Greenwich High School head coach Rich Albonizio has witnessed his share of nail-biters during his 17 seasons at the helm. Yet the Cardinals longtime coach said his team’s showdown against West Haven was “one of the best games I’ve ever been involved in.”
Greenwich’s 22-21 comeback win over West Haven was one of the most rewarding victories for the Cardinals in a while. The Cardinals fought back from two deficits, scoring the winning touchdown with 31.5 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter. Here’s the article on the exciting game which was part of the FCIAC-SCC challenge game http://bit.ly/16vBGtK and some key points of this much-anticipated matchup.
COOL UNDER PRESSURE: Down 21-16 with just over two minutes remaining after West Haven elected to take a safety, Greenwich got the ball on the Blue Devils’ 36-yard line after a solid return from Austin Longi on the safety kick. On fourth-and-1, quarterback Jose Melo scrambled away from pressure and picked up two yards for a first down. Two plays later, he connected with running back/receiver Longi for a 24-yard pass play, making it first-and-goal at the 1. Longi, who made a one-handed catch under tight coverage, ran it in from a yard out the next play, putting Greenwich ahead 22-21 with 31.5 seconds left in the final quarter.
“We practice the two-minute drill a lot and I thought we did a fantastic job of getting the ball down field,” Albonizio said. “Our guys showed a lot of composure, you’re running the ball, so if you get stopped down there the game is over. A lot of guys wanted the ball. Kendrick (Pozo), Jose, Austin and that’s great to see.”
TURNOVERS APLENTY: West Haven stopped itself from scoring on two drives, fumbling on a running play on the Cardinals’ 5-yard line in the first half, then fumbling in the end zone, also on a running play. Westies quarterback Duane Gary was sacked and fumbled in the second quarter. Cardinals linebacker Kendrick Pozo returned the fumble for a touchdown. Greenwich, meanwhile, fumbled three times and had a pass intercepted.
KEY PLAY: Though West Haven regained the lead shortly after this play, Longi’s 88-yard return off a blocked field goal provided the Cardinals with important points, as the Westies were primed to add to their 13-7 lead. Greenwich’s special teams did a good job getting a push up front to block the kick, then Longi recovered the ball near the Cardinals sideline and reached the end zone.
“We didn’t cover that blocked field goal well to say the least,” McCarthy said. “That gave them some momentum and set things up for them.”
CARDINALS DEFENSE TESTED: Greenwich’s defense went up against one of the best running backs they will face this season in West Haven senior Ervin Philips. The 5-foot-11, 175-pound Philips was a threat every time he touched the ball, gaining 137 yards on 31 carries, including a 40-yard touchdown. Outside of the 40-yard score, Greenwich, which received strong defensive play from defensive lineman Jack Wynne, Pozo, defensive back Griffin Tiedy, Gardy Lebon and Thomas Martins to name a few, did a good job for the most part, of limiting big running plays from West Haven’s Wing-T offense.
“Defensively, we had to make our reads and swarm to the ball,” Pozo said.
STATS: Melo completed 10 of 19 passes for 66 yards, spreading the ball around to receivers Justin Henry, Longi and Walker Manning. Longi gained 45 yards rushing for GHS, while Marshont Little complemented Philips with 79 yards.
WHAT THEY HAD TO SAY
Greenwich offensive lineman Justin Gaccione: “I couldn’t be more proud of the team and more proud of the offensive line and how they stepped up.”
Austin Longi: “This is a huge out of conference win that could improve our chances to get into states. We were definitely due offensively to do something and we stepped up when we needed to do.”
Ed McCarthy: “We’re not as balanced a team as we would like to be right now. Tip your hat to Greenwich, they made the plays.”
Rich Albonizio: “It’s a very significant win for us. Now we have Darien coming up, which is going to be another tough battle, so we have to rest up and put another play together.”
As for the SCC-FCIAC Challenge, the FCIAC finished with a 9-8 edge.