Sunday Crunch: Stamford wakes up the echoes (video)


Trinity Catholic's John Benalcazar makes a game-winning field goal in overtime during Saturday's game against New Canaan at Trinity Catholic High School on September 22, 2012. Photo: Lindsay Niegelberg / Stamford Advocate

The City of Stamford, for all of its resources and diversity, hasn’t been a hotbed of high school football over the years.

It’s produced its fair share of outstanding players, yes. Andy Roubustelli and Bobby Valentine are the first of many Stamford greats.

But actual football teams?

You have to go back.

Back further than that.

No, further than that.

Let’s try 1993 the last time a school won a football state championship. That was Trinity Catholic, which took the Class S title over little Putnam, 14-12. You’d have to go back to its days as Stamford Catholic to find the last time a Stamford school won an FCIAC title.

Rippowam was good in the late 1960s. Now it’s gone.

Stamford and Westhill, two of the largest schools in Connecticut, haven’t produced legit powerhouse football programs in over 40 years, when Stamford won back-to-back FCIAC titles in 1970 and 1971.

Westhill… well there really isn’t much to speak about.

This is why Week 2 was so spectacular if you are a Stamford resident.

Three Stamford teams, three huge victories.

Maybe not so much for Stamford High School. It has been known for the occasional upset (see: New Canaan, last year) and has been competitive in recent seasons.

But the Black Knights managed to make a bold statement with a 47-6 victory over Norwalk. It was an emotional game for Stamford as well. Just last week, the football program was crushed by the sudden death of former star Marcus Dixon, who accidentally shot himself at his home.

Cameron Webb ran for 146 yards on 16 carries and scored three touchdowns to lead the Black Knights’ onslaught.

“Everything just clicked together,” said Webb, who got to know Dixon as a mentor before the tragic end to Dixon’s life. “I dedicated my performance to Marcus.”

Surprising? Somewhat. But nothing compared to what happened at Jerry McDougall Stadium in Trumbull.

Westhill, in just its second game under new coach Frank Marcucio, used Dave Cotterell‘s 193-yard, three touchdown night to topple Trumbull 37-30 in overtime Friday night.

It was Westhill’s first victory over Trumbull in 39 years — a.k.a. “ever.” Westhill opened its doors in 1972.

“I told the kids at halftime that Westhill had never beaten Trumbull,” Marcucio said. “I told them we had to finish this.”

Yeah, Trumbull (0-2) hasn’t looked like Trumbull lately. This still was a major step for Westhill. It broke a long and frustrating three-year, 19-game losing streak.

The next day, Trinity Catholic topped everyone.

The Crusaders matched six-time state finalist and perennial FCIAC power New Canaan blow for blow, built a 28-21 halftime lead and then clung to its defense in the second half. They lost quarterback Danny O’Leary (to a shoulder injury), then their cool (coach Peter Stokes was hit with consecutive unsportsmanlike conduct penalties in the third quarter), then their lead.

But the Trinity defense held and, in overtime, it got a stop and John Benalcazar booted a 21-yard field goal for a 31-28 victory that sent the team into an emotional stratosphere and reduced burly coach Peter Stokes to tears.

Asked by reporter Dave Ruden how it felt, sweaty mud-stained back Shaquan Howsie took a deep breath.

“If words could explain it I would tell you,” he said. “We haven’t beaten this team in 20-odd years. Nobody in the state thought we’d beat this team.”

“You have to take your hats off to Trinity Catholic, they deserved to win that football game,” said New Canaan coach Lou Marinelli, whose team is 1-1 and suddenly struggling to find an identity in this brave new FCIAC.

Stokes isn’t quite sure where his team stands, either. But, oh what a feeling. He hugged his players, his wife, his children. He called this victory the best game Trinity Catholic’s played since he was the quarterback of the 1984 FCIAC champion. He was a supernova of emotion.

“You don’t know, if this game was at New Canaan, that the same results happens. …But there are ghosts here,” he said. “Maybe we stirred them a little bit.”

Stamford plays Ridgefield in a suddenly intriguing game at Tiger Hollow on Saturday. Trinity Catholic plays host to Harding and Westhill to Norwalk on Saturday.

The ghosts have been stirred in Stamford. Now they’re loose.

Is this a fluke? A mere flash in the pan?

Or is this the start of something special?

We won’t know for a few more weeks. The exciting part is finding out.

Don’t touch that dial, Stamford.

Saturday’s Roundup

CSC: Bullard Havens Tech 47, Wolcott Tech 0 | Cheney Tech 28, Abbott Tech 26 (2OT)

FCIAC: St. Joseph 34, Wilton 0 | Trinity Catholic 31, New Canaan 28 (OT) | Darien 44, Fairfield Warde 21

NVL: Wilby 26, Kennedy 12 Crosby 56, St. Paul Catholic 49

SWC: Weston 32, Oxford 14

Preps: King 33, Hamden Hall 7 | Taft 62, Brunswick 34

Sean Patrick Bowley