MIDDLETOWN — The king will live to fight another week.
Four-time Class L champion New Canaan saw to that by beating Middletown 24-9 in front of 2,000 at Rosek-Skubel Stadium Tuesday evening. New Canaan needed to beat Darien on Thanksgiving to qualify for the playoffs.
“That’s the best team we’ve seen,” Middletown coach Sal Morello said. “They executed well and are very well-coached. We needed to play our ‘A’ game and we didn’t. We had too many penalties and turnovers, but my kids played hard. That’s all I can ask of them.”
One turnover was certainly a momentum changer, maybe even a game-changer.
Leading 7-3 and backed up to its own 3-yard line, on fourth down New Canaan coach Lou Marinelli tried a trick play with his punter throwing out of his own end zone. It fell incomplete and Middletown had a golden opportunity to seize momentum and take the lead.
But quarterback Stone Belzo fumbled and New Canaan recovered to dodge a bullet.
“Belzo’s been great for us, but that fumble hurt,” Morello said. “We have taken care of the football so well all season and what did we do, fumble three times? That’s so uncharacteristic of us.”
New Canaan (9-2) built the lead to 14-7 when sophomore quarterback Drew Pyne (15-for-22, 186 yards) hit Justin Greco on a 22-yard pass with 4:29 left in the half. Down one score and it was a game.
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But it became less of a game when New Canaan held Middletown (10-1) on a three-and-out, then marched 58 yards in two minutes with Grant Morse nailing a 28-yard field goal with no time left on the clock, giving the Rams a 17-7 halftime lead.
New Canaan got the ball to open the second half and drove the proverbial nail into the coffin with a seven-play, 70-yard drive to take a 24-3 lead with 9:17 to go in the third.
Pyne was brilliant on the drive, completing four passes for 46 yards and capping the drive with an 8-yard touchdown run.
“He hurt us with his legs,” Morello said. “We would put pressure on him and while we sacked him a couple of times, he would get away and turn third downs into first downs, not only by passing, but by running.”
Pyne, who led New Canaan to the Class L title last year as a freshman, ran for 45 yards, which includes minus-12 yards on two sacks.
Middletown made it a two-score game late in the third quarter when Belzo finished a nine-play, 88-yard drive with a 10-yard touchdown pass to DeAaron Lawrence. But Mike Aresco had a rare miss on the PAT, leaving the score at 24-9, which is where it stayed.
On that drive, Belzo was 4-for-5 for 71 yards.
“We knew Pyne would be tough, but I thought overall we did a pretty good job against the run,” Morello said. “But we couldn’t get anything going on the ground, so in the second half we had to do some things we don’t normally do.
“In the end, they made some plays and that was frustrating. But we had a helluva ride. I had a great bunch of kids and it was a joy to coach them every day.”
New Canaan ended with 311 yards offense, 125 on the ground. Feature back Owen Shin had 71 yards on 24 carries. Middletown had 216 yards offense, but only 55 on the ground.
NEW CANAAN 24, MIDDLETOWN 9
NEW CANAAN 7 10 7 0–24
MIDDLETOWN 3 0 6 0–9
M—Michael Aresco 37 field goal
NC—Drew Pyne 8 run (Grant Morse kick)
NC—Justin Greco 22 pass Pyne (Morse kick)
NC—Morse 28 field goal
NC—Pyne 9 run (Morse kick)
M—DeAaron Lawrence 10 pass Stone Belzo (kick failed)
Records: NC 9-2, M 10-1