GREENWICH — Courtesy of its defense and special teams units, opportunities arose repeatedly for Greenwich during its season-opener against FCIAC football foe Danbury, a game marking the Cardinals coaching debut of Anthony Morello.
And like most squads with a highly successful pedigree, the defending Class LL champion Cardinals capitalized on their chances, making it a memorable first game at the helm for Morello.
Taking full advantage of turnovers and short fields throughout, No. 4 Greenwich gained more and more momentum as Saturday’s game progressed and rolled to a 49-3 win over Danbury at Cardinal Stadium.
Besides it being Morello’s debut as coach of the Cardinals, junior James Rinello made his first start at quarterback for the squad and he performed well, throwing a pair of touchdown passes to standout junior wide receiver AJ Barber.
“James played great, he demonstrated good command of the offense and he looked relaxed out there,” said Morello, who took over as coach of the Cardinals, after John Marinelli stepped down, following four impressive seasons. “I don’t know how he was so calm, because I could only imagine being in his position and having his first career start. But I’m proud of his effort.”
The special teams and defensive units ignited the Cardinals throughout. Junior Spencer Hartley returned a kickoff 88 yards for a touchdown for GHS, a pair of fumbled kickoffs were recovered by the Cardinals and Hatters quarterbacks Patrick Rosetti and Jackson Ciccone were pressured throughout.
“Our defense played great and our special teams played great,” Morello said. “We played sloppy at first, but we got into a groove as the second quarter rolled along. Danbury is a great team and they are going to win a lot of games. The score wasn’t indicative of how this game was.”
Following a scoreless first quarter, the Hatters took a 3-0 lead on Diogo Rosa’s 40-yard field goal with 9:57 remaining in the second quarter. Yet Greenwich scored the half’s final 28 points and entered halftime with a 25-point lead.
“It’s similar to what happened last year when we played them,” Danbury coach Augustine Tieri said. “We came out strong and we were able to keep the momentum up and go back-and-forth with them for a while. What I was surprised of from my team, was that once we faced adversity, things unraveled for us in everything we did.”
SPECIAL TEAMS SPARK
Hartley’s kickoff return with 9:45 remaining in the second quarter, coupled with kicker Ben Howarth’s extra point, gave the Cardinals a 7-3 lead, which they quickly built upon.
“We put a ton of emphasis on special teams,” Morello said. ”On that kickoff return, I went over to the kids before it happened and told them not to panic, we’ll work it out. And Spencer Hartley answered the call and the special teams unit answered the call.”
BUILDING THEIR LEAD
The Cardinals’ defense set up the team’s next score. Senior Evan Weigold sacked Ciccone, forcing a fumble. Defensive lineman James Schmidt pounced on the fumble, setting GHS up at the Danbury 18-yard line.
Two plays later, Rinello connected with Barber in the right corner of the end zone for a 9-yard touchdown, giving Greenwich a 14-3 lead with 7:43 to go in the second quarter.
”I was going to run a stop, but I had press coverage, so I converted to a go route and James threw a beautiful ball and I went up and made a play,” Barber said. ”We’ve been working all season and we have a good rapport going.”
Rinello scored on a 3-yard sweep to the left at the 3:07 mark of the second quarter and Barber caught a 46-yard scoring strike from Rinello with three seconds remaining in the first half, making it 28-3.
”That second touchdown was just a modified Hail Mary,” Barber said. “I’m glad it worked.”
In the second half, junior Hunter Clark scored on a 1-yard run, junior Kobe Comizio caught a 1-yard touchdown pass from Rinello and junior Mason Muir snared a 16-yard scoring strike from quarterback Cage Lasley for the victors.
“I thought we had a good game plan coming in, but little mistakes turned into big mistakes against a team we can’t afford to make mistakes against,” Tieri said.
IMPRESSIVE OPENER FOR RINELLO
Rinello showed plenty of positive signs in his debut as the Cards’ signal caller.
”We have great running backs, receivers and offensive line,” Rinello said. ”I knew I needed to go out there and execute and the rest of the team would follow suit. The first series was a little different, going in as the starting quarterback, but as the game went on, we started making plays.”
Christopher Martinez, a sophomore, intercepted a pass for Danbury on Greenwich’s first possession. … Weigold had an interception for Greenwich. … Defensive lineman Eddy Iuteri, a senior, had several sacks for GHS, junior linebacker Mike Ceci sacked Hatters’ quarterbacks twice and junior Jack Cook had an interception for Greenwich. .. Weigold also registered a pair of sacks for Greenwich, which saw its offensive line flourish, behind senior Callum Abernethy. … Jordan Agosto recovered a fumble for the Hatters.
”This is a big win for our program moving forward,” Weigold said. “Everyone around here knows what we are capable of achieving. Today, it was a little shaky in the beginning but we talked to our coaches and figured it out.”
Added Iuteri: “We played well, but we have a lot to work on. We had some alignment issues in the first quarter, which I attribute to it being the first game. Danbury put up a great fight, they are a good team and gave a great effort.”
GREENWICH 49, DANBURY 3
DANBURY 0 3 0 0 – 3
GREENWICH 0 28 14 7 – 49
D — Diogo Rosa 40 field goal
G — Spencer Hartley 88 kickoff return (Ben Howarth kick)
G — AJ Barber 9 pass from James Rinello (Ben Howarth kick)
G — Rinello 3 run (Howarth kick)
G — Barber 46 pass from Rinello (Howarth kick)
G — Hunter Clark 1 run (Howarth kick)
G — Kobe Comizio 1 pass from Rinello (Howarth kick)
G — Mason Muir 16 pass from Cage Lasley (Howarth kick)