.”
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Matt Hersch, Masuk, QB: Playing with a foot injury that limited his mobility, Hersch completed 21-of-28 attempts for 228 yards and two touchdowns in the first half alone.
Masuk coach Joe Lato credited the toughness of his quarterback, calling Hersch a “warrior, an absolute warrior.” Lato said there was some concern surrounding Hersch going into the quarterfinals against Fitch, but the senior calmed those worries by leading the Panthers to a 43-7 victory. “In his mind, he’s 100 percent every snap,” wide receiver Nick Lorusso said.
“It was just the other side of the coin. You could pressure him, but he usually does very well against pressure. Drew Pyne’s the best of both worlds. He can get rid of the ball quickly and he can scramble. We just said, ‘All right, let’s try to take away all his windows and get him off timing. When he scrambles, that’s our best opportunity to sack him.” — Lato on defending New Canaan quarterback Drew Pyne
MASUK 28, NEW CANAAN 14
NEW CANAAN 0 0 0 14—14
MASUK 14 7 7 0—28
M — Nick Lorusso 4 pass Matt Hersch (Nolan McCarter kick)
M — Lorusso 15 pass Hersch (McCarter kick)
M — Peter Cosmedy 1 run (McCarter kick)
M — Michael Zuk 46 interception return (McCarter kick)
NC — Quintin O’Connell 18 pass Drew Pyne (Grant Morse kick)
NC — O’Connell 2 pass Pyne (Morse kick)
Records: New Canaan 9-3; Masuk 11-1
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