GAME OF THE WEEK
ST. JOE’S (7-0) AT NEW CANAAN (7-0) FRIDAY 7pm. Regular season games don’t get much bigger than this one. The FCIAC East division teams are unbeaten in the conference and their overall schedule. The Rams and Cadets are tough, talented, extremely well-coached and love to sling the ball over all over the place. In other “big” games this season, New Canaan has thrashed Hand, Greenwich, and Staples, turning them into them into laughers. Perhaps, St. Joe’s is a team of destiny. Hard not to think that way after they kept their hopes of an undefeated season alive by beating Fairfield Prep early in the year on a ‘Hail Mary’ pass on the game’s final play. Here’s the tale of the tape between the number two and three ranked teams in the state.
TALE OF THE TAPE
Scoring: Led by Nick Cascione, New Canaan is averaging 49 PPG while St. Joe’s, behind Jordan Vazzano is averaging 42 points a contest. This game could have the most offensive talent on the field at one time of any game in the state this season.
SIGNATURE MOMENT OF THE SEASON
St. Joe’s used a ‘Hail Mary’ pass on the final play of the game to beat Fairfield Prep, 36-34. New Canaan went to Greenwich and dropped 66 points on the Cardinals to announce its presence with authority.
The legend of the “Hogs.” The story goes, St. Joe’s acquired the name on October 25, 1980 after playing in a muddy mess against Stratford. They won that game, 20-0, and went on to win the first of the their 10 state titles. New Canaan has the legend of Lou Marinelli. In his very first game, Marinelli helped the Rams snap an 0-29-2 losing streak, beating the defending state champion Rippowam Warriors in a driving rain storm. Since then, Marinelli has led the Rams to eight state championships.
St. Joe’s has fleet-flooted running back Mufasha Abdul-Basir, while New Canaan counters with one of the players who will be trying to stop him: Connor Buck, a strong and sturdy defensive lineman who has arms as big as most high school athletes’ thighs.
BEST PICTURE OF THE SEASON
Going airborne. Brett Stevenson of St. Joe’s hangs tough in traffic. Cole Harris of New Canaan had the hit of a lifetime when he stopped a running back from Fairfield Warde dead in his tracks. The picture of a lifetime was captured by our by our Bob Luckey and it’s one that the senior linebacker will have the rest of his life.
Burgundy and gold. St. Joe’s has a classic look and resembles the USC Trojans. New Canaan has just about as many uniforms as the Oregon Ducks but gets to work with far better colors. Expect black-on-black for what could be a “Black Out” on Friday night in New Canaan.
GREENWICH POWERED BY AUSTIN
It’s hard not to be in awe of what Austin Longi of Greenwich has done in the past two weeks. Against a very good Trumbull team, the versatile running back racked up 330 yards on just 26 carries. Oh, yeah, he also scored five touchdowns in the 50-44 loss to the Eagles. Last week in the Cardinals 42-7 win over Fairfield Warde, the junior put on a dazzling display that saw him score nearly every way a player possibly can. Long ran for two scores, caught a touchdown pass, and returned an interception to the end zone. He also threw a halfback option pass for 85-yards and another touchdown and returned a punt 85-yards that wound up just inches away from another score.
“The kid is putting on a show,” said Greenwich head coach Rich Albonizio. “I haven’t seen anybody do anything like this since 1999 when Jimmy Henry scored 42 touchdowns for us. “Austin is really special. He makes one cut and he’s gone. What he’s doing now is really fun to watch.”
Warde coach Duncan DellVolpe told David Fierro of the Greenwich Time his impressions of Longi after the game: “He’s brutally tough, he’s the best player we’ve seen so far this season. He’s extremely fast, athletic and quick, which is what makes him so tough.”
Longi is not the only player in the area who’s been brilliant in back-to-back games. Arkeel Newsome of Ansonia become the state’s all-time leading rusher on October 18 after racking up 396 yards and six touchdowns in a win over Masuk. What could Newsome possibly do for an encore? Try 324 yards and five touchdowns in a 62-7 rout of Walcott last week.
Nick Roberts of Trumbull has turned a lot of heads his passing skills. In last Friday’s 32-28 comeback win over Wilton, Roberts threw for a whopping 510 yards and 4 TD passes, including the game-winner with 30 seconds left. That performance came on the heels of another gem, this one coming in a 50-44 shootout win over Greenwich. Roberts connected on 28 of 44 passes for 413 yards and three TD’s.
HANGIN’ WITH…JORDAN VAZZANO
Vazzano is the trigger man for the St. Joe’s high-powered offense. The senior quarterback is enjoying the finest season of his career, leading the Cadets to a perfect 7-0 record.
Q: What are your thoughts going into this great match-up against New Canaan with so much on the line?
JV: It’s a huge game, probably the biggest game I’ve ever played. New Canaan has smart players and are well-coached. They’re obviously a really good team.
Q: You’re stil undefeated mainly because of the ‘Hail Mary’ pass that beat Fairfield Prep on the games final play earlier in the season. Looking back, did you really feel you had any shot at completing that pass?
JV: I really had confidence that we were going to pull it off one way or another. But I couldn’t believe it when it happened. A ‘Hail Mary’ to win the game?! It doesn’t happen very often. It was really special and it was crazy.
Q: What kind of experience has it been for you to play at St. Joe’s.
JV: I love St. Joe’s so much. My father played here when he was in high school. I have a ton of family that went here, so it’s been really special.
Q: If you could script the final chapter of your career, how would it go?
JV: Winning the FCIAC and state championship.
In 1982, Matt Merullo helped lead Fairfield Prep to an 18-6 victory over Greenwich in the Class L state championship game. As the team’s kicker, punter, tight end, and defensive end, Merullo remembers having a heavy workload against the Cardinals that day.
“I did not come off the field for a single play,” Merullo said from his home in Madison, Ct. “It was a great win and really something special to be a part of.”
25 years later, Merullo got to watch his son, Nick, play in the Class M state championship game against New Canaan in 2007. Nick was a sophomore quarterback who had the Tigers on the brink of a title before the Rams came back to win 34-31.
“I can’t put into words the joy I had watching him play in high school,” said Merullo, who just finished his first season managing in the Baltimore Orioles farm system. “I was really proud of him and his pure love for the game of football and everything he experienced.” Nick earned second-team all-state honors at quarterback. Father Matt was named to the all-state team as a kicker.
After graduating from Fairfield Prep, the elder Merullo focused on baseball at UNC and enjoyed a solid career in the major leagues with the Chicago White Sox, Cleveland Indians, and Minnesota Twins. Nick, like his father, chose to play baseball in college where he is a senior catcher at James Madison University.
STATE HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL POINT RANKINGS
CLASS LL Newtown remains on top after raising its record to 7-0
CLASS L New Canaan thumps Staples 43-7 meaning there is no change at the top.
CLASS M St. Joe’s comes in at number 2, but that could change if they beat New Canaan.
CLASS S Ansonia is ranked second after pummeling Walcott 62-27