When New Canaan and St. Joseph take the field on Friday night, they will be meeting for the third time in three years.
But for some of the top players in the game the rivalry between them goes back before high school.
Back in the 2015 Pop Warner state championship game at Watertown High School, the New Fairfield Falcons, led by New Canaan quarterback Drew Pyne, defeated the West Haven Seahawks, who were led by St. Joseph running back Jaden Shirden and safety Davee Silas, 18-13.
“The more I thought about it I was like, wow, I remember a running back looking like Jaden being able to run the ball,” Pyne said. “I just didn’t put two-and-two together. But it’s crazy to think about. It’s awesome.”
Pyne, who has committed to play at the University of Notre Dame, had already received offers from Division I teams before that state title game and, even though they didn’t know each other at the time, the players on the Seahawks knew about him.
“I remember walking into that game and I was like: Oh, their quarterback is getting an offer from Florida State?” Silas said. “I’m like, that’s crazy.”
It wasn’t just Pyne. Future all-state, all-conference and state champion winning players littered the field that Nov. 18 night.
Aside from the St. Joseph players, the game also featured West Haven players Andre Rentas, Jordan Berrios and Justin Medina and even Hand defensive lineman Austin Doyle playing for the Seahawks.
Players like Tony Muse, who is currently staring at Lawrence Academy (NJ) and has multiple Division I offers, including the University of Michigan, were also important parts of the Seahawks success that season, as well as Hamden Hall running back Jordan Benoit and current Amity star defensive lineman Joe DiGello.
“I thought it was a really, really good league,” Pyne said. “Obviously, you look at the guys who I played against in that league, I’m playing against Week Four this season and played against them all throughout high school and they’re really good players. Some of the best players on St. Joes.”
Jordan Agosto, the starting center for the Danbury Hatters, was Pyne’s center on the Falcons and Danbury co-defensive coordinator Donte Williams was the head coach.
Marquese Ward-Morning, who stars on both the football field and basketball court at Trinity-Pawling (NY), was a wide receiver. Defensive back Cayden Bordnax, a top lacrosse player now at the Salisbury School, was another receiver for Pyne.
Dante Girardi, son of former Yankees manager Joe Girardi, was the team’s running back and is committed to play baseball at Florida International. Joe Girardi was also an assistant coach on the team.
“You had so much talent across the board,” Williams said. “It’s just amazing to see that it’s transpiring and the kids keep pushing and excel.”
When the game began, it was all Seahawks, riding their two-headed running attack of Muse and Shirden.
“We did a lot of tackling… a lot of tackling that week. That was my biggest thing: Tackle, tackle,” Williams said. “I was scared of their running game.”
As he should have been. Muse and Shirden scored touchdowns in the first half to give the Seahawks a 13-0 lead at the break.
“We were going at it,” Shirden recalled. “(It was) kind of like a dead game, just going at it, 3-and-out, 3-and-out, back and forth.”
After a scoreless third quarter, and West Haven honing in on the title, the Falcons finally awoke.
Girardi pounded in a short touchdown to get New Fairfield on the board.
Then the game flipped on its head.
Rentas rolled out right and threw a pass off his back foot. A streaking Ward-Morning jumped in front of the throw and took it back 60-yards for a touchdown. The score put the Falcons within one point of the Seahawks, 13-12.
“The place just erupted. The sideline went crazy. It was just a crazy moment,” Williams said. “I can see it right now. It was crazy time. That was a crazy moment in that game.”
The Falcons weren’t finished. They got the ball back with a little over a minute left and Pyne went to work moving the team down the field.
On third-and-8, Pyne hit Bordnax, who took them down to the West Haven 20. Then Pyne rolled to his left and found Bordnax again in the back of the end zone for the game-winning score with a little more than 20 seconds remaining.
“I remember ripping my helmet off and throwing it on the ground (in excitement) because then we were going to play at Disney,” Pyne said.
The Falcons finished in third place at the Pop Warner Super Bowl at Disney World.
Even five years later, the Seahawk players still think about what might have been.
“That team, we should have went back to Florida,” Shirden said. “That year, I don’t really talk about that year. I talk about any other years, but I don’t really talk about that year because we should have went to Florida.”
“A lot of mental mistakes happening during that game,” Silas said. “I feel like we could have came through.”
Though Shirden, Silas and the Hogs have gotten the better of Pyne and the Rams in their last two matchups, their first encounter will always be memorable.
“West Haven was always at the top,” Pyne said. “Playing New Fairfield vs. West Haven was always a fun game to look forward to.
“It’s just crazy and mind boggling that I am playing against them today.”